Latest reviews by Eric Blasius

(2016)
"Great nighttime race!"
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A fun 5k in Chicago along the Lakefront! I ran this race for the first time, and it was also my first time running an evening/night race. It's a fun environment and a fast course built for PRs!

Packet Pickup was held at Fleet Feet Chicago in Old Town the day before the race. Packet Mailing was also available (for $15). If neither of these options worked for you, you could pick up your packet the day of. This is really rare at races but is so appreciated! Everyone has different schedules to work around. I picked up my Packet at Fleet Feet Chicago, and was in and out in 30 seconds!
The Goodie Bag was a RAM Racing drawstring bag with my bib and the race shirt, which was a black shirt with side mesh panels. The race logo was reflective and rather small in the upper right side. I was a little disappointed with the shirt-- it was very plain and a missed opportunity to have something great! I hope next year they take that feedback to make something more awesome!

Gear check was very easy, simply by affixing a tear-tab from my bib to my own bag.

The course is a fast and flat out-and-back setup. It unfortunately goes south through the McCormick Place tunnel (watch your step-- the pavement is not in great condition!) and right before the turn around, hits an aid station which stocked Nuun and then water. The course then utilizes the Chicago Lakefront Trail to head north back to near the Start Line. The Finish Line was high-energy with lots of cheering and happy volunteers! Bottled water and cups of Nuun were given out at the Finish.

The festival after was perhaps one of the coolest parts, featuring a really awesome local cover band, Maggie Speaks! Your registration also included a free meal (a sausage and chips) and a free Bell's beer! This is a nice touch!

Overall, I had a good experience and would run this race again. I had a blast with my friends and really enjoyed the setup with the festival afterwards. Such a cool way to spend an evening in Chicago!

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(2016)
"Arriba!!"
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What a fun and exciting race! The Cinco de Miler did not disappoint. The race was themed around Cinco de Mayo and was a great celebration for this important Mexican holiday.

Registration on the RAM Racing website was simple and easy. They asked during initial registration what my planned pace was (this is very important to me- this means they will organize corrals appropriately) and since my pace was faster than their set threshold, I was asked to provide timing proof from a prior race. Again, I was more than happy to do so. I don’t like when races make you come back at a later day or fill out a separate form for this— better to get it done right away.
Race communication was good, slowly ramping up as the race date approached. The emails included a link to their site versus just putting the info in the email (which is fine by me). The only thing I noticed was that they seemed to have copied a lot of info to these pages from their marquee event (Hot Chocolate 5k/15k). I didn’t find all of the information to pertain solely to Cinco de Miler. Not a big deal, but made me feel a lack of effort on their part.

Packet Pickup was available at various Fleet Feet Sports locations throughout Chicagoland. I’m lucky enough to live just a few miles from where the race took place and therefore had Packet Pickup close by, but a friend who lives farther away enjoyed the suburban Packet Pickup options as well. The process was very smooth and quick— you could either show a QR code from your email or just give the last name. I did the latter, as I was picking up my packet and someone else’s at the same time. They did not hassle me for picking up the other packet as well. I was in and out in less than five minutes!
The goodie bag just had my bib and race shirt. The shirt was of unknown brand, as the label had RAM Racing’s logo. It was a patterned bright orange and red design, very bright and unlike any other shirt I’ve ever gotten from a race!

Race Day was an adventure. There was a threat of bad weather, but I still stuck to my plan of arriving on time and all, but made sure everything I wore was rain-proof. Parking was very close to the race location— though it did cost $20. Knowing what I know about events on Chicago Parks District property, the parking fee is almost never able to be waived. Understandable. The race start area was laid out very well, with abundant space. Plenty of bathrooms (porta-potties). I didn’t bring anything to check at Gear Check, but I did notice it was laid out well in tents with signs organizing by bib number.
As I mentioned, there was poor weather about 45 minutes before the race. A storm moved in from the north and brought rain and lightning. Without missing a beat, the race staff quickly & efficiently moved shuffled everyone to the adjacent parking structure for safety. The rain and lightning passed after about 20 minutes and we were directed back to the race area. The winds picked up and they had to take down some of the smaller tents and signage, but I think everyone totally understood and was appreciative of all the efforts of the race staff! Even with all of that, the race started on time and they did a great job of re-energizing the crowd! The corrals were not heavily enforced, but they did a great job of handling it.
The race starts heading south beneath McCormick Place in the tunnel…which most Chicago runners know is part of many races. It’s about 3-4 city blocks long and it’s always dark, the pavement is in terrible condition— a breeding ground for sprained ankles. I understand this is the one of the only possible route for races from here, but there has got to be alternatives brainstormed… the course continues south on a closed lane of Lake Shore Drive, which is pretty cool! At the half way point, the course merges onto the Chicago LFT (Lake Front Trail) and heads back north. There were strong headwinds at this point, so many runners had to readjust their pacing plan accordingly. There were two aid stations on the course, the first with only water (which is fine with me for a five mile race) and the second had Nuun first, then water. I’m a fan of Nuun in general, but I disagree with it being used during a race. I tend to have a hard time chugging a carbonated drink while racing and would rather Gatorade Endurance instead. Again, not a big deal, but something worth noting for me. The race follows the LFT north back to the finish with a mariachi band and amazing energy from spectators!

The medal was one of the coolest parts, it was a piñata that doubles as a bottle opener! Very colorful and fun! The finish chute offered small cups of Nuun and bottled water. I would have appreciated at least a banana, but oh well. The chute then guides runners back to the start area where there were food and beer tents. The food was a plate of chips and salsa and a vegetarian tamale. I was not impressed with the chips and salsa, as they were just Tostitos brand pre-packaged items. Had they had fresh chips and salsa from a local restaurant, that would have been a nice touch. The tamale was heated in individual packaging and lacked flavor. I think the food was probably the biggest missed opportunity to wow, but perhaps they will take the feedback for next year. I just know there are so many authentic Mexican restaurants in Chicago that could knock these items out of the park! The beer was Corona and Modelo cans. It was not served cold, which was a little frustrating. Again, an easy fix for the future!

Overall, I enjoyed the whole experience and had a really fun time with friends! The whole race was so festive and fun for the whole family. Despite the weather, the race management was spectacular at prioritizing participants’ safety and communicating with everyone. I would definitely run this race again! Arriba!

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(2015)
"Run like a super hero!"
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This was a really fun race! This race is themed around Marvel’s Avengers (of course) and the whole weekend stays true to that theme. If you’re a fan of Marvel Super Heroes, this is your race.

The communication leading up to the race was a little brief, but I felt like they keep it pretty simple. I was informed about the important deadlines (submitting a qualifying time, booking a hotel room using their block, etc.) and where and when I needed to pick up my race packet. I need to note that I was really felt like they could have communicated better about where to park, and how to get there, since there was so many road closures in the area.

The Expo was nice and they had lots of signage guiding you to get each of the items you had to pick up (waiver, bib, shirt, etc.). The Expo offered the usual types of vendors who were selling every and any racing-related item you can think of. I saw they were also offering a free speaker series throughout the weekend as well.

Gear check was super fast and simple (you must use their provided clear bags) both before and after the race. The start corrals are very clearly indicated and organized. runDisney does allow runners to go back to a slower corral if they’d like to join friends (no moving up, though). I enjoyed the pre-race entertainment and commentary from the announcers!

The race kicks off and heads right into Disney California Adventure and there are many MarathonFoto photographers to take your picture in front of some of the park’s attractions. The course then heads into Disneyland Park and offers photo ops with the Marvel characters as well as more MarathonFoto photographers. After leaving the theme parks, you find yourself on the streets of Anaheim. Eventually you’ll find yourself in Anaheim Angel Stadium! It was really cool to run the field around the baseball diamond! Lots of cheers and energy! After the stadium, the course follows alongside one of the aqua ducts, which was, in my opinion, the worst part of the course. The aqua ducts are (obviously) dry due to the drought, so all you see is the sand. Eventually the course makes one more pass through the parks in into the backstage area, finally finishing near the start line. The finish line was energetic and really fun!
The medal was the coolest part! It was the “A” for Avengers and it spun within the medal itself! I’d easily say this is the coolest medal I’ve ever earned! The finish chute area includes all the post-race refueling standards.

Overall, I really enjoyed this race. The course is very fast and I enjoyed running through the theme parks and Angel Stadium. I would definitely run this race again.
(This review is slightly abbreviated for space, feel free to view my full review here: http://bit.ly/1PUuuNd)

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(2015)
"The BEST tour of Chicago!"
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If you want a GREAT marathon experience, look no further! The Chicago Marathon takes you through 29 of Chicago's diverse neighborhoods on a very flat and fast course, perfect for shattering those PRs!
This race is managed very professionally. They truly have this down. Every detail is meticulously planned and executed.
Race communication begins months out and is extremely helpful. They discuss what to expect on race day, what the course is like, and how to make sure family and friends can see you on race day.
The Expo for this race is very expansive! You walk in and they have a very clear order in order to pick up all the items you need (bib, timing device, shirt, etc.). The race expo has every running-related vendor you can think of. (I picked up a great new fuel belt at an awesome price!). My favorite part of the expo is the video they play near the front, which is drive-through of the course. It helped me visualize what to expect on race day.
The Start Corrals are also extremely organized. I did not bring a bag, so I was allowed to go through the express security entrance (those with bags must have them checked by security personnel). There were an abundance of volunteers with bull horns to help make sure runners got to their appropriate corrals. The race announcers then play music and give announcements to keep runners in good spirits while they wait to start.
The course first does a little winding through the Loop before heading north to Addison Street, then back south to the Loop. At the half way mark, runners head way out west to Damen Street, then back east to the Loop once more before heading south to 35th Street. You then head north up beautiful Michigan Aveunue and finish near where you started- Grant Park. This course means your scenery is ever-changing and constantly different! Another major perk of this course is how spectator-friendly it is. The course is almost completely lined by spectators whose energy is nothing short of electric. I truly felt like the spectators carried me through in times of the race where I felt like I had nothing left!!
The aid stations are quite plentiful and could not be better done. There is always first one full city block of volunteers handing out Gatorade followed by an entire city block of volunteers with water. This makes sure that runners aren't crowding the volunteers and stepping over one another to get to the fluids. Later in the race, Gatorade Chews, bananas and gels are sprinkled throughout the aid stations, to help make sure you stay fueled. The bananas are always something I looked forward to.
The finish line area is also very well done. The medals are handed to you (pretty awesome design!) followed by beer, water, Gatorade, snacks, etc. The finish line chute does make you walk at least 4-5 city blocks, but this is to make sure you keep your muscles moving. When I finally was able to exit, I enjoyed the family reunite area, which was the perfect place to help facilitate me finding my family and friends.

Overall, this race is the Rolls Royce of races. Every details is planned for you and there is not one thing they do not think of! I would certainly recommend this race to runners of all backgrounds and abilities, especially for its easy/flat course. You won't be disappointed!

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(2015)
"A few kinks, but overall a ROCK'N good time"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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It pains me to write about a race so negatively, but I have to be honest- I didn't have the greatest experience.
The expo is decently-sized with a wide array of vendors offering shoes, nutrition and other race gear. The packet pick-up portion flows well with volunteers stationed throughout the expo guiding runners to the necessary items.
The race shirt design was very cool this year. My only complaint is the shirt being Brooks-- though it's technical fabric, it does not breathe very well, especially in warmer conditions. It's quite a heavy shirt.
The race start/finish areas are rather easy to get to, since they are located right in Grant Park. This allows access by car, taxi, or public transportation. There's plenty of parking in the nearby Millennium Garages (located beneath the adjacent Millennium Park).
The Start Corrals are one of this race's biggest down falls. The corrals are not separated and it allows runners to freely line up wherever they so choose. This is particularly frustrating if you are to submit a qualifying time in order to earn a spot in a faster corral. This system also causes runners to be very tightly squeezed into smaller spaces, since runners tend to move up slowly and pack into the area allotted. This then causes a crowded first few miles since the runners are so heavily concentrated. The race started right on time.
The course itself winds through many of the downtown areas such as River North, Streeterville, and the Loop. It then heads south in the South Loop neighborhood. The course this year was different, adding on a mile loop on King Drive. This meant runners heading up one lane of the street, turning at a cone, and then heading south in the opposing lane of traffic. I felt like there could have been other creative ways of handling a need to change the course and add on distance. The course eventually heads north via the Lakefront Trail and comes to the worst part of the course: McCormick Place. This involves a tunnel that is about three to five city blocks in length. It's a dark and winding tunnel. Rock N Roll does attempt to make the best out of it by pumping in music and putting strobe lights throughout. Unfortunately, this ends up making the situation worse. The pavement throughout the tunnel is in disrepair and has miscellaneous patches over it. The darkness of the tunnel prohibits you from seeing where you are stepping and the strobe lights and loud music make it difficult for you to focus. There is also a part of the tunnel that goes downhill, making matters a bit worse. I really hope Rock N Roll can find a way to reroute this part of the course in the future, as I feel it'll greatly improve the race experience.
Race Day fell on a very hot July day. Unfortunately, Rock N Roll had only a minimal amount of volunteers to staff the aid stations. At two different aid stations, there were only 2 or 3 volunteers, which meant runners had to pick up cups of water from the tables set up. The poor volunteers could barely keep up with the runners coming past.
In addition, the race does offer ice cold sponges around mile 9, which is always very welcomed and appreciated.
The course itself does have a few bands and DJs throughout the course to offer entertainment, but the race has struggled to get City of Chicago Aldermen to agree to let more performers play along the course. For that reason, the first few miles aren't allowed to have performers, as well as a few other areas along the course. Though there is some music, I would definitely encourage runners that are accustomed to running with headphones to still bring those items along.
The finish line has the usual water, sports drinks, chocolate milk, protein bars and snacks. The race medal is also quite cool!

Overall, this race was not one I'd like to repeat. The management has a few areas of opportunity which I am sure they can work out in the future. Things like the weather (wow, it was a HOT day!) obviously cannot be helped... but there are few things that can be!

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