Latest reviews by Jonathan McWalter

(2020)
"Another Year of Samson Stompin!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

What can I say about another year of running the Milwaukee County Zoo's Samson Stomp n Romp 5K? Well, this was the 40th year of the event and it remains one of the most popular events at the zoo even though it takes place in January, in Wisconsin. This year provided some challenges though and that's why I will review it again. I am giving the race an overall grade of five stars for overcoming weather and construction challenges while still putting on a fun event for adults and kids.
T-shirt/SWAG: The race always does a long sleeve t-shirt and while that may not seem exciting, this year's version had a nice touch for the 40 year anniversary. On the back were the temperatures for the every year of the race leading up to this year. Just really cool and fascinating to see how many years have been in single digits and how many were above 30 degrees (not many, lol).

Aid Stations: There is only one station and it always has water but I have to give it at least three stars because the volunteers are out there suffering in the cold to hand out that water.

Course Scenery: Five stars, of course! You get to run through the zoo, checking out the polar bear, elk, macaques, penguins and more. You get to listen to the sea lions barking from their enclosure. And this year, due to construction making a larger hippo exhibit, the course had to be altered and it was a welcome change in my opinion. I loved that the course provided a new way to traverse the race. Great job working with what they had to work with.

Expo Quality: Not really an expo, per se. Just a packet pickup at the zoo. But the staff on hand are nice and friendly and ready to answer any and all questions you may have. Or just banter with you about how cold it will be on race morning, haha.

Elevation Difficulty: There was still the tough incline that the race always has but where it once was before you passed the first mile, not it was in between the 2nd and 3rd mile, so a little more challenging at the point in the race. There were also the same two steep declines that the course always has but, similar to the incline, their location in the race was not the same as year's past.

Parking: Your bib and race confirmation is your parking pass into the zoo. Easy access and easy departure. No problems.

Race Management: They did a phenomenal job with this race. The overcoming of the construction to create a fun course that still reached the right distance was impressive. But even more impressive was that the city and zoo were hit with a nasty ice and snow storm a day before and the zoo had the entire course cleared off of both. There were very few spots that had ice that was dangerous and there was zero snow on the course itself. Bravo again for the zoo's maintenance staff for having a safe event. Packet pickup was smooth. And the post race party/spread was just as nice as always. Apples, Gatorade, water, coffee, granola bars, strawberry milk, blueberry milk, a restaurant's homemade tomato soup and another restaurant's chicken and rice sample dish were all part of the post race spread that led to the handing out of awards. And, no, I didn't age place this year. There's always next year though....

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(2019)
"Running the Strip at Night was Perfect!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

What a race, what an event and what a city! OK, I knew the city was badass already before the race but this was my first visit to Las Vegas that wasn't just for gambling and drinking. This had purpose and, therefore, I needed to behave and not get too involved with the excess that is Vegas. This is a race I've been excited to do for a while; a destination race that had been on my bucket list. And it did not disappoint! Running down the Strip with various bands playing all types of music from rock n roll to old Vegas crooners to Elvis classics, all with the bright neon lights brightening up the course was simply magical. The crowds on the Strip were lively with their cheers and the starting line was electric as each wave was released onto the course with a giant fire display pulsing up from the start line overhang.

EXPO QUALITY: The expo was easy to get to; just had to jump on the monorail and it dropped you off right by the Las Vegas Convention Center. I went on Friday afternoon and there was no line to get my bib so that was really quick. After that, I perused several rows of race merchandise and Brooks shoes too. Bought the special race designed Brooks Launch and a pair of the new Adrenaline GTS 20s since they were 15% off; couldn't pass that up! I also grabbed a couple of other items in the merchandise area before heading out to the vendors. I need to make a racing list from this point forward as I realized at the expo I had forgotten a couple of items at home, so a new running belt for storage was needed as well as some fuel for the race. The forgetting of the fuel was more frustrating than anything since I had just restocked at home, but, oh well. Lots of vendors to go through, from Honey Stinger to Geico to Knockaround to many others. Lots of photo options as well in front of signs such as #StripatNight and Vegas Strong.

T-shirts/SWAG: A fun race shirt that was made to match whatever distance you were running for the race. The medal for the race was also pretty cool with a Strip design and at the top a spinning wheel that has the date of the race and the distance you competed at.

Parking Access: No parking really. But most people stayed on the Strip or nearby. And if you lived in the area, Uber/Lyft/taxis were suggested to use to get to the start line.

Aid Stations: The volunteers at the aid stations were 1005 awesome! Shouting out cheers and support at every one. Full of enthusiasm. They were one of the best parts of the entire race. Loud enough to know where water was, where Gatorade was, when there were gels or bananas., just so helpful.

Course Scenery: The Strip was awesome to run down and through, and even heading towards downtown Las Vegas was pretty nice, going past wedding chapels and some smaller casinos. There were some quiet parts on the course as well, not well-lit and more residential, but, where they could, the organizers put bands out in those places as well to keep you grooving.

Elevation Difficulty: Moderate if you did ran the marathon, none at all if you ran shorter distances. The marathon was the only distance that had elevation. When you headed away from the Strip the course had you run over the freeway system and circle back a few times so there were a couple of going uphill, but nothing too strenuous.

Race Management: Plenty of communication in the months leading up to the race. A lot of help at the expo answering questions. As I previously stated, the volunteers were amazing and prepped excellently. The starting line was smooth as was the Start Village, where all runners congregated prior to going into the corrals. The finish line was perfect with not every handout right next to one another; they provided space for you to collect yourself and your free items as you walked along to the exit point.

The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon was a great race, plain and simple. I had a blast and I would highly suggest that this be the race you aim to run in this series if only for the opportunity to run the Strip at night.

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(2019)
"1st Time Running Madison and it was a Blast!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Finally. That should really be the title for my review of the Madison Mini Marathon. After missing out on it the previous three years for various reasons, I finally was able to run it. Although that almost didn't happen thanks to dealing with an ongoing injury. I'm really glad I had the opportunity to run this race and visit, briefly, the city of Madison, a place I had never been to before. So, let's get to the details!

Expo Quality: It was OK. They had multiple vendors, but not a whole lot of them. You had options though. Available to purchase were goodr glasses, Balega socks, Saucony kicks and also many energy and fueling options too. And the race merchandise had some nice choices too, with hooded sweatshirts and t-shirts plus gear from previous years' races. There were the updated course maps for both the half marathon and 5K distances. Also, a cool banner representing 2019 with all runners names listed on it; they also had several previous years' banners with names hung nearby.

T-Shirt/Swag: Just a t-shirt here. But one with a nice design and one that I will actually wear. Can't always say that about race shirts. This one has a retro look to it and I'm digging that.

Parking/Access: Parking and access for the expo was easy and I had zero problems. For the race itself I was a little disappointed and probably unprepared. I thought there would be signs showing where free parking would be (I am only assuming there was free parking) but at the very least, signs where available parking should be. I pulled into a garage just to park since it was getting late and close to the start of the race.

Course Scenery: I loved it! Running through the city, past the capital building and also later getting to run past Camp Randall Stadium. And then the sections that had you going past the lake were wonderful; brought some cooler air onto the body that was much enjoyed with the humidity that was out there. A very enjoyable viewing course to run on.

Elevation Difficulty: There were some hills throughout but nothing that seemed daunting... until the final hill that came after mile 12! Ha ha! And when a road is called Observatory Hill, well, it isn't going to be subtle! That was the worst hill on the entire course. Everything else was manageable.

Aid Stations: Wow! These made the race! So many energetic groups at the aid stations cheering on runners, answering questions and just being as supportive as possible handing out water and Gatorade. It's been quite some time since I've run a race that had so much energy and overall exuberance at so many aid stations along the course. The Madison Mini group did a great job choosing the groups to man the stations. Just excellent! One of the highlights of this race!

Race Management: Plenty of it! Constant informing of price increases. Timely updates concerning the course being changed due to construction not being completed along some roads. The post race party put on was fabulous! Out on the lakefront, a band rocking away, beverages flowing, people taking pics in a giant chair or along the docks. It was a picture perfect scene. A really great end to a really great race.

This is a race I am happy that I finally got to run. And I hope to run it again when not being injured and see what I can really do for a pace and finish. This is a half marathon you should think about doing though. For sure.

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(2019)
"Food Truck the Theme!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I skipped this race in 2018 because I was suffering from a right hip issue that wasn't fully healed by race day so I was really excited to run this year. Especially after remembering the fun time and value the race provided when I ran it in 2017. There were some similarities but also some small differences this time around but, as I said, still a fun race with an energetic group running it for a good cause.

T-Shirt/SWAG: This race provides, in my opinion, some of best swag of any race I've been a part of. You receive a pretty nice long-sleeve t-shirt, a tasting glass with this year's race logo on it, a ticket for a free Bloody Mary at a local restaurant, a ticket for a free post race beer and a finisher's medal that reflects the race theme, this year being breakfast food trucks.

Aid Stations: There was one water station just before halfway mark on the course, only accessible when running in the one direction.

Course Scenery: Not too much going on here. The course is a county paved trail and heads out and then turns back at the halfway point. It's nice that it is relatively secluded on the trail but you do go over a pedestrian bridge that is over a main street below so some noise from that. Now, compared to 2017, there was a new starting point/finish point for the race which I much preferred.

Expo Quality: Packet pickup is at a local running store, Performance Running Outfitters, so you do have the opportunity to check out some sweet runner merchandise and shoes if you so desire after getting your bib, etc.

Elevation Difficulty: Pretty much zero elevation other than the slight incline and decline of the pedestrian bridge.

Parking Access: There were two medium size parking lots to use, but if they were full, which they were when I arrived, there was plenty of free street parking.

Race Management: Really great! Lots of communication via email leading up to race day. Also, I enjoyed the change they did with the brunch this year. In 2017, you had to pay up front for a ticket to a brunch that was at a nearby park pavilion; you could buy a ticket day of but it would cost more. This year they had three food trucks, all offering up different items, staged by the race to cater to people. Loved that! Also, the race benefits the SEED foundation which is a local educational foundation for the Shorewood school system.

All in all, a fun race with sweet swag, an easy 5K course meant for PR's and some delicious beverages afterwards as well. They also had coffee and cocoa, provided by a local coffee place, at the end of the race (or before the race if you wanted) and water.

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(2019)
"Sweet Home Milwaukee 5K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This would be what I would consider an entry level 5K for beginner runners. Or, as in my case this year, a very good opportunity to PR your 5K time if you're in the market to do so. The weather this year was quite chilly. How chilly you ask? Low 30s and later that day it snowed. On April 27. Gotta love Wisconsin weather, haha! So here are the details of this year's Sweet Home Milwaukee 5K!

Expo Quality: Not really an expo per se. You pick up your packet at a local running store, Performance Running Outfitters. They give you your bib and some fillers in your bag along with your t-shirt. The one cool benefit of having packet pickup there is if you need or want to check out some new sneakers, you'll be set.

Race Management: Lots of contact leading up to the race, even a final email on the Thursday before the race informing runners that a decision would be made early if inclement weather were to arrive sooner than predicted. Great atmosphere at the race with music and the emcee keeping everyone awake and chuckling before the race and after the race.

Parking/Access: The race is held on the Milwaukee Lakefront at Veterans Park, which has a decent amount of parking spaces and then street parking is also available in the area. I had no trouble getting a spot and it seemed a lot of people had no trouble with the street parking.

Course Scenery: The race runs along the lakefront so you have plenty to gaze out at as you complete the 5K. Also, you're running through the park so all spectators can cheer you on from all the picnic tables that are spread about.

Aid Stations: One water station a little beyond the one mile marker point (via your own tracking since there were no actual mile markers on the course). Both sides of the course had tables with volunteers handing out water.

Elevation Difficulty: None. There is zero elevation hence why it makes for a nice starter 5K for someone.

T-Shirts/Swag: You receive a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt and a pretty sweet medal that doubles as a bottle opener. You also receive a free beer ticket which this year got you a brew from local brewery Third Space Brewing. You also get a ticket for a free Bloody Mary at local restaurant Stubby's Gastropub. At the finish line there was water, a banana and apples.

Overall: The weather notwithstanding I enjoyed the race. Yes, I have some bias since I set a PR for myself in the 5K distance but the communication was good, the swag was good for the price and course was nice to run on. Also, they had a food drive being put on by the Hunger Task Force that was connected to a raffle. You could donate items of food or a monetary donation. I would definitely consider doing this race next year. The weather has to be better, right? Haha!

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