Latest reviews by Amy Penokie

(2019)
"Friends Fun and Ice Cream"
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This is the 2nd year I have run this race and I don't know what more I can say about it that I have not said before!

The race management team/family does everything that it can to treat it's runners right. With the EC marathon, it's like they try to treat each and every runner like royalty! For me, every time I head to EC for the half marathon, I feel like I'm coming home, even tho I have never lived in Eau Claire.

The Expo: A little bit of everything, no matter who you are! If you forgot anything at home, there is probably a vendor there that has it. But aside from race necessities and accessories, there is also a plethora of other vendors with all kinds of fun stuff! This year I picked up some granola (which came with an epic FREE coffee mug) and also samples a variety of other fun foods and beverages! Have kids that want to make their own cheer signs for mom, dad or whoever is running over the weekend? Stop by the Cheer sign booth and have them make their own sign!

Race Day: While there is no parking at Carson Park, the race does an amazing job of transporting all runners and spectators into the park. There is a parking lot at the bottom of the hill, from which you can walk up the hill to the festivities, or 2 different parking stops in town to catch one of the shuttles! They have shuttles starting at about 6am, and running constantly until about 3pm to get everyone where they need to be! The hotel I always stay at is just 2 blocks from the CVTC parking lot and in the morning, the bus heads straight to the start line, so you are there within 5 minutes. Please keep in mind that after the race, shuttles leave from the park and head to the Water Street lot first and then loop back around to the CVTC lot, so it does take about a half hour.

Start/Finish Line: is in the parking area of Carson Park and is laid out o give you everything you need on race morning! Plenty of porta potties in various location so I've never had to wait more than a handful of minutes. Gear Check is always a breeze! With ample stations to drop your gear, it doesn't take long to safely stash your stuff before the race!

This year I had a chance to meet up with a few other Bib Rave Pro's that were also running before heading to the start line with some girlfriends.

The Course: Scenery and bridges! The half marathon course crosses 11 bridges, runs through several parks and then some quiet neighborhoods. The community support for this event is also amazing! There are very few points along the half marathon course where there are not people out in yards or along streets cheering on runners. The best section by far the Blue Gold Mile. It starts when you enter the campus of UWEC where this year, we were again greeted by the infamous Blue Gold marching band. They are there, right when you need them, to get you through those last few miles of the race. After the band, you will find students from nearly every student organization out cheering on runners and sending the motivation and encouragement that you need!

After the BlueGold Mile, you enter the final few miles of the course and head back towards Carson Park. This year, we made a pitsop at Roadside Ice Cream and picked up treats to enjoy on the way back up the hill. The response from spectators and other runners was beyond epic! It's not every day that you can stroll across the finish line with great friends and ice cream!

Given the chance, I will be back in Eau Claire again in 2020 for the half marathon once again! Hope to see you there!

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(2019)
"Smalltown race with a long history"
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For a race that has been around for 20 years now, I was surprised to see that there were NO reviews out here for this race!

Since I was heading there to work the race expo, I figured I may as well run and check out a new city and a new race (for me).

After 20 years, the race changed the start finish line to downtown St Cloud! From what I heard from everyone, this was somethign that they have been working towards for a few years now, and this year, for the 20th anniversary of the race, they moved downtown!

Lodging: the race website lists several hotel options and there are also several other hotels in the area. I opted to stay at the Best Western Plus Kelly Inn, which was right across the parking lot from the expo, as well as the start/finish line! Added bonus - they automatically gave all runners a 1pm check out so you had plenty of time to enjoy the finish line party and come back to shower before you needed to check out!

Packet Pickup/Expo - held at the River’s Edge Convention Center in Downtown St. Cloud. Since I was staying at the hotel next door, I didn't have to worry about parking, but there is a parking ramp attached to the convention center that was fairly inexpensive and convenient. Packet pickup was quick and easy, as well as very organized! Side note: if you are of legal drinking age, you do need to have your ID checked and get a wristband if you plan on cashing in on your free beer at the post race party.

The expo itself has everything you might need, or may have forgot at home (I was glad to see Scheels there so I could pick up another bib belt since i left mine at home!) There are also some unique vendors there! Want to try some new salsas or hot sauces made locally? They have them there! There were also several other races represented at the expo so it was fun to see some other race options in the area and throughout MN.

Race day - Since I was staying close, it was nice to sleep in a bit longer and then take a leisurely walk over to the race. The Convention Center is open early for runner to hang out, stretch and gather before the race. Scheels was still there and set up for any of those last minutes items you realized you might need.

The race starts just outside the convention center and travels through several residential areas and crossing over the Mississippi river a few times. There are well staffed aid stations every few miles and several cheer stations along the way. At mile 8, you hit the Beer Station, sponsored by one of the local breweries! Yup, an actual beer stop on the course with several different options of their brews!

About a half mile or so beyond the beer stop, you head onto one of the local paved trails which runs along the Mississippi River before heading back in and going through the campus of St Cloud State University. Once you get through campus, it's a short run through downtown to the finish line and post race party!

I didn't stick around for much of the party, since I had to hit the road to head to my next adventure, but I was sure to grab some post race food before heading to my hotel to enjoy that later check out and a shower!

All in all, was a fun race that I was glad I had the opportunity to run!

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(2019)
"I think they've got it figured out now!"
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I'll start out by saying that this was my first time running this race, but since I live only a few hours from Milwaukee I heard about all the struggles from the last few years around this race. Under new management, the race was out to make things right with runners and bring a quality race.

Early registration was inexpensive and I ended up having quite a few friends that traveled down for the race, which always makes races more fun!

Packet pickup was at the Fiserv Forum, the new home for the Milwaukee Bucks. Since it was in the arena, everyone had to go through security to enter the building (Note: No backpacks, suitcases or large hard-sided bags allowed). We got downtown a little after 4pm, found parking at the nearby parking garage ($5 event parking) and walked the block over to the arena. There was a short line to get into the building but in the end, it only took us about 10 minutes to make it through. Packet pickup was a breeze! No lines at all! within 2 minutes after we were in the building, we had packets and shirts. Yes, SHIRTS - all runners received a tech finishers shirt and then half and full marathoners also received a 1/4 zip pullover with the race logo! One thing to note is that, unless you pay the extra for Race Day pick up, you MUST pick up your stuff on Friday night (or have someone else pick it up for you).

The expo, if you can call it that, was small. Only a few vendors (I think most were also race sponsors) and a few other races were represented with booths. We made it through everything in about 5 minutes. I am hoping that in future years, this will grow to be a bigger expo, as that is part of the fun of going to races is checking out the expo to find new stuff!

One of the fun things about being at the Forum for packet pick up is that we were able to check out the start/finish area so we could get everything figured out for morning. Gear check, volunteer check in as well as runner information were all at one end of the plaza and the start/finish on the opposite end, which gave a large area in between for runners to gather before and after the race. We also noticed 3 large banks of port-a-johns set up in various areas! 1 near gear check and 2 on the end near the start line. (the ones near the start line were a bit congested on race day, but the lines still moved fast)

Race day!! We made our way downtown and found parking in the same ramp as Friday night, just a block away from the finish line. (NOTE: parking on race day is $20) We were there early enough that we were able to park on the 1st level of the ramp - no stairs to get to the care after was a huge bonus! Having the entire area in front of the forum gave everyone plenty of room to hang out and mingle. The end closer to the start line was a bit congested, but that can often be expected.

One of the cool things about the start of this race is that the 5k actually started 30 minutes before the half and full. Was really kinda cool to watch the 5k runners finishing as we were getting ready to start.

The first mile or so of the race runs through the city and takes you out to Lakeshore Drive. It's a beautiful area to run, but unfortunately we ended up with a chilly overcast day, so the scenery along the lakeshore was a little more blah that usual, but since we can't control Mother Nature, it's not worth complaining about! LOL

I would have to say that the most challenging part of the course was the climb up the hill on Water Tower! It is one of those hills that you really can't see the top as you start climbing because there are several turns to get there! Once you get past there, it's smooth sailing!

The half and the full run together until you reach about mile 11.5 (on the campus of Marquette University). Here the full continues out further while those running the half head back towards the finish.

FINISH LINE! once you cross that finish line, there are the usual post race treats... bananas and water. but this year we also got packets of granola from Supernola! We were able to try this granola at the expo and getting a bag of it at the finish was a nice treat!

Then of course there is the medal! (this is why we all run right?) The medal this year was simple yet sleek. A nice addition to the collection!

We wandered around the finish line area for a bit while we waited for some friends to finish who were running the full and then headed out. As we were waiting, we were pleasantly surprised to already get emails that we had race photos available! YES! Less than an hour after finishing, we had pics! And not just race pics - pics that we could download for FREE! There was an option to purchase the hi-res versions too, and that was only $2.99 - very reasonable for race photos!!

All in all, I loved this race! I'd come back and run it again! And for those that ran it in years past - give them another try!

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(2019)
"By far the toughest race I've ever done, but love that I had the opportunity to experience it!"
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The midwest girl really didn't know what to expect with a trail half marathon in Texas! I've run trails before, but this race made any trail I've run before look like a cake walk!

The race is held at Reville Peak Ranch and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the area! Parking at the race is plentiful and they even have camping available the night before for those that want to take in the whole experience of the ranch. Since camping (sleeping in a tent) the night before a race was not my thing, it was hotel for me!

Packet pickup on race day as quick and easy! I will have to say that the shirts did seem to run a little small, but after the race there is an option to swap out your shirt if needed.

The course starts out on some single track through a nice shaded wooded area before heading out into the hills. Once you hit the aid station at mile 3-ish, the terrain starts to change! The course follows some beautiful trails that feature everything from crushed gravel, to rocks! Like I said, this was some tough trail and I ended up walking a lot more than I planned! I also took the time to take quite a few pictures along the course because this beauty needed to be captured!

There was a little confusion among some runners at the point where the course split around mile 6. The 8-miler went one way while everyone else went the other, but the 1st signs we saw only mentioned the Double Marathon, so we weren't sure if that was the way we were supposed to go. once we turned the corner, we found the signs for the half and full!

As I mentioned, I ended up walking a lot more than I planned but I was ok with that! there is also a very generous course limit, since there is the marathon and double (ultra) marathon going on at the same time - yes those folks were running this crazy course twice for the full and 4 times for the Ultra! Major kudos for those badass runners who completed that amazing feat!

The medal for this race was pretty sweet too!

Overall, this was tough! It took my a lot longer to finish this tough course, I struggled with the terrain and the heat, but I KNOW that I came out a stronger runner in the end for completing it! I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity to run this one!

So, if you are looking for a challenge, have a desire for amazing scenery and want to push yourself out of your comfort zone and reach new levels, give this race a look!

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(2019)
"Nothing LITTLE about the Little Rock Marathon and half marathon!"
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I'm not ashamed to admit that I can be a bling junkie! Give me a big, epic race medal and you better believe I'm heading to that race!

Little Rock has been on my list since I first heard about it, and it's EPIC HUGE marathon medals! Ultimately, I would have loved to have run this full marathon to get that blinged out, extra large, glitter covered, glow in the dark medal that measured 8 INCHES across, but 26.2 miles was NOT in the cards for me for this one. This weekend was more about celebrating a good friends amazing accomplishment as she was finishing her 50 state marathon challenge. She was checking off that last 26.2 in LR and I wanted to make sure I was AT the finish line when she crossed.

EXPO/PACKET PICK UP: I hit the expo at about 2pm on Friday afternoon and there virtually NO lines! I had my packet and shirts within 2 minutes. Since I registered for this race almost a year in advance, I was happy to see that they did offer a shirt exchange if you ordered the wrong size! Glad I was able to swap mine for a smaller one (don't need anymore sleep shirts!)

The expo itself has everything you need, and then stuff that you didn't think you needed! Like being able to play with goats! and awesome cookies from a local bake shop! Looking for your next race, there are plenty of other races set up with booths!

RACE DAY: Since race day was blessing us with cool temps and rain, I was really not looking forward to waiting outside, for the race to start! We had a friend that was running the Marathon and taking the early start... as much as we love her, we opted to watch the start from our hotel room (we were at the Marriott and could see the start line from our window!) When it came time to head down, we were excited to see that they opened up the expo hall for runners to wait inside, away from the elements- complete with a bank of porta johns. Shortly before race time they made announcements to start moving people outside, based on which corral they were starting in. In the end, we only ended up waiting outside for about 10 minutes.

RACE: As I mentioned, it was cool and rainy. This was the first time that I EVER started the race wearing a garbage bag (I forgot to grab one of my disposable rain ponchos from home). The course for the half marathon is a fun one. Few hills, but nothing that I would get too excited about (I hear that the marathon course has a few bigger hills tho). Meandering past the Governor's Mansion, the airport and the Clinton Library, as well as through some fun neighborhoods, the course keeps you going! I was running with a friend of mind that I only see a few times a year at races and we didn't let the rain dampen our spirits. We enjoyed each others company and the course and before long, we were nearing the finish line!

THE BLING: be honest, this is why you are considering the Little Rock Marathon races. this race is knows for is EPIC race bling. I will be honest, I was a little jealous of those 8+ inch Marathon medals, but the one for the half is nothing to joke about either. Best thing about this years? It covered all the criteria... BIG, bold, glitter, spinner and it glows in the dark! Jackpot! What will next years look like? No one knows. They don't reveal the medals until a few months before the race.

OVERALL: Fun race! It's one of those smaller races with big race appeal. Will I go back and run this one again? Once I finish y 50 start half marathon quest... you just never know!

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