Latest reviews by Scott Bland

(2018)
"One Sweet Grandma"
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Grandma’s Marathon was my 14th full marathon and absolutely ranks as one of my favorite races of any distance. This is a really fun race and is completely worth the trip to Duluth.
That trip was the only part of the race that was difficult in any way. I flew into Minneapolis and drove a rental car 2.5 hours to get to Duluth. There are flights from Minneapolis or Detroit to Duluth, but you need a car in Duluth anyway so the drive was better than the extra expense of flying directly into Duluth. The drive wasn’t that bad, and the view coming into Duluth was spectacular.
I stayed at the Radisson and paid about 3 times the normal rate as all the hotels in the area jack up their rates for this weekend. Since that is out of the control of the race directors, I don’t consider that a negative against the race. The Radisson location is fantastic and is walking distance to the expo and the finish line where you can take the train or bus to the start line.
The expo was good, appropriately sized for the race with plenty of race merchandise for sale. I got there early on Friday morning so I didn’t have any issues with huge crowds of people. Packet pickup was easy and they had a station to double check your time chip on your bib which was a nice thing to be able to do before leaving.
The weather forecast leading up to the race was calling for thunderstorms for race morning. The afternoon before the race a large storm did blow in and knocked out power briefly and rained several inches in just a short period of time. Everyone was afraid that this was a preview of what was to come the next morning.
I got up early on race morning to be able to take the train to the start line, which I highly recommend over the buses. The first thing I checked when I got up at 3:30am was the forecast and was amazed to see the storms had been moved rom early morning to late afternoon and the chance of rain during the race was dropped to about 30%. The forecast temperature of 59 turned into an actual temperature of 50, pretty close to perfect conditions.
Taking the train to the start line was an option for the first 1000 runners wanting to ride. The train departs about 5:45 so the sun is up and the views heading out along Lake Superior are fabulous. The train is also plenty warm and roomy and there are lots of toilets available. The only downside is the trip takes every bit of an hour so if you want to get to the start line super early don’t take the train.
The race start is well organized with most runners lining up in accordance with their expected finish times. With the half marathon starting an hour earlier and starting from the marathon half way point, I never saw anyone with a half marathon bib and couldn’t even tell you what color their bibs were.
The first 19 miles of the course are along Lake Superior which is unfortunately very often blocked by all of the trees. We did deal with a pretty heavy fog and off and on light rain for most of the race, but the wind was at out our back and I never felt like the scenery became monotonous. Crown support during this part of the race was limited to certain spots along the road but was very enthusiastic in those spots and provided much needed boosts. The aid stations had clearly labeled water and power aid and was always water first. The volunteers did a spectacular job, you could tell this race has been run for over 40 years, these were some well trained and experienced volunteers.
Just past mile 19 the course heads into Duluth and the pine trees and lake views change to a city run with spectators everywhere. The final 6 miles were full of rowdy spectators providing a ton of distractions, even a long line of troll dolls along the curb around mile 22 which qualifies as one of the strangest things I’ve come across during a race.
The finish was great, there were a lot of twists and turns in the last half mile or so, but it didn’t bother me as much as I feared from previous reviews. The finish line area was plenty busy, but I had no problem getting my medal and finisher’s shirt and there was plenty of food and beer available. I actually like the fact that you get your finisher shirt when you finish the race, that’s the definition of finisher shirt. The medals were big and heavy, certainly appropriate for the accomplishment.
I love events where it seems like the whole town shuts down for the race and they really appreciate the runners who came to be a part of it. The way Duluth embraces the race and the runners is extremely impressive and rivaled the support I’ve experienced at much larger events like Chicago. If you can get to northern Minnesota in June you won’t find a better event than Grandma’s Marathon.

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(2018)
"Smooth Run in Louisville"
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This race was a ton of fun and the town of Louisville was very inviting to all of the race participants. It helps that the race is part of the run-up to the Kentucky Derby so the entire city is in a festive mood. I stayed at the host hotel which was located in an active part of downtown just off the Ohio river. The race provided shuttle service to the expo and there was plenty to do within walking distance of the hotel.
The expo was actually smaller than I would have thought it should have been given the number of people running in either the full or half marathon. There was everything that a runner might need to pick up if something was left at home or lost to airport security, but not much else to see or that many people to talk to about the race.
The race itself started at 7:30 in the morning and we were blessed with perfect weather. It was a fairly crowded start, there didn’t seem to be much of an organized wave start in spite of being grouped into corrals.
The first half of the course was a tour of several neighborhoods in and around the downtown area of Louisville. It was a mix of affluent older homes and some rougher parts of town, but there were nice crowds that cheered the runners on and provided some un-sanctioned food and drink.
Between mile 8 and 9 we reached Churchill Downs and were directed into an area of the race track that allowed us to get some pictures and see some jockeys putting horses through practice on the track. Although we didn’t get to run on the track or the infield, our route was inside the gates and provided some great views of the track and grandstands and was a perspective that few people get to see.
By mile 11 we transitioned from city running and moved into Iroquois Park. In spite of the toughest hills on the course, the shade and scenery more than made up for the difficult terrain. I run through a hilly park area in training and this section felt fairly comfortable for me in terms of style of run, but the hills were no joke and should be taken seriously.
We spent about 4 miles in the hills and then spent the remainder of the run going back through neighborhoods and then back into downtown. The support and scenery definitely take a hit during the last third of the marathon, but this is a complaint that can be lodged against most races that have such a huge half marathon as well. The aid stations seemed to be more sporadic in the last 8 miles as well, but the volunteers never failed to be enthusiastic and supportive.
This is a race a highly recommend to anyone doing the 50 states or looking for a good marathon in the Louisville/southern Indiana area. The race is well organized, it’s a unique course with an opportunity to see an historic sporting venue. We had great weather and fun crowds for most of the race, I would think that would be well worth a visit to Kentucky.

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(2017)
"An Amazing Race"
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The Chicago Marathon is everything I love about running and should be at the top of everyone's running bucket list. The expo was amazing, the best I have ever attended. I have enjoyed every expo I have attended, I really enjoy spending time and talking to the attendees as well as the vendors. Chicago was amazing, and not just because of the number of people involved. The layout was done in such a way that there was plenty of room to move around in spite of all of the people wandering about. There were also a lot of interactive areas at the expo, from places to leave messages to other runners to a place to sit and watch the course video being played on a continuous loop. Goose Island had free beer and it seemed like every major gear maker had Chicago branded shirts for sale, definitely plenty of opportunities to be separated from your money.
I stayed at the Chicago Hilton which was right across the street from the course start and finish in Grant Park. There were plenty of restaurants around the hotel to choose from and the hotel had an excellent pasta buffet the night before the race. Getting to my corral was as simple as walking across the street and through a metal detector. I was honestly surprised the security wasn't tighter given the shooting in Las Vegas having just taken place. My only complaint about the start area is the potties were not accessible once the corrals started to fill up, there was no way to fight back through the crowds to get to the potty area if you needed to go in the last hour before the start.
The course itself was magnificent. As reported by many before, the tunnel and surrounding buildings prevented most GPS watches from functioning correctly. My watch had me 2 miles further than I was on the course and showed me finishing with over 28 miles on the day so I guess I got an unofficial ultra! But, the course was so well marked I was never unaware of my position. Of course, the thousands and thousands of spectators that lined the entire route made for all the distractions I needed.
The course itself was virtually flat with the most impressive climb coming at mile 26 before turning to the finish line. I am still amazed at how many people lined the course, cheering all of us runners on our way. There were plenty of landmarks to see on the way and there were no boring parts of the route. I was disappointed in not being able to see much of Wrigley Field, but the city of Chicago was definitely the star of this race.
As the day turned to noon, the heat came up into the upper 70's and many of us were hit by cramping in the last few miles. The sudden elevation change at mile 26 had me nursing both hamstrings cramping and my left calf trying to seize up. Of course, this is an indication of poor fueling on my part and not the fault of anything or anyone involved in the race. I loved the passion and dedication of the people involved in putting on this event. I watched crowds of volunteers meeting in the park the day before, getting prepared for the race and setting up tents and tables. And then all of the people who came out all along the course to cheer on the runners was an even more amazing thing to see and be a part of. The Chicago Marathon should absolutely be a part of everyone's race wish list, I look forward to running it again one day.

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(2017)
"Tough Day in Idaho"
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The Pocatello Marathon is a race that I have looked forward to running for quite some time. I have heard a ton of good things about the race and the town of Pocatello and all of the good things turned out to be true. Unfortunately, the few bad things I had heard also turned out to be true.

This is a really small race, less than 200 in the full marathon. The race director and volunteers do an awesome job of putting the swag bags together, and the bag itself is really nice with a long sleeve shirt that was a good fit for me. Getting through packet pickup is a breeze and the pasta dinner was pretty good as well. They had a really interesting speaker at the pasta dinner as well which made it a fun evening the night before the race.

The race itself started with a short, early morning bus ride from the host hotel to a small red barn located at about 6200' of elevation. There were plenty of potties at the start line as well as a very interested donkey, horse, and goat who came out to see us off.

The first half of the course was fantastic and watching the sun rise at around mile 4 was amazing. There were several really severe downhills in the first half that would take a heavy toll on the quads later in the race. The first half had plenty of mountain scenery to see as we sped downhill, and there were enough twists and turns to keep things plenty interesting. At about mile 14, we turned out of the mountain scenery and onto a highway with one lane coned off for us to run on. The course continued on that highway for the next 10 miles without a single turn. We were completely exposed to the sun with 3 active lanes of fairly continuous traffic from mile 14 until mile 24. The scenery also changed from the beautiful mountain trees to blacktop highway, cars, and industrial areas. The combination of sun, vehicle exhaust, and boredom combined to make the 2nd half a long slog. This was a bad day for me, and I struggled severely through the 2nd half.

However, the race itself is extremely well run and the people who run it do an excellent job. I really enjoyed my time in Pocatello and greatly appreciated the effort that is put into this event. I wish the 2nd half had been as interesting as the first, but I should have put more effort into preparing for this course and it would have made my experience much different.

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(2017)
"Nice Ocean Front Running in Jersey"
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I really enjoyed the New Jersey Marathon, I was expecting a good event but had read several negatives in prior reviews so I came into the race a little unsure of what to expect. The expo was very small, but it was proportionate to the size of the race. I actually really enjoy spending time walking through expos and seeing the different events being promoted and some of the new gear that's available. So, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more going on at this expo, but it was in keeping with the size of the event. This expo did have the unique aspect of being held at the Monmouth Park race track and that made up for the lack of size. I'm not a big horse racing fan, but that track was obviously very old and had a ton of history. I probably spent almost an hour wandering around the grounds with everything being completely wide open. That was a neat experience.

The morning of the race I got up very early so that I could get on the road from my hotel and to the parking area. Almost every prior review I read made comments about how awful the traffic situation was getting to the parking area with several people saying the traffic was so bad they advised leaving with 2 hours to spare. I made it onto the road with a little over an hour and a half before race time and breezed right into a parking spot so whatever issues they have had in the past must have been resolved and I got about 30 minutes of nice quiet time in the car.

The weather on race morning was fantastic, about 58 degrees and mostly overcast. There was a cool front coming in and the temperatures actually fell slightly during the race. There was a decent breeze that was fairly sustained during the race, but it wasn't terribly bad, I spent the last 7 miles running into it but it was more cold than anything else.

The course was good, I was expecting a huge bottleneck at the beginning that never materialized, I guess we should take all reviews with a grain of salt (this one included). The course started with a little uphill climb that flattened out quickly and represented all of the elevation change on the first half. The first half went through some nice neighborhoods and some urban area, a nice mix of things to see. The half marathoners split off between 11 and 12 and I went from running with a decent group to being by myself, there was a huge difference in half and full runners in this race. Just after the split, the elite runners started to pass me going the other way on the opposite side of the road (yes, I am that slow). This was the first indication of how long the out and back section was going to be. I happened to notice the back of the mile 23 marker while watching the elites and wanting to see the front of that marker was stuck in my head for the next 2 hours. The course made its way down to the boardwalk with some fairly nice downhill stretches which would become uphills into the wind on the way back. The turn around point didn't come until between miles 18 and 19 and it was a sharp turn which was not terribly welcome. As much as that long of an out and back is hard to deal with mentally, it is a tremendous boost when you finally hit that turnaround and are headed home. After the turnaround the course spends a lot of time on the boardwalk along the ocean which is really nice. It was amusing to see all the tourists who had no idea they had wandered into a marathon while out on the boardwalk. I spent more time along the ocean in this marathon than I did at Rock&Roll San Diego so kudos to New Jersey for all the ocean front running. The finish was well organized with boxed water instead of bottled which I had only seen once before when I ran San Francisco so good to see the east coast being a little proactive environmentally. I finished in 4:48 which is a 10 minute PR for me so this will be a course I remember very fondly.

Now for the massive negative for this event. The race is point to point so you park at the start and there are shuttles to take you back to the start line after you finish. First, there were no signs in the finisher area indicating where the buses were located and it was a bad sign that they weren't close enough that you could see them. Myself and a couple of other runners got with the local police and they were able to direct us to the shuttle bus area which was at least a 3/4 mile walk from the finisher area. Then the buses themselves didn't drop the runners off in the runner parking lot, we were dropped off on the other side of the race track and had to walk almost another mile to get to our vehicles. My step counter had me at almost 31 miles for the day by the time I got back to my car. This is a great event that really does a great job for the runners, but with so many people needing the shuttles to get back to their cars it shouldn't be such an afterthought. That, however, does not come close to dampening my enthusiasm for this event, it was well run and an enjoyable course, well worth the trip to Jersey.

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