Latest reviews by Jonathan McWalter

(2022)
"Running with the Minions!!"
Overall
Race Management
SWAG
Virtual Support

When the opportunity to run a virtual race that was connected to the lovable Minions, I just couldn't pass it up! I saw it as a great way to spend some time with one of my sons who doesn't enjoy running that much but always is up for fun runs like this one here. I have to disclose that the real selling point for my son was the AMAZING swag that came with his registration. He loves the t-shirt and the medal is obviously a winner for him but it was the winter pom hat that was the clincher! Loves the pom hat and, for that matter, so do I! The race being virtual made it easy to find a time for both of us to take on the 5K and we were able to do at a leisurely pace. I loved that we were able to run, jog, walk and talk the whole time. It made for a great bonding experience. The virtual support was positive as well. I was emailed about the registration confirmation and delivery of my son's swag packet. I was also informed of my medal being delayed and that it would be coming soon as well (I had registered much earlier than my son hence the difference there) and they were supportive on social media channels as well. I only give the race management section 3 stars since I'm still waiting for my medal after being told it wouldn't be long until it arrived. Otherwise, this was a very fun virtual race to participate in and I would certainly do it again, whether it be Minions or some other fun option.

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(2022)
"Cedarburg Half Marathon: A race worth your time!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I randomly chose to run the Cedarburg Half Marathon just at the end of February. I figured I was running a half in Illinois at the end of April so another one at the end of May wouldn't be too taxing on the body. I wanted something closer to home where I could sleep in my own bed and get up and go on race morning. This ended up being a diamond found in the rough. I thought everything was well done by the race organizers and they pulled off a great event.

Expo Quality: OK, so I give this a middle of the road score but not because it was a negative. It was just small and really just a packet pickup located outside of the Cedarburg High School. So, nothing special but besides your bib, the bag contained several coupons for local business and I can appreciate that since Cedarburg is a nice community which has some fabulous businesses to visit.

Parking/Access: No problems whatsoever parking (also at the high school where the race started and finished) when I arrived and it was very smooth departing after finishing the race. No issues at all and I personally love that about any race. Less complications for me at the start of a race, the better.

Course Scenery: A really nice mix of neighborhood street running for the first three miles and then almost all of the rest on a bike trail that went out and back for a finish at the high school. The neighborhood was nice and shaded and provided subtle ups and downs (nothing major and this was the only real elevation on the course) and then the trail, of course, offered up some nice nature views. It made for a pleasant run the whole way.

Aid Stations: A couple that you passed twice each way. Fully staffed and did not run out of water. My only complaint was that the cups were filled a little high which caused some spilling on myself.

T-Shirts/Swag: Along with the local business coupons, the event gave out a really nice race shirt; quality material, fun design. And the organizers even gave the option to me at pickup to exchange the size if I needed to. Plus, there was a nice medal at the finish line. The post race party included music from a DJ, plenty of water, bananas, granola bars, and, get ready for this, a pancake bar free for all the runners. How awesome is that?!

Race Management: Great job with a local event! They communicated very well leading up to race day and had the race results ready to go about an hour after the final finisher. And the group they used for the race photos did an excellent job; I loved how crisp and sharp my pics looked; for once, I'm not looking like a gargoyle, haha.

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(2022)
"Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon HALF Marathon Review"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I had the opportunity at the end of April to run the half marathon distance at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon and it was a fabulous event and race! Everything from the expo and packet pickup through the race itself and ending with the post race party was on point. I ran the marathon distance back in 2018 and nothing has changed in that time when it comes to the seamless running of the race. If there is a race you should run just for the finely run machine that it is, it is the Illinois Marathon. The course is nice and simple, perfect for getting that PR you might be striving for (full disclosure: I did not hit a PR in this race, but it is definitely attainable.) The race management and the volunteer staff are top notch and you receive some nice swag with your registration.

T-Shirts/Swag: An awesome soft cotton t-shirt representing this year's race and 2020, which was when the cancellations began; a pretty sweet finisher's medal, a nice nylon string bag that was used as your gear check back but will get many more uses down the road.

Expo Quality: Really nice spacing of the vendor booths with other races promoting themselves, a CPR area, some racing gear vendors and then the official Illinois Marathon vendor area full of some pretty nice merchandise with the race logo on it. Packet pickup was extremely quick and smooth. I was checked in and had my shirt and bib in minutes. Very efficient.

Parking/Access: Easy drive into the parking lot on race morning with no problem getting to the start line (and bathroom) before the race start. And at the end of the race and when I was done with the post race party, easy exit back to my hotel.

Course Scenery: It wasn't as nice as it was in 2018 but that's because they had to alter the course due to a lack of volunteers and construction going on around the University of Illinois campus so that effected it a little bit. But, how can you not like a race that has you finishing while you cross the 50-yard line of a major college football stadium. It's awesome! And when you get that PR, don't forget to ring the heck out of the PR bell that is provided for all runners.

Elevation Difficulty: Minimal and that's why it makes for a great course to get your PR. There are some minor hills on some of the course but nothing that will kill your racing mojo. Pretty flat for a huge part of it.

Aid Stations: Well stocked and well serviced by volunteers. Plenty of water to grab and on several of the tables, Nuun hydration to replenish the body as you chugged along the course. My only complaint was that the volunteers were doing too good of a job by filling the cups a little too high with water. The first two stations had me inhaling water up my nose as I was running and drinking at the same time.

Race Management: EXCELLENT! Constant updates from several months out all the way to the morning of race day. And the last few days they were not shy about sending out info in case of bad weather (which was in the forecast) and about where to go if necessary. Also, what other race do you see the race director get involved with runner directional control? Jan Seeley was out directing runners where to go on certain turns. That's how much she loves this race and being in charge of how well it is run.

Bottom line, choose this race as a destination race if you're looking for a spring race. You won't be disappointed and I guarantee you'll have a good time! and don't forget the post race party! Tons of food options from pizza to chocolate milk to bananas, Kind bars, rolls, the list goes on and on. And then you go outside and get your free beer where you can also purchase food truck food if you like and get a free quick massage if you like.

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(2021)
"2021 Chicago Marathon Experience!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon…where to begin? Of course, it was incredible but I think that would be an expectation. I ran this once before, in 2017, but I was so in awe back then since it was my first ever marathon and I just wanted to finish the race. This time, I was determined to pay attention and enjoy the nuances more all while still running competitively in order to achieve some goals I set for myself.

I arrived into Chicago in the early afternoon on Friday, driving in from Milwaukee, but I didn’t hit the expo that day. I did pay a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry and had the opportunity to enjoy their Marvel Comics special exhibit. That really was a treat and I highly recommend checking that out if you have the chance before the exhibit closes.

After a later than anticipated start on Saturday and a visit to the Shedd Aquarium, I made my way over the the marathon expo, waited in a forever long line to check vaccination status, and then picked up my bib and shirt, etc. I roamed around the various vendors for a little bit, not too long, grabbed some KT Tape, drank a Goose Island sample, and made my way out to make sure I got to my 5pm dinner reservation on time. After eating a fabulous meal at Volare Ristorante Italiano, it was back to the hotel to lay out flat me and hope to get a good night’s rest. (Full disclosure: I slept horribly, unfortunately)
RACE DAY!! It finally arrived! Felt like forever since I began the training cycle for this moment and yet it was time. After not sleeping well, I made another “error” by setting my alarm too early so I was up at 4:45am. For some reason, I thought it would take me longer to get to the start line since I was staying a little farther away than I did in 2017. So, I got dressed, had my protein shake and overnight oats, drank some water, and headed downstairs to the hotel lobby hoping to either catch an Uber or be able to utilize the hotel ride service, even though I didn’t call in time the day before to schedule myself on it. After half a cup of coffee, I secured a ride down to Grant Park and made my way, very very ahead of schedule, to gear check. Let the day begin with some dark pics and a selfie!

Thankfully, I came across a fellow BibRave runner and we chatted until the start time, getting some water from the Gatorade booth and making a final visit to the Porto’s. We also managed to find another BibRave runner and got to chat it up with her for awhile, which was really nice meeting them in person after so many social media exchanges. Now the time for stretches and breathing exercises before starting the slow, long walk to the starting line!

I’d like to say that this was a race where it all came together for me and the goals I had set were all reached and there were smiles all around…but, are you crazy?! It’s a marathon! Ha ha, and it knows how to humble you and make you respect it like no other race I’ve done. The race started in a yellow alert status meaning less than ideal race conditions but be careful and you’ll be ok. I personally started really well, maybe too well. My body felt good and I had a good pace but I wasn’t pushing it. I could feel it getting warmer and took my first water at the Mile 3 aid station, something I usually don’t do until Mile 6 on long runs. At Mile 5, a hearty shoutout from a fellow BibRaver, who was volunteering, gave me a very early energy boost. I mean, I literally felt the excitement rise up in me. And then there were all the spectators along the route. I feel I should address them all right here because they were amazing! So much support, so many funny and motivation signs, so many cheers and shouts, just an incredible feeling/moment/image for 26.2 miles throughout the city of Chicago. They truly know how to make you feel good even when things may not go right.

Now, back to the race. Somewhere in the early teen mile markers, the race went into a red alert status which meant dangerous weather conditions (the humidity had increased) and be extremely wary of dehydration and cramping and your body, in general. But I was still doing OK. I wasn’t feeling the humidity, I felt hydrated enough, and my legs were still holding strong. It wasn’t until Mile 18 where I started to feel soreness in my feet and my left lower back extending into my glute starting to talk to me. I’d say it was here where my race goals began to lean in the direction of harder to reach. But I kept plugging along. There were more stops for water and I began taking in Gatorade. I had had some pickle juice at Mile 8 (a decision I later felt was incorrect timing by me) and my Honey Stinger waffle.

Weird side note here: on long runs, I find that I don’t get hungry or I don’t feel like ingesting food even though every rational thought says I should and would need food.

Back to the race and my pursuit of glory, haha. The struggle started to hit at Mile 21, especially with my left side. And then I had some side cramps, something I never ever get when running, so that was just bizarre. Mile 23 led to some right quad spasms which slowed me some. But I managed another smile at the photo stop!

As I hit Mile 25, there was one more, last second energy boost provide by yet another BibRaver who was volunteering his time! Thank you so much! And then it was the finish! I’m proud to say I crossed the finish line in a time of 4:03:35! I had three goals going into this marathon but only achieved one of them. Goal #1 was to better my 2017 Chicago Marathon time which I did and by a very decent margin. Goal #2 was to get a sub-4 hour time. To be so close and not get it will sting for a while, for sure. A couple less walking water stops and I might have hit that goal. Goal #3 was to set a marathon PR which I knew coming in would be a long shot but sometimes that’s what your goals are supposed to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be special. But, bottom line, I’m a Chicago Marathon finisher for the second time!

A lot of good feelings finishing this race and some great photos as well to document it. So happy to have met some of my fellow BibRave members and gotten to talk to them. Happy that I came out of this marathon without any major injuries and my health intact. Just happy in general. And I made sure to celebrate that night after driving home.
Happy running everyone!!

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(2021)
"Guaranteed to NOT be cancelled!!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

On May 1, I ran the Non Cancelled Marathon put on by Silver Circle Sports Entertainment. I've had the pleasure of running several of their races during the last year during the pandemic and they have done an excellent job abiding by safety protocols and providing a friendly and secure racing environment. The weather lined up nicely on race day, for the most part. There was a nasty 16-20mph wind that gusted frequently in one direction which not only gave resistance but made it slightly more chilly than it should have felt with the temperatures that day.

Aid Stations: I have to give this zero stars since this is the only thing to not return to normal yet. No aid stations and you were responsible for your own hydration and fuel for the race.

Expo Quality: Again, zero stars since there was no expo. Packet pickup was before the race (or the day before if you drove out to the organization's headquarters in a 3 hour time window. Packet pickup was smooth and simple though; wear you mask while in line and grab your bib and pins if needed. Your verification was sent via email in the form of a Q-code. Nice and easy, just scan.

Course Scenery: This was an out and back course so the scenery didn't change and if you did the marathon, like me, you got to run this out and back FOUR times. Yeah, four times. Buuuuut, the race was out on a paved trail and there were a lot of birds to look at while running. I even saw a sandhill crane attempting to camouflage itself in a marsh area off the course. That was pretty cool to see so close. Also, this race allowed for spectators and was that awesome to hear! Even if they were cheering for others or just cheering in general, it was really great to hear! It made what could have been a drag of a race into a more splendid experience.

Elevation Access: Minimal. Slight incline going in one direction and one or two very small up and downs just before the turn point.

Parking Access: There was some parking lots near the race start/finish but those filled up quickly. But there were plenty of side streets to park on so everything was good.

T-Shirt/SWAG: A bright red t-shirt with the race name and sponsors on it and a medal were the items provided for all race participants. I like the shirt; it has a nice feel to it and red is always a winning color in my book. And the medal, well, they didn't like about it, lol. They promised the largest medal ever and it is gigantic! It announces you finished and in a big way.

The Silver Circle Sports group does a great job with these events and, in the last year especially, have been incredible having races that actually took place. They communicate very well, constantly sending out updates and they answer your direct question within one day of you submitting a query. I can't say enough about how good of a group they are. I know when I sign up for a race by them, it will take place and I will have a good time, no matter what type of race it is.

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