Latest reviews by Mark Davidhizar

(2017)
"I love Indy"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The 2017 Monumental Marathon was held on November 4, 2017 in Indianapolis. It is held yearly on the first Saturday of November. The race expo is held Thursday from 4pm-7pm and on Friday from 11am-8pm. Some complain that the expo closes too early for those coming from Illinois (especially with the hour difference) but in fairness to the race, the expo hours are posted when you register. There is also no option for race day packet pickup which is becoming more popular with larger marathons. Could you imagine the mess that would create?

Expo

The Expo is held at the Indiana Convention Center. It is a large building right in downtown Indy. There were probably 40-50 vendors at the expo. Pretty good size. There were also guests speakers all throughout the time the expo was open. I didn’t go to listen to any since none really interest me except for one on runner safety but that was on Thursday before I could get there. Picking up your race bib and shirt was quick and easy. There was also the option of getting a friends number as well. Besides the vendors, there was race merchandise for sale. Tina and I did pick up 2016 finishers quarter zips for half off since we did Run last years race. Maybe next year we will purchase the 2017 jackets???

Where to stay

If you are coming to town for this race, get a hotel early and stay downtown. It is more expensive, but you can just park your car and not need to drive until you leave to go home. Everything is within walking distance. Quiet a few hotels are within 5 blocks of the starting line, and the expo is only a block from the starting line.

Where to eat to carbo load

Tina and I always go to Buca Di Bepo in downtown. Once again, only a few minute walk from most downtown hotels. If you plan on going to Buca Di Bepo, get your reservations a made about a week before. It amazes me every year how many people thing they can just walk in and get a table. This year, they were not taking any walk up guests until 9:00pm. The race itself does offer a pasta dinner as well.

Race Day

The full and half marathon start together at 8:00am. The 5k started at 8:35.

The course is discribed on the website as relatively flat with a few small hills. I would say that is an accurate description. The course starts in down town Indy right in front of the capital building, winds it’s way passed Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Field House, then Soldiers and Sailors Monument before heading north of town and eventually coming back to downtown to finish back in front of the capital building. It really is a great course. Some of the other sites were Mass Ave. District, Meridian Street, Butler University, Museum of Art, Broad Ripple, State Fairgrounds, and Fall Creek Parkway.

There were 20 aid stations on the course. Not all aid stations had Gatoraid, so if that’s something you depend on, plan accordingly. There were also 4 aid stations that offered gels.

Post Race

Right after you cross the finish line, you were handed a medal (put around your neck), a beanie with the race logo, a heat sheet, and a bottle of water. Finishers photos were then taken by MarathonFoto (who was also on the course) and then you proceeded to walk through the finish area to get fruit, chips, cookies, and chocolate milk. Some complain that there are not healthier options but you just ran a marathon, indulge a little. Also, I wanted salt after I finished so give me all the chips.

Gear check was located right by the finish line as was the tent where you could go get a free slice of Papa Johns Pizza. An extra slice would cost $2, which doesn’t seem too bad. There was also a live band playing at the finish line.
Overall thoughts

I love this race. There are reasons why we come back to this race every year (5 straight years now) and we will be registering again on 1/1/18 to get the lowest registration price. Next years race will be on November 3. This was also the end of the 4 year medal series which led up to the 10 year anniversary of the race. Apparently they will be starting a new series, which I am cool with. However the medals from the next series will still fit in place of the medals from the previous series. So if you missed a medal from the last series, you can fill it in with next year or the year after. I would prefer a whole new series.

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(2017)
"The Hot Chocolate is worth it"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Chicago Hot Chocolate 15k race was held on October 29th, 2017. Start and Finish line were in a Grant Park. Race temps were cool at 34 degrees with sunny skies and light winds.

Registration

Registration opened up months in advance of the race. Prices for the 15k started at $59 and increased a couple of times until registration closes. The highest registration fee was $79. For the 5k, registration fees start at $34 and goes up to $54. Online registration was easy with no issues, just be careful not to purchase the registration insurance if you don’t want it. Will cost you an extra $10-$12.

After registering, you are sent weekly emails which include a weekly training plan if you need one. Great for anyone running their first 15k and doesn’t have a coach. Also included in the emails were expo information and race day info that you need to know. Also was information on the charity that Hot Chocolate Run supports; Make A Wish.

Expo

The expo was held the two days leading up to the race (Friday October 27 and Saturday October 28) at McCormick Place in Chicago. It’s the same venue as the other major races in Chicago. There was no race day packet pick up. The McCormick Place is a large convention center. Unlike for the Marathon earlier this month, the Hot Chocolate Expo was located right a crossed the street from the parking garage, so it was a much shorter walk to get there. If you use the parking garage, make sure to take your parking ticket with you that you get when you enter. You can get it validated and save yourself $12 and only have to pay $10.

The first thing to do is go pick up your bib. To make the process faster, have your email out with the QR code that was sent earlier in the week to scan. They will get your number quickly for you. Kind of an annoying thing then is that you have to walk all the way through the expo to get to the other side to get your race shirt. I guess this forces anyone who is looking to just get in and out quickly to at least walk through part of the expo.

The expo has I am guessing 30-40 venders selling all kinds of products or representing charities or races. There were a couple of vendors I was interested in but many were the same as I had just seen at the Chicago Marathon Expo so I kind of breezes through the expo a couple of times.

On the way out, there were chocolate goodies and hot chocolate for you to snack on as you were leaving.

Race Day

If you are driving into the city the day of the event, I strongly suggest you reserve a parking spot a couple days before the race through Spot Hero. If you are coming into the city from the south, maybe park at Soldier Field. We chose the Grant Park South parking garage but because of road closures, it was difficult to get there. The advantage to that sparking garage is that it is right beside the park where the start finish line is located.

I struggled a little bit finding where gear check was at but eventually found it closer to the finish line. Might have helped if I looked at the map. I just assumed it was around Buckingham Fountain like it was for the marathon. The tent for packet pickup was labeled well with where exactly to drop off your bags. Also the volunteers were very helpful.

The Race

After the pre race ceremonies (which included seeing a your girl given a trip of her dreams through Make-A-Wish and then the national Anthem) Corral A was off with the sound of an air horn. Each corral of the race had its own start which eliminate congestion. There were 30,000 runners at this race. It would be near impossible to get everyone started together. I do think their system works well.

The first mile of the course is basically in a tunnel. It’s hard to see and on a warmer day, it smells like urine. On this day, it didn’t smell that bad. While it is cool to run through a large city with no traffic, this course was boring. It really didn’t go past any of the real scenic city areas of Chicago until the last couple of miles while running along the lake front and by Soldier Field and the Field Museum.

A couple negatives about the course happened in the same area. There was a short section of our and back, followed by going under McCormick Place. Not sure why every Chicago Race (besides the marathon) has to go under McCormick Place. As far as the out and back, there seems to be plenty of room to either push the start line back a little bit or move the finish line down the road to get the distance right and eliminate this mess. ​

Oh, how can I forget about the aid stations?!?!? Each aid station had water, Nuun and candy. First aid station had chocolate chips, second had candy corn, third had M&M’s and forth had chocolate marshmallows. If you run a hot chocolate race, don’t do as I did and just slam the whole cup of M&M’s at obce

The finish line was at the same location as the Marathon. An announcer was calling out finishers names. Not sure if he said mine or not, as I am never really paying that close attention but I find it hard to believe with such a large race that they are able to say everyone’s name.

Post Race

After crossing the finish line, you are handed a medal from a volunteer (not put around your neck) and you make your way down the finish shoot. First opportunity for hydration came in the form of a cup of Nuun which I don’t drink. Had to walk quiet a ways down the line before being offered a bottled water. No food to be found in the finish line area. All food was in the post race party area. Finishers medal. Also came with a key chain that had the Bean on it.

It was easy to claim my gear from gear check post race. What wasn’t easy was walking backwards along the course. So much of the Park was blocked off to spectators that I had to walk 2-3 blocks around the park to get to the finish line and walk along the course.

The post race party contrinued in Grant Park where you could redeem the tab in your race bib for your large mug filled with hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, marshmallows, pretzels, bananas and cookies. It was a tasty post race snack to say the least. Also in the post race party area there was music as well. Everyone around seeemed to be really enjoying themselves.

Swag

I really like the quarter zip jackets that were the race shirts last year. Hot Chocolate does a great job of allowing runners to vote on which jacket colors that runners want to see as their race jacket every year and this year, I think they turned out great! The medals are great as well.
Also, there were free race photo downloads. My finish line photo and pre race photo with Tina wasn’t too bad, but the one from on the course was a little blurry. 2 our of 3 ain’t bad. I guess you get what you pay for. Haha

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(2017)
"The b Strong 5k has their act together "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The b Strong 5k was held on July 29, 2017 in Bremen, IN. The weather was as close to perfect as you can hope for in a late July Race. Temps were right around 60 degrees, it was sunny, and a slight breeze.

This was the 3rd annual b Strong 5k, which also features a 1 mile fun run for both kids and adults. The inaugural year, I volunteered at the race while my wife ran. Last year we all ran in it, and this year we all ran it again. The 5k race began at 8:00am.

The race is held in honor of Karen Newley, who’s:

“love for God and his faithfulness gave her strength through her journey with lung cancer. Karen never smoked, was an avid runner, and lived a very healthy life. Her courage and positive outlook in a very difficult circumstance inspired and gave hope to many. She will not be remembered as a cancer patient, but rather as a brave and faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Karen leaves behind a legacy of hope. She had a deep love for people, and she made everyone she met feel like a close friend. Karen deeply loved children, and had a passion for teaching and mentoring students. Karen’s last words were, “pray for the children”. The mission of the b STRONG 31:6 fund, created in her honor, is to continue her legacy by helping children and families in our community thrive in faith, education, and fitness.”
Registration: we registered for the 5k when fees were only $15! Great price for an awesome race. Registration did go up as the race got closer to $20 and then $25. Online registration was completed on runsignup.com. There was race day registration.

Swag: along with your bib, you received a race shirt and a bag with sponsor information, as well as other local race information. Each participant also receive a green b Strong cup as well. This is the third year we have received this cup sowe have worked up a pretty good collection.

Atmosphere: prior to the race, the DJ was doing a great job playing upbeat music to get everyone pumped up to run. Also leading up to the race announcements were being made making sure people knew what was going on. Right before the race, a young girl sang the national anthem (she was awesome) and a prayer was given.

Race: the race started right at 8:00. The course is mostly flat with one hill right before mile 2. It’s not too bad of the hill but it has been named “b Strong Hill.” ​ The best part of this race is that it is a completely closed course to traffic. There are volunteers or police officers at every intersection making sure that no cars went onto the course. There were also 3 aid stations on the course. They were located at mile 1, mile 2, and a little past 2.5.

Post race food: never a shortage of food at this race. Always have plenty of fruit, granola bars, and especially cookies. The cookies were awesome! There was also bottled water as well.

Awards: awards were given to the top 3 overall male and females in the race, plus top 3 in each age division. Divisions were broken down to every 5 years. There was a new medal for this years age group winners.

I do really like the medals, they are awesome, maybe go back to a little smaller. Just a way of saving some money for the foundation. But who knows, maybe they were donated. I really don’t know, but they are unique and specific to the race which I like.

Overall: as much as I don’t like 5k races (it’s the distance, not the race itself), this is a very well run event. It is a race that is on our schedule year after year and always want to make sure we are in town for it. The organization is always top notch, and the town really supports this race. Bigger towns can learn from them.

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(2017)
"Tour Beautiful Chicago on your feet"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Rock N’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon was held on July 16, 2017. Temps at the start of the race were in the low 70s and winds out of the north at 6mph. Humidity was at about 70% and mostly cloudy. Could have been far worse.

This was my first ever Rock N Roll race, as well as my first ever down town Chicago race. All other races I have ran in Chicago have been on the Lake Front Path. I felt this would be a good experience before running the Chicago Marathon in October.

Registration: all registration was done either online, or at the race expo. Registration opened a year in advance and closed a week before the race. If you register a year in advance, you could register for $59. If you waited until closer to race day, you would pay over $100. The part that I could not believe was the processing fees for registering. $18!!! I don’t understand why it costs so much to process your registration. I can see $2-$5, but don’t understand $18. Other than that, registration was easy.

Leading up to race day: Rock N’ Roll utilizes email for communicating to entered runners. As we got closer to race day, we were getting 3-4 emails a week. By race week, it was every day. I think these emails could have been condensed to 1-2 a week but it’s great they are keeping participants informed on what to expect on race day. Rock N’ Roll did not seem to do much on social media leading up to the race.

Expo: the expo was held at McCormick place in Chicago. It was probably about 2.5-3 miles away from the race location. When we went to the expo, it wasn’t overly crowded. We were able to walk up to our designated line, show our confirmation of registration and ID to get our bib. About 5 days of the race, an email was sent to all participants with your bib number on it and a liability waiver to sign. This form as well as a valid ID are a must to get your bib. Also, you CAN NOT have someone else pick up your bib. No acceptions. This forced us to come on Saturday and get a hotel room for the night.

Making our way through the expo was easy. There were a lot of vendors, both locally and nationally (specifically sponsors). You really could move through the expo as fast or as slow as you liked. There was also official race merchandise for sale as well. We got a guitar magnet and a pint glass. Wasn’t real excited about the shirts for sale since most were either cotton or Polly/cotton blend.

Race Morning: The Race began on Columbus Ave beside the Chicago Art Institute and Butler Field. Gear Check is located inside Butler Field. For gear check, you were given a large bag for all gear. The large bag wasn’t needed as much on this day, but would be great for all the gear on a late fall or early spring race. The odd thing about gear check is that you dropped it off at an area depending on your last name, not bib number. If it would have been bib number, picking it up post pace probably would have been easier and quicker.

Of course a big question that had to be asked about the race is the bathroom situation. Rock N Roll knocked this out of the park. There were a lot of port a johns and they were spread out all over their perimeter of Butler Field and up and down Columbus Ave. I really didn’t see any long lines to wait.

There were 20 starting corrals in total with each corral getting its own start. This alleviated a lot of congestion early on in the race. Prior to the race there was music blasting and announcers making final announcements. You could tell the announcers do this at every Rock N Roll race as they were very good at getting everyone excited.

Race: the race starts off with the 10k and Half Marathon running together. Before the start of the race, announcers are giving the 10k runners a heads up telling them that they will split off to the right and it didn’t take long before the split. It was probably less than 3/4 of a mile into the race. Volunteers did a great job of giving runners ample warning on which way to go.

Right away you notice, due to all the buildings and underpasses, that my Garmin was not going to be reliable on this race. I had heard that would be an issue for the Chicago Marathon and for whatever reason I never thought it would happen for Rock N Roll. This issue is out of the races hands, just an observation.

The Course takes you on a tour of Chicago, crossing the Chicago River four times (did you know the Chicago River flows backwards, meaning it flows away from Lake Michigan rather than towards it?). Other landmarks along the route were Trump Tower, Chicago Theater, Willis Tower, Soldier Field, the Field Musium, and finishing along Grant Park with pretty cool views of the Chicago skyline. The bridges over the Chicago river were rough since they were like a medal grate surface. The Course was also pretty flat except for a couple of short inclines, nothing to be scared of.

There was also bands along the Course for entertainment but there were still a couple of boring sections along the Course. My favorite entertainment on the course were the Taiko Drummers.

Parts of the course I didn’t like included the long stretch between mile 6 and 8 ( It was just a boring stretch) and running under McCormick place. I have heard others complain about running under McCormick place before and thought it would be no big deal, but now I understand the complaints. It’s very dark, rough surface, and smells as well. Entering the tunneltrying to make the tunnel more appealing?

Aid Stations: there were 7 aid stations lined up on both sides of the course with water and Gatorade. An aid station at around mile 8 had energy gummie and gels as well. There were plenty of volunteers on the course.

Post Race Food: I would say this part was average for a half marathon. There were bananas, cheese crackers, granola bars, chocolate milk, and water. I believe you could also get a Gatorade. They had otter pops to cool you off but they were far from frozen even for the front runners and no one there to help open them.

Post Race Party: As they do at every Rock N Roll race, there was a post race concert. The Concert was held in Butler Park. The band that was playing was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They sounded good, just not really rock n roll.

Swag: The shirts are basic with the logo and neck of a guitar, but I like how they look. The medal was specific to Chicago with the Bean. At one time, it was to have the Wrigley Field Marquee but I believe the Cubs said that was a no go.

Overall: The Rock N’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon is a solid race. Some of the positives include: well organized expo, easy packet pickup, nice course, good post race atmosphere, nice swag. A couple negatives would be that you had to pick up your own bib number and it had to be done at the expo. You could not have someone else pick it up for you. If you lived outside of Chicago, this almost forces you to get a hotel in Chicago which isn’t cheap. We live about 2 hours away and if I could of had someone pick up my bib, we would have drove to the race on race day. The other negative would be getting a different and that plays rock music. Another negative are the extra registration fees ($18!!!). Lastly, running under McCormick place.

Overall, for me, it didn’t live up to the hype of what I have heard about Rock N Roll races. As I said, it’s a good, solid race, but nothing really stood out that I couldn’t find at another cities half marathon. With that, unless I got a really good deal on race registration (and hotel), I think I would register for another half marathon first. Registration is open right now for 2018 so register now for cheapest fees!

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(2017)
"Improvements have been made"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

2017 Sunburst races was run on June 3, 2017. The temperatures at the start of the marathon and half marathon or right around 60°, sunny skies, and no wind. By the time the finish line closed, temperatures were in the upper 70s.

Following last year’s race, there were a lot of improvements that needed to be made to the race. The biggest concern from last year was the length of the course. Runners ran over a half a mile long last year. I had a chance to talk with the race director months before this years event and wasn’t sure that things would be different this year.

Registration

All registration occurred on line, opening on October 3, 2016. Registration fees for the marathon start at $70 and went up to $110, half marathon started at $60 and went up to $100, The 10K start at $25 at went up to $50, and the 5K start at $20 that went up to $45. Obviously I would not be willing to pay the higher fees, however I always register early and if you wait to register that’s your own fault.

Expo

One of the first major thing that was different this year was the race expo. Years past the race expo was held outside in front of the former College Football Hall of Fame. This year they moved it indoors, to the Century Center. For the first time it looked like a real race expo. There were a lot more local businesses, local races, and charities present. When you enter the Century Center you walk down the stairs to the main expo area, picked up your bib number, and your race shirt before going into the rest of the expo. The expo was on Friday from noon until 8 PM. If you were unable to make it to the expo, there was a race day packet pick up.

A suggestion I would give to race organizers, would be to eliminate race day packet pick up or if they want to pick it up on race day charge a fee. I think this way if you charged a fee, you could possibly lower some of the registration fee. I also believe this would influence more people to come and check out the race expo as well. I have seen Chicago races charge a similar fee, and a lot of other bigger races don’t even offer race day packet pick up.

Race Day

This year, just as they did last year, the Marathon and half marathon started at the same time. However, this year they push the start back a half an hour to 6:30 AM. I am not sure what the reasoning behind pushing the start back a half an hour, but it does not seem to make much of a difference other than a little more sunlight. It may seem like 630 is a very early start, however with this race in the early part of June, it can be very warm on race day. I would not wish for this race to start any later.

Course

There were changes to the course. The most notable change was the start location. In years past, as far back as I can remember, the Sunburst races started in downtown South Bend. This year the races started just a few blocks south of the main part of downtown by Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs. This allowed for wider street, and a longer stretch before the first turn. While some parts of the course changed, the most notable part still remain, and that included running along the Riverwalk in Mishawaka which is probably the most attractive part of the course.

The course really isn’t all that difficult until you approach the hill at Miles 12 on the half marathon course. This is where Hallelujah Hill is at. It really isn’t that big of a hill, however it is Right at the end of the race. Other than that the race is mostly flat.

A big issue on the course happened at mile 11. Shortly after mile 11 some of the lead runners of the marathon and half marathon missed a turn because the police officer at the corner did not tell them to turn. I would also put a small part of the blame on the race for not having appropriate signs at that turn on the telling runners to turn, however the police officer at the corner saw the lead biker take the lead marathon runner the right way but did not assist in telling the other runners which way to go. For an officer getting paid to be out there he should be able to tell the runners which way to go. I did see other officer on the course telling runners which way to go. By the time I got to the corner, there was another volunteer telling runner which way to go. Unfortunately some of the marathon and half marathon runners ran over a mile long. This probably effected 5-8 runners.

The finish line was located on the campus of Notre Dame. As in the last couple years and the race did not finishe inside Notre Dame stadium, however it did finish on the Irish Green on the south side of campus. The stadium has been off-limits to the race for the past couple of years due to renovation to the stadium.

The volunteers on the course were awesome. I would possibly like to see more at the aid stations. The aid station seemed very short and the volunteers that were out there were so close together that if you miss the 1st cup you may not get one after that. So I would suggest they have more volunteers or have their volunteer stand further apart at the aid stations. Two of my favorite volunteers, father/daughter Paul and Lizzie Kern.

Swag

This year I liked the shirts and medals. They were both simple and design but I like that. Both featured the race logo. Also this year, age group award winners received a pint glass with the race logo on one side and Fleet Feet Sports logo on the other. Also for the first time, the race offered free race photos.

Overall

After talking with the race director earlier in the year about the Sunburst races, I had high expectations coming in. Other than issues after mile 11 of the lead runner is going your own way, I thought this race was much improved.The one thing I would suggest is that they possibly consider eliminating the marathon race. There were only about 250 participants and it just does not seem like it’s worth the effort to put it on anymore. I do think that there are plenty of participants in the half marathon, 10K, and 5K that this can still be a very popular event.

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