Latest reviews by Mary Jo Minarich

(2017)
"Mad Marathon and a ton of Vermont FUN!"
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We welcomed state #7 of half-marathons with the beautiful state of Vermont. It was an action-packed long weekend of fun, fun, fun. We left the state of Illinois with clouds and rain showers and entered Vermont in clouds and rain showers. But we didn’t care because we packed our rain gear and umbrellas and headed outside.

First off, if you plan on running this race, I highly recommend the Clay Brook at the Sugarbush Resort. The facility was beautiful! It was one of the race locations listed for the marathon and I’m so glad I picked this one. It was quiet with a great pool, hot tubs, comfy rooms and an awesome restaurant.

We had 2 whole days before the race here so we decided to look around. I had listed some places I wanted to see while out here and was totally prepared with locations, maps and prices.

Some great places to see and eat would be:
The Ben and Jerry’s Factory. For $4.00 you get a tour and a sample of ice cream.
The Prohibition Pig Restaurant. Awesome pork sandwiches that melt in your mouth!
The Blue Stone Restaurant. Amazing pizza and craft beers.
Waitsfield Farmers Market. Loaded with all kinds of delicious foods, drinks, crafts and music.
The Warren Store. A must-see stop! Ton’s of cute things and the best deli sandwiches and bakery.
Warren Falls! An easy-to-get-to watering hole. Bring your swimsuit, water socks or sandals and a camera.
Rumble’s Kitchen! The best breakfast, lunches and dinners and full bar!
Ski Lift at Sugarbush. Amazing view of the mountains!
Hike the Mountains!

Mad Marathon Packet Pick Up on Saturday

Packet Pick-up for the Mad Marathon was really easy at the Waitsfield Inn. They had a nice tent in the back and there I got to meet Bart Yasso! He was so nice!!! After grabbing our bibs, shirt and bag we headed across the street to the Waitsfield Farmers’ Market. There we found different flavored bagels and some delicious peanut butter from the Vermont Peanut Butter Co. Then we picked up avocados, bananas and a small knife from the local grocery store and boom we had our pre-race breakfast!

It’s too bad I had to give up my peanut butter at the airport security coming home. Who knew peanut butter was dangerous…

Anyway we had a blast that whole day. We found the Warren Falls, the Warren Store and the Clay Brook had a Highlander festival planned. Pre-race day was fun and relaxing.

Race Day!

Whoo hoo, Mad Marathon Race Day! We definitely got a great night sleep before the Mad Marathon Half. That’s because we probably spent 90% of our day outside on Saturday. All that clean, fresh air was a perfect preset for race morning.

Getting to the Race

We got to the start about an hour early with absolutely no traffic. The parking lots seemed to fill up fast. Runners and spectators parked everywhere. If there was a plot of grass, a car would fit in it.

The start of the race was on the street and the finish was in the town’s plaza. Both were super-close to our car. And the finish line looked like a covered bridge. It was a beautiful morning of 55 degrees and lots of sunshine. You had the normal potty lines. And there were port-a-potties at every water stop along the course.

Getting into our corral was easy. All races started at the same time and you decided where you wanted to start on your own. There were marathoners, half-marathoners, relay teams and walkers.

The Race!

After the national anthem we were off. Now if you don’t like beautiful scenery, covered bridges, herds of cows along the course, babbling brooks, panoramic views of the mountains and fresh air then this isn’t the race for you. But if you do like those things, then you will totally be in awe at every hill top.

Mental Diary Time

Here’s where I write what I was thinking during the run. It’s pretty close to being accurate since I wrote this all down as soon as we got back to our room.

The Start: Stay positive! You know there are hills, you can do it. The goal today is to get to the medal! Now, time to kiss Duane good-bye and hope we both make it back.
Mile 1: Not bad–beautiful going through town and through our first covered bridge.
Mile 2: We are hitting our first hill and I’ve never seen a race where everyone in front of me suddenly starts to walk this soon. It felt great to walk since the hill actually made you feel like you were almost parallel to it. I am run/walking up a mountain!
Mile 3: Still going up. When does this hill end???? OMG, Bart Yasso is next to me! I’m running with the legendary Bart Yasso!!!
Mile 4: Wow this is beautiful! Everyone was loving this course!
Mile 5: Farm, farms farms! OMG there’s a cow right along the course eating grass!
Mile 6: Turn around point for the Half marathoners. I wonder what the marathoners see that we don’t. I need to do this one as a marathon one day…
Mile 7: Cow again! They look so happy out here!
Mile 8: I cannot believe this scenery!
Mile 9-10 Heading downhill. Ever have one of those dreams that you’re falling and it never stops? That’s how this hill felt.
Mile 11: Wow, I’m still going downhill. Took a peek at my watch–8:10 pace. What!!! I’ve never been that fast at mile 11. Ha, I think I like hills!
Mile 12: No, this can’t be over soon!Mile 12.5: Gave a thanks to God and the universe for giving me the legs to see all this!
Mile 13: Heading back into town and I can hear the announcer.
Finish: Yeah I did it! I got a hug from a gal at the finish and she asked me how I liked it. I told her I loved it!

Post Race

It was a blast and this race is so ORGANIZED! Kudos to the race director, volunteers and all their sponsors. We enjoyed bagels, fruit, local chips and the most delicious cider donuts and cider from Cod Hollow Cider Mill. After watching the winner of the Mad Marathon come in under 3 hours, we then headed across the street to the Waitsfield hotel for some well-earned beers! We were both in dire need of a shower, therefore we headed home to the Clay Brook. There we enjoyed a nice shower and lunch at Rumble’s Kitchen with a beautiful view of the mountains. After a nap we took off to take a picture of the covered bridge. Then we soaked our feet in the Mad River which felt WONDERFUL. We treated ourselves to an awesome dinner at The Peasant where we had more beer and delicious food. Try the risotto–it’s amazing!

Good-Bye Vermont…

The next day we continued being tourist by visiting the Ben & Jerry’s Factory. After walking around Waterbury, we headed back to the resort. Being a little too sore to do a big hike, we decided to swim in their beautiful pool instead! We soaked up some rays, did a small hike, dinner and then watched the sunset over the mountains. We had a great stay at the Clay Brook of Sugarbush Resort and loved every minute of this trip and race (even the hills!)

Would I recommend the Mad Marathon race?

Heck yeah! I would even label this race as a “bucket list” race to do. We were both actually kind of sad we weren’t doing it again. We need to save our pennies to visit other states. But if we weren’t doing the 50 half in 50 states, we would definitely run this race again. Who knows, maybe even the whole marathon…

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(2017)
"Soldier Field 10 Mile Recap"
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Whoo hoo! There are 3 reasons I was so excited to run the Soldier Field 10 Mile this weekend.

I get to run in Chicago.
Runners and spectators get to go inside Soldier Field.
It’s 10 miles!!! Need I say more?

So I was really excited when this race came up on Bibrave and they were looking for runners to run the Soldier Field 10 Mile. All I can tell you is that YOU HAVE GOT TO PUT THIS RACE ON YOUR TO-DO LIST!

Packet pick up was easy. You could pick up your packet in Deerfield, Elmhurst or Chicago. Since I didn’t know how to get to any of these places, I paid for my packet to be mailed to me. The shirt is super comfy and goes with the Memorial Day celebration.

I was able to go up to the race with my run club. And we were all a little dazed with a 4:30 meet-up time to head to the city! But it was well worth it because we got some prime FREE parking close to a bathroom!

A new start this year!

This was my 6th time running this race. In the past it always started on the outside of the stadium. But this year it started INSIDE Soldier Field. I almost didn’t want to leave my corral.

Memorial Day

This race happens over Memorial Weekend and they truly honor those that have served our country. Budweiser was a new sponsor for this race and they showed a wonderful video on the jumbo-trons. It was all about air-dropping a crate of beer to men and women who served our country. It was beautifully made and made me tear up.

Then I looked around and notice A LOT OF RUNNERS were emotional during it! After that, they announced this year’s fallen soldiers and then a serviceman played TAPs. It was wonderful hearing the National Anthem inside the stadium. I totally needed a tissue at the start! I was in corral H which gave me a prime view of it all.

Go Time!

Runners in each corral were let out a few minutes apart in waves. The course is a nice out-and-back to the stadium. It was a little crowded during the first 4 miles but then it loosened up a bit and I was able to run a consistent pace. And I love the last 5 miles. You get a spectacular view of the city the whole way home!

The finish is always fun coming through the stadium tunnels. And you get your medal from a member of the military. When I was done watching more runners cross the finish line on the jumbo-trons, I grabbed my food bag….

…and headed straight to the beer! There I found my friends, sat on the grass and we enjoyed our goodies (and yes I ate the whole bag of food!) while listening to a great band.

Do I recommend this race?

Heck Yah! I’m hoping they keep the start the same because it was really nice all starting in the stadium.

This race is:
Organized!
Provides a ton of support during the whole 10 miles.
Gives you a great shirt, food and drinks.
Feels very safe with all the security.
Fun!

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(2017)
"Dam to Dam"
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Race day morning for the Dam to Dam Half Marathon in Des Moines, IA started with a 3:00 wake up. We had to make sure that we were up and ready for a bus ride to the start of the race. We warmed up the breakfast I made and then headed to our bus loading area.

It was really eerie walking through Des Moines at 4:30 in the morning. A lot of the bars were cleaning up and there were no cars or people on the streets. At first I thought we were going the wrong way but the Hubs led us straight to the buses.

It was about a 25 minutes drive to the start of the race. I really didn’t look out the window because I was getting slightly nervous about how many miles 13 miles looked from the bus. But once we got to the start, all the nervousness went away. We now had a fantastic view of the Saylorville Dam.

Even though there were a ton of port-a-potties we still had the usual potty lines. And there were also many people just using the natural resources available (i.e. trees!).

After hitting the port-a-potties, we headed to the start. It was already 75 degrees at the start so the announcer kept warning us to take it easy and hydrate throughout the run. I was wondering why there was 9 water station for 13 miles. Now I know–it’s for the heat!

Here's my mental diary throughout the race:

Corrals: After a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, and gun start we started walking to the start. We started in the 10 minute corrals and it was so cool to walk across the whole dam. It was HUGE!

Start: Crossing the start I notice that are no mats for our chips. Dang, it’s a gun start! No need to worry about time now…

Miles 1-2: Wow this feels great except for that huge ball of heat in the sky. This part of the course was loaded with big beautiful trees and a well paved road that’s downhill! Man that sun was bright!

Mile 2: Missed the water station! Dang, I thought it would be longer. Oh well, I am so thankful of my handheld water bottle right now.

Miles 3-5: Yeah we turned so the sun was behind us. Much better…Lots of corn fields on both sides. Baby corn plants are SO CUTE! I hit the second water station without a problem. Love that they have water on both sides of the course.

Mile 6: Yikes, runner down and hooked up to an IV with a medic. Wow, he looked so strong too. I could tell he was mad that he had to stop. He was stomping his feet while the volunteer was telling him to relax. Said a prayer for him…

Miles 7: I can’t believe I’m over halfway done already. Hitting every single water station was a must. I’m sweating up a storm. Check heart rate–looked good in a low-threshold range. I’m doing good. Leg’s felt awesome! Gotta make sure I send a thank you to Coach Andy for hill work training and my friend Sergio for speed work. Feeling Strong! Drink a water and pour a water on top of me. Ahhhhh

Mile 8: Second runner down with another volunteer on a radio. I could hear the ambulance in the distance. A bunch of us slow down. Still sweating, I’m good. Drink from my bottle and keep going.

Miles 9-10: Shade–finally! Big chunks of shade! Stay in the shade and look at the pretty houses. I’m soaking wet with sweat and water from each station. It felt great! Legs were only stopping for water station. YES!

Mile 10: I can see the city!!!! Almost home! Wow, it looked like we were all running the exact same pace. No one’s passing each other. Everyone’s face looked so focused on just finishing.

Mile 11: A trail—it felt like my trails. I love trees! And a wooden bridge! I love running on bridges!

Mile 11.5: Runner down. He’s breathing like he’s wheezing. Another runner was next to him with a phone helping him. Runners are awesome.

Mile 12: Holy S*#@! Only 1 more mile. Picking it up easily now. Staying in a safe zone really helped my finish.

200 meters: Yeah, we just did 200 meter runs this week at speed training!

100 meters: Smile at the photographers!

Finish: Yes!!! That was an awesome run. Made eye contact with a volunteer who looked at me and smiled. I know his job was to make sure everyone was OK at the finish. Grabbed my medal, now where’s the food?!

Volunteers ROCK!

The volunteers did a great job trying to keep up with all the runner’s needs. They were watching for runners who needed help and they always had a smile on their faces. I imagine they were exhausted after this race.

The finish was loaded with tons of free food. The time after the race consisted of eating and drinking. There was all-you-can-eat pulled pork sandwiches, ice cream, fruit and beer. Funny having all this before 10am…

Now this wasn’t the smoothest year for Dam to Dam.

The race had some challenges this year. And I kind of feel bad for the director because all of this was out of his control.

Something happened with the start mat so there was no chip start time. This added a lot of extra time to most runners’ times including ours.
No flags on Memorial Hill due to construction.
Sounds like a shortage of cups for the runners in the back.
The Heat!

For the Hubs and I, we were here to just enjoy a course in a different state. So we focused on all the positive things about this race like…

All the great food at packet pick-up
A Brooks technical shirt and socks
All the water stations along the course with amazing volunteers
Fantastic support from a bunch of local businesses
All the free food after the race
All the beer you wanted to drink (no limits–but I only had 1!)
A beautiful medal!

We sat and enjoyed the band for a bit and then headed back to our room. We were in dire need of a shower! On the way back to our hotel, we passed a huge Farmer’s Market. We looked around at all the beautiful bakeries (yes, we did make some purchases), jewelry and farm stands.

After a shower and a nap the rest of the day was followed by lunch, dinner and then exploring the skywalk. These were really great air-conditioned glass tunnels to get around the city.

The evening ended with us heading back to our room for a full night sleep with NO ALARM!

Final Thoughts

Des Moines was a great city! It was walker friendly and loaded with great places to eat and drink. If you’re looking for a half-marathon in Iowa I would highly recommend this race.

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(2017)
"Penguin in the Park 5K"
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The Hubs and I took a road trip to Decatur, IL to run a fun 5K. It’s called Penguin in the Park. The Penguin in the Park 5K is hosted by John (the Penguin) Bingham. John is one of the running community’s most recognizable and popular personalities. He was a featured columnist in Runner’s World magazine and Competitor Magazine. John is a graduate of Millikin University so he started this race 12 years ago. Funds from this 5K sponsors a scholarship for students involved in entrepreneurship. And we even got to see one of the recipients receive the scholarship!

This race celebrates the accomplishment of all runners of ALL ABILITIES. Here’s one of my favorite Bingham quotes! “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

The Race

I couldn’t wait to start running once we picked up our packets the morning of the race. The course was in the beautiful Fairview Park in Decatur. The course was definitely hilly and a really nice challenge. The scenery was beautiful even without the leaves and green grass and the course was well marked and in perfect condition.

This race had everything–

-tons of volunteers
-plenty of port-a-potties
-a water stop
-local first responder support
-an awesome t-shirt
-and at the finish ALL the participants of the race received a beautiful engraved “Penguin” finisher medal.

Awards!

The award ceremony followed the race in the Griswold Gym where delicious bowls of chili, snacks and water were available for all the runners. Then John handed out awards to the top 3 winners of each age group.

Would I recommend this race?

Heck yes! As a matter of fact I already told my run club we need to add this to our field trip runs! I will definitely do this one again next year. Check out their website and add it to your to-do list!

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(2017)
"10 Shamrock Shuffle Tips!"
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The Hubs and I had a great time at the Shamrock Shuffle race in March! This sweet 8K was 5 glorious miles (4.97 to be exact) through the heart of Chicago.

The Expo! All the fun started on Friday at the Expo. Of course I had to get the technical shirt Nike was selling. It was in my favorite color! And I love the hat they gave us! We looked around at all the vendors and I found some great deals. Especially a pair of my current running shoes at half the price!!!

Race day was on Sunday. We woke up at 5am to hit the road. We were in the city, parked and meeting my running friends at the Palmer House by 7:15. Once we visited the bathroom (twice!) we all headed to gear check to drop off a bag of clean, warm clothes. Then we off to our corrals. The Hubs and my friend Liz ended up in Corral B while I was in Corral C. We all had to go into our correct corrals so I met them at the back of B. We called the rope our wall and of course the friendly teasing started right away.

They kept telling the volunteers to not let me pass. At that moment I was determined to catch up to the Hubs!

The Race. Being at the front of the corral is VERY DIFFERENT! It is really intense up there with all the front runners ready to take off with their hands on their watches. There was a long time between each corral release. Because of the scheduled delays, the course was never really crowded. And I lost sight of the Hubs and Liz right away.

The miles seemed to fly. The weather was perfect and the city seemed to shine even on this cloudy day. We flew over bridges, past the Cadillac Theater and we turned right before the library with those great gargoyles on top. There’s plenty of support on this course and the volunteers cheered the whole time.

Because of the time it took to get released from my corral, I figure I wouldn’t catch up to the Hubs at all. Then I saw a bright orange shirt on Michigan Avenue. I recognized the stride and was so excited to see Duane right before Roosevelt. He was about 500 meters in front of me and I hoped to reach him before the top of the hill.

Well I didn’t….And I ended up having to stop and walk half-way up. UGH–Roosevelt always gets me! But then to my surprise, Duane stopped to walk a bit. Here was my chance. I picked it up a notch, ran to him yelling, “Yeah, I caught up to you!”
We crossed the finished line and lived happily, ever after…

The morning ended with grabbing our medals, meeting our friends for a beer and then lunch at our favorite post-race restaurant, Miller’s Pub. By the way, you have got to try the Lemon Rice Soup at Millers. It’s delicious!!!

10 Great Shamrock Shuffle Tips!

1. Get there early! Roads start to close down before the race and it’s much easier to find parking when you get up before dawn.
2. Have everything ready the night before. Including your breakfast!
3. Try your shirt on at the Expo. You can trade it in if it doesn’t fit.
4. Don’t eat all the energy gels at the Expo. You will not sleep–ever again.
5. Use Gear Check! It can get cold and windy in the city and you want a dry, warm sweatshirt when you are done. And add a string-bag IN your gear check bag. That makes it easy to carry your dirty clothes and other items after the race.
6. Have an easy to find meeting place. My run club uses the Palmer House since we park right down the street from it.
7. Write your bib number on your gear-check bag along with attaching the tag. That way if the tag falls off your number is on the actual bag.
8. Look up during the race. The city is amazing!
9. Visit the beer tent area. Companies give lots of free stuff there and the bands are really good!
10. Be sure to check out FlashFrame for race photos. I bought the download below for $7.99! That’s a great deal compared to the finish line picture above for $24.99. And if you do want a picture wait a bit before buying it. A lot of times they will run sales after the race.

I’ll rank the Shamrock Shuffle as another great time in the city.

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