Latest reviews by Jonathan McWalter

(2018)
"A Race Paved with PR's!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb screen shot 2018 05 02 at 10.27.36 pm

Where to begin? The good or the bad (the bad not being all that bad actually)? The good of course: I PR'd my marathon time with this race!!!

Now a brief interlude with the bad. It all falls on me for leaving later than intended and adding an extra hour and 15 minutes to my commute due to traffic. Which caused me to get to the expo with only a few minutes to spare. I was able to pick up my packet and bib, take a picture in front of the Illinois Marathon backdrop, but I wasn't able to really enjoy all that the expo had to offer since most vendors were packing up or had already left. I was disappointed because I had really wanted to take my time to enjoy the atmosphere. So, that was the bad. Not that bad at all, eh?
The good is everything else. I loved the ease of the packet pickup and race day parking. So simple, it was almost unbelievable. Drove right up with time to spare, get to bag check and get stretched out before getting into my corral. And then the race itself. I've only done one other marathon before and that was Chicago, so, yes, the energy level from the crowd wasn't the same but that isn't all that fair to compare. There were many people lining the various neighborhoods we ran through and along some of the campus and city streets. There were also quite a few musicians scattered along the way including: a DJ, a violinist, an rock band and a country band. And then the houses that were just blasting out music from speakers while cheering on the runners. Were there a on of people? No, but the support was still much appreciated. Throughout the course there were water and Gatorade stations that were marked clearly but also the volunteers yelled out what they had in their cups to prevent confusion. There were also two Gatorade gel stations for powering you up. The course itself was relatively flat which helped me with my great race result. A lot of my training ends up being on multiple levels of elevation so there minor inclines were nothing for me. There were moments of rises near the end which were a little tiresome on legs that were starting to feel the burn, but I managed them. And one of the best parts was finishing up in Memorial Stadium and crossing that finish line while being broadcast on the giant scoreboard. So awesome. The medal was super cool and the pullover shirt I received is nice and perfect for spring or fall. The post race food and beer was just as good. Pizza, chocolate milk, pasta with rolls, multiple options of chips, water, I felt full after eating that. And the beer was provided by a local brewery, Riggs Beer Company. Loved that!

The Illinois Marathon organizers did a great job with communication and updates for several months leading up to the race, providing both basic info but also pep talk material and training suggestions week by week. It was really neat the way it adjusted as race day got closer.

Bottom line, this is a race you should run. Marathon or the half or the 10K or even just the 5K the night before (that's right, a stretch your legs out run the night before) but you should take the opportunity to get your own PR on a nice course.

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(2018)
"Lucky Leprechaun 2018"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb screen shot 2018 03 18 at 5.29.21 pm

Another year of running this race and this time it was actually on St. Patrick's Day so woo hoo for that! It is a very fun run and is open to runners and walkers and there are set "corrals" for those who chose to do either one. There's a lot of energy at the starting line with very vocal announcers and a DJ rocking everybody out for the start (and the finish, as they are the same place). Just a lively atmosphere which is a great way to get your Saturday started, especially with this holiday if you're not already out and drinking, lol.
The course itself runs through the local neighborhood and one thing I like is that there are many residents that are out on their porch or by the street yelling and cheering. Pretty cool since they are sort of prisoners (can't drive out) in their neighborhood for the duration of the run. There even was a gentleman sitting on a chair by the road playing his bagpipes! How cool is that?? The course has ups and downs and some elevation around it but also plenty of flat spots as you run along. There was one aid station with water, which I skipped since I never feel like I need it that soon in a run. The finish line is loud and boisterous with the DJ pumping music and fans cheering. Plus there are several mascot like Irish folk (think team mascot outfits but Irish) dancing around at the finish. Another fun aspect to this run, which I'm never in contention for, is that they have a contest called Beat Lucky. "Lucky" is a man dressed in full leprechaun garb and runs like the wind. The first 3 people who cross before him all get gift cards of a varying amount to a local running store. So, pretty cool if you can beat him.
Parking was easy and that's always nice as long you get there about 30 minutes before the race start. And I was well aware of where was safe to park and where I might get blocked from street closures because they are GREAT with email notifications. So many reminders and updates the last three weeks as race day got closer and closer. I love that about these organizers. Really good communication.
My only complaint would be with the swag, in this case a t-shirt. There is no medal which I wish they would consider doing next year. There are so many cool medals they could create with this race. But the t-shirt needs a revamping or something. This year's version was not exciting at all and was rather boring. After six years, I would hope they could do better. Maybe year 7 will be better and they will something crazy awesome for the "lucky" number.

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(2018)
"Hot Chocolate 15K in Nashville"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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Thumb screen shot 2018 02 22 at 7.16.54 pm

I think I will start this off with a statement and then get into the overall review. I believe I got lucky in choosing what must be the best city to run this race in. No disrespect to Charlotte or San Fran, etc but Nashville was the place to be and I look forward to the chance to return to the city.

This was an interesting race in the fact that every aspect of it was awesome..except for the race itself. BUT, that was the fault of an uncontrollable force: the weather. race day was 40 degrees (which is certainly tolerable) but the intermittent pouring rain was not. By the end of the race, I was freezing and shivering; not good combinations. Now that that is out of the way, let's get to the excellent part of all this.

The course was nice but it being an overcast day I think that cast a shadow that wasn't necessarily the true view of the city or the route of the course. Also, there was a lot of construction going on in the city and that was visible, even running directly past an active zone at one point. The streets were quite clean and the elevations weren't extreme but there were enough to keep you honest with your pace and when to accelerate or not. My legs had moments of tiredness but I'm not sure if that was because of the elevation or just my lack of training for this race (I had been battling an injury since the start of the year.) The aid stations were incredible. I can't say enough about the volunteers who were out there, police included. There was one officer who was cheering runners on with such a booming voice you would have thought he had a megaphone. And then there was so much vocal support from the individuals handing out water and NUUN drinks. Simply amazing support and effort for standing out there in those conditions. I applaud and tip my hat to them.

The expo was held in the Musicians Hall of Fame. They had NUUN samples and hot chocolate plus some other sweet treats for you to have. Packet pickup was easy and fast. Walked right up and got my bib, then headed to a separate area to grab my pullover. There were a few vendors there as well and an area with Hot Chocolate race gear from the current series and the past. Some items were on clearance which was tempting. There was also an area to make a contribution to Make-a-Wish if you wanted that allowed you to make a special sign and take a photo in front of the Make-a-Wish backdrop. There was also an area to take pictures in front of a Hot Chocolate series map of the country.

The swag was awesome! A cool pullover with the race logo on it, magnet, a discount coupon for future races and, of course, the delicious bowl of treats at the end of the race. Hot chocolate, chocolate dipping sauce with a banana, pretzel twists, marshmallows, biscotti cookies and some other candy frosted pretzels to dip into. So so good! One of the best end of race treat collections ever. There was also NUUN and water at the finish line. Great way to replenish your electrolytes.

Race management was excellent. Constant updates and reminders as the race date got closer. And, each week, they sent me a training schedule to prep for the race. Four weeks of suggestions on how to train for the race. Loved seeing their updates when they arrived.

All in all, weather aside, I had a great time and I was 100% DEFINITELY recommend running one of the Hot Chocolate series races at some point and I would suggest selecting Nashville as the city to go to. Simply awesome!

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(2018)
"Another Samson Stomp in the Books!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Thumb screen shot 2018 01 17 at 8.10.06 pm

Oh what would a Samson Stomp run be without the temperatures taking drastic measures? LOL. The race was on a Sunday morning, 9:30 start time, so that's nice. This year the Thursday before the race the temps were 50 degrees and sunny. Well, for Sunday, the sun remained but Mother Nature thought it would be fun if she made the starting time temp a single digit experience for everyone. Oh joy! I mean, it is January, haha.
All jokes aside, I truly love and enjoy this race, even with the chilly conditions. The race is in honor of a very popular gorilla, named Samson, that died at the zoo back in 1981. They've been doing this race since then and it draws a decent crowd. Besides the 5K run, they also have it as a 5K walk with people starting out well after the runners. There is also a 2K run, a 1K for the kids and even a 1/4 mile jog for even smaller children. There is no expo to comment on. You show up the day before to pick up your packet and that's it. The swag is a long sleeve t-shirt and free parking and access to the zoo the day of the race. One thing I like is that the proceeds of the run go back directly to the zoo and they really push bringing old cell phones to recycle for the benefit of gorilla habitats. Race management is well done. There are reminders for sign up and the approaching date of the race and then two days before the heads up for packet pickup either on race day or the day before.
The course is something I really enjoy because you run throughout the zoo and get to see whatever animals may be out. This year there were views of the penguins, polar bear, caribou, macques and seals. Normally there is more to look at but currently the zoo in under going some construction for new homes for some of the animals. The elevation changes are both ways. There is one decent incline right near the start point and one major decline that is repeated twice during the race. And then at the start line/finish line you have an up/down part (which is a drag for a finish line but personally I'm used to it.) There was only one aid station this year. I'm not sure if that was because of how cold it was, but I still it wouldn't have been bad to have had a second one, maybe.
When you finish you slap the hand of the costumed gorilla and then head into the zoo's welcome center to check your results and see if you placed. Also, grab a water, yogurt bites, granola bar, Gatorade and a cup of coffee.
I was disappointed I didn't place (once again) but maybe next year. And as always, I definitely recommend this race, just for the cause and I have a fun time, even in the frigid temps.

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(2017)
"Wonderful Course, But Failed Race Management"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb pnc 10k running shot

I ran the half marathon distance last year with this race so I had hoped for a similar experience with the 10K this year. The reasoning behind the 10K was that I was going to be coming off of running the Chicago Marathon (my first marathon) one week earlier and wasn't sure where my legs would be. Smart choice by me. :)
I'll start by saying the race management team does a good job of sending updates and emails talking up the race and encouraging participation. They are very good at doing that. Also, they have a large presence on Facebook and Instagram, from what I saw, with many ads promoting this race. Now, we'll come back to them in a little bit where there will be a better explanation for just the two stars.
The expo was quite lively and I imagine that had to do with the fact it was pouring rain and all in all a crappy day outside. The place was packed with people picking up packets, checking out the Saucony center, the State Farm tent or listening in to a course expert go over the marathon course. Packet pickup was a breeze, even with my getting my packet and a relative's, who was running the half distance. I wasn't able to stay as long as I would have liked but I did get to enjoy checking out the Harley-Davidson cycles on site!
The course itself was relatively low impact. Pretty flat with slight incline/decline moments but nothing huge. It takes you from the start point thourgh some city streets over to the lakefront and past the Milwaukee Art Museum. You head past the marina and then take a U-turn just before Lafayette Hill by the Colectivo Coffee shop. After that you are retracing your steps for the most part to get back to the finish line. Other than being a dreary day with sprinkles and such, the course is truly a nice one to run. At the finish, you are welcomed with your medal, water, pretzels and bananas.The swag with this race is a nice long sleeve tshirt, various coupons and a free beer ticket. This year the beer was provided by Milwaukee Brewing Co and they provided excellent choices. There were four food trucks and a Fuel cafe providing free samples of coffee.
Now to the bad part of the race management. I had to grab my medal on the run as I continued running through the finisher area to get to a clear spot to keep running since the 10K course was marked short. I crossed at 5.72mi instead of the necessary 6.2. This is the second year where this race has had an issue with course markings and distance. This is going to be a giant detriment to the future of this race, I believe. One year is bad luck or just a mistake, but two years is not a good reputation to have, especially when you market yourself as a Boston Qualifying race. No good. Even with that, I would say this is a race running but it needs new management first. This city deserves this race and it really shows off the beauty of the city. It's just too bad that it has been marred by a giant error.

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