Latest reviews by Eric Blasius
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!
As a former Disney Cast Member, I was drawn to this race primarily because it is DISNEY. I'm a competitive runner from Chicago who is used to very structured races (i.e. Chicago Marathon). Overall, the WDW Marathon Weekend is very well organized, with the entire area fully immersed in the Race Weekend festivities.
The Expo- this expo is a moderately-sized event. It's held at the ESPN Sports Complex so the setting is perfect. A very wide variety of clothing, accessories, food/drink/fuel samples, and shoes. Getting my Bib and participant bag was easy and painless. Volunteers are on hand to guide you from point-to-point to get the items you need. I also enjoy the official race merchandise selection, which is quite extensive for men, women & kids. The race shirt is a long-sleeved Champion technical fabric shirt (Sizes runs small, FYI!).
The Walt Disney World hotels also are fully coordinated for this event. Each of the 34 resorts orders shuttles to and from the expo, to and from the race start lines/finish lines, and offers special food menus the days leading up to and the day of the races. (the special pasta dinner at each resort the night before the races is a nice touch!)
The Start Corrals are also very organized. You walk through a tent, drop off your participant gear check bag and are lead to the start line. It's about half a mile walk. The corrals are lined up on the highway so it allows for a lot of space. The corral assignment policy allows runners to enter their assigned corral or a slower one, but not faster, which is pretty standard. Be warned, there is not a wave start. They send each corral every 2-4 minutes and if you're in a corral further back, you will have to wait a while. I highly recommend submitting a qualifying time in advance of the race, no matter what your running level is, to get in a corral that suits you best.
The race offers entertainment- a band, a Disney character w/ photo op, or music and DJs every half mile to mile. This really helps make up for the fact that this is not a spectator friendly course. Since the course follows Disney's expansive roadway system, it's hard for a spectator to get to much of the course.
The marathon course takes you through all four of the Disney theme parks-- on stage and back stage too. Runners will definitely get a chance to see areas they would normally not get to see, which is fun!
The aid stations are well-staffed and offer the usual water and Powerade, with the later stations offering bananas and cold sponges as well.
The finish line energy is always ELECTRIC and includes lots of music and Mickey and Minnie to congratulate you! The medal is always on the large (but good large) side and really helps cap off a great race experience. The finish chute is filled with water and sports drinks and fruit, etc.
Overall, this race is one of my favorites. It's fun and definitely different than your community 5K experience! If you're a Disney fan too, you will hands-down love this race!