Latest reviews by Jonathan McWalter

(2019)
"2019 Samson Stomp n Romp 5K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Another year of running the Samson Stomp n Romp 5K and another year where Mother Nature decided to show off who's the boss in winter time. Two weeks prior to this race, the temperatures were in the 40s and there was sunshine. The morning before the race, there was a snow storm that brought in 7 inches of snow and then a freeze blew into the area. Race start temperatures? 3 degrees. With a breeze. Ugh!!

This year I had to give the race management a five star rating. Why? Sure, there were plenty of reminders to sign up for the race via e-mail and all social media channels as well as the necessary information for packet pickup. But more importantly, the zoo grounds crew staff had this course almost spotless for a hug stretch of it. If I didn't live nearby, I wouldn't have guessed that it had snowed so much the day before. Amazing work! Also, with your registration you received free parking and free access to the zoo for the day, so go run and then have some fun!
I give five stars to the aid stations not because I needed to use it, but, because they were out there, offering water and cheering runners on. That is some incredible volunteer work. Standing, not running, around and cheering. Brave souls to do that in three degree weather.
The swag was the customary t-shirt that they have every year but this year it was a bit underwhelming with a weak front design and nothing on the back. The gorilla overall and age-place awards are cool (my yet to be achieved goal) but not everyone gets one of those so I can't include that in my opinion of the swag.
Nothing for the expo because there isn't one; just packet pickup.
The course scenery was fun as usual but was a little sparse compared to normal. I imagine the ice cold temps kept some of the animals inside, but there were still enough of them outside to look at while running by. Also, this course, for just being a 5K, always challenges me with the various elevation changes from going up to down and then the finish which goes uphill as well. A challenge that is always fun to take on.

All in all, it was another chilly Samson Stomp but I will crazily be back next year, I am sure. I mean, I need another chance to get one of those gorilla trophies!

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(2018)
"New York, New York!!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Well...Wow. That's the one word I can use to describe an event as amazing and challenging as the New York City Marathon. I am so happy I was selected in the lottery and given the chance to run this iconic race. It did not disappoint, from the cheering crowds to the monster bridges (not that intimidating after all) to the amazing expo and pre-race setup. Just a tremendous experience that I will forever remember.

Race management and communication was good. I only looked over their material via a desktop computer and there as never any technical issues. Lots and lots of emails. Some were not important; just trying to get you to purchase event clothing. Other messages were from the New York Road Runners detailing the weekend's events, transportation options, making sure you selected a transportation option, etc. If there ever had been any real problems, I have no doubt that I would have known in plenty of time.

The expo was great! Lots of vendors. Not congested and easy to walk around and have a conversation. I liked that the expo/vendors and even the New Balance store were separate from where you picked up your bib and t-shirt. It made everything much easier to deal with and not have you tripping all over people. I enjoyed the number of vendors that had samples of their products, some of which I had never had the chance to try before and the previous runners going over the course was great as well. They provided the necessary info you needed while injecting some humor into their presentation making it more enjoyable than just someone standing up there boring you with a dead voiced speech. Definitely worth the extended period of time that I spent there, lol.

The day of the race started with everything going smoothly. Got the train down to the Staten Island Ferry and made it across with zero issues (even though I missed my ferry slot time), then onto the bus to cart us all over to the corrals. Dropped off my bag (wish I had gotten the poncho, but that was my feeling post race) and then had some water and a bagel from the many options that were available in the staging area. This is the first race I've been to where there were this many options BEFORE a race. Bagels, coffee, water, Gatorade gels and drink. Impressed to say the least.

The course was as beautiful and amazing as advertised. Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn gave an incredible view of Manhattan and the skyline. I'm not winning or placing anywhere so I freely admit I stopped to take a photo. I couldn't resist. The crowds were so energetic in every borough you crossed into. People yelling welcome as you entered Queens or the Bronx. All of them blasting music for you, yelling out your name as you ran by. The feeling of each boroughs pride was so evident. The bridges were tough but I was mentally prepared for those and the challenge they provided wasn't insane, but...yes, the "but", the repetitive smaller inclines and declines and then inclines again, were really tough at times overall. The aid stations were top notch and extremely well managed. Clear as day what was water and Gatorade and they never seemed to become too congested when you went through them. Damn fine job done by all those volunteers.

Finally, the long sleeve tech shirt you receive, I thought, was pretty nice and I look forward to wearing it as the weather becomes chillier. The medal is awesome. I love it and it's a worthy item to have after finishing this great race.

If you have the chance to run this epic marathon, do it! It will be one for the ages and an experience you will never forget and will most assuredly enjoy!

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(2018)
"Another Dash in the Books!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Another Thanksgiving morning, another Drumstick Dash 5K in Milwaukee! Even though it's usually windy or bitterly cold, I do enjoy this race and the fact it supports Feeding America, an organization that helps provide food for people who may not be able to afford it. Like the race motto says, "Move your feet so others can eat!" Bonus this year for folks who didn't want to run a full 5K was the addition of the Half a Drumstick 2K.

Swag: Each year of this race they have always provided a long sleeve t-shirt, until this year. This year they went with a thin layered hoodie. I have to say that I have loved the t-shirts but the hoodie is a nice change of pace. The swag area though is why I don't give this race a full five stars. I really wish they would provide a medal. I see so many other Turkey Day races giving medals, why can't this one?

Aid Stations: They provide one halfway through with water, which is plenty. It's easily accessible as you run by and the volunteers are awesome and there are a lot of them there ready to hand you a cup.

Course Scenery: Always a fun race as you run around Miller Park and the surrounding neighborhood and then across the pedestrian bridge that connects the parking lots to the stadium.

Expo Quality: Small. It is located in the club lounge at Miller Park. There is packet pickup, obviously. There are a few cutouts to take pictures with and a couple of vendors. There was another Vision Management race set up to sign up for if you wanted to. Also a table for last minute registration was available.

Elevation: There is one substantial hill at the start. After that there are some rolling areas with small ups and downs. The final push to the finish line also as a decent incline.

Parking: Free! Miller Park parking lots are open for all cars, racers or just viewers.

Race Management: They do a great job with email updates and on Facebook/Instagram as well. No way you miss any information as they post often as race day gets closer.

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(2018)
"Run the miles, drink the bourbon!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Oh man, what an incredible racing experience in Louisville! I can easily say that this was the best race experience I've ever had, hands down. This race earns every positive thing said about it and totally lived up to the hype! Great all around from the pre-race communication through the packet pickup process to the race itself to the finish line events. Nothing was a letdown and it all explains why this race is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, in the United States.

I'll start with the race management. Great communication starting right away as soon as I registered for the race. Always sending emails notifications of course changes or updates to the packet pickup process. Michael Clemons and his team are beasts! You have a question, ask it, and they get back to you within 24 hours (quicker than that, really) with an answer. Each update they provided was concise and offered up all the details you needed to know about race day as it got closer, including when price increases would be happening.
The expo was held at the PNC Club at Cardinal Stadium. There you were given the opportunity to get your packet, sample some bourbon for free, and take a great pre race photo in front of the Urban Bourbon backdrop. Also, parking was free which is always a bonus. I had the privilege of attending a VIP packet pickup which took place at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville. I was able to pick up my bib and wristband for the post race party. There were hors d'oeuvres to eat, free bourbon cocktails and a live bluegrass band. All VIPS were given an opportunity to partake in the Taste of History experience which allowed the tasting of four unique bourbons and learning how to drink bourbon properly. There was also an opportunity to purchase a white label Jim Beam commemorative bottle with the race logo on it.
The race itself was as fun as advertised, right from the start. It all started off with the Kentucky Derby's bugler playing a wonderful version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then it was race time. There weren't specific corrals to be in but you could find your pacer by seeing the pacer sign high up. The course has you go through parts of downtown Louisville but there is a very beautiful section in later miles of the race that take you through Cherokee Park. That was also the location of the most elevation in the whole of the race. And there were plenty of places all throughout the entire course for people to cheer you on and slap your hand.
Aid stations on the course were well positioned and had some great volunteers helping out. Easily identifiable between water and Powerade and all volunteers not only handed off cups but handed out support.
Finally, this race provides one of the best medals out there. This year's speaks for itself with a bourbon barrel as the main piece and a bottle in the middle that swivels. You also received a unisex long-sleeve tech shirt that is damn nice.

I've wanted to run this race for a couple of years now and finally did it. This is a race you need to put on your list. It is awesome and lives up to the hype! I can't wait for another opportunity to visit Louisville and run this race!

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(2018)
"A Race Paved with PR's!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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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