Latest reviews by Jonathan McWalter

(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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(2018)
"Lucky Leprechaun 2018"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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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