Latest reviews by Mary Jo Minarich

"Run for the Zoo"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

I got my husband to sign up for the Run for the Zoo at Lincoln Park Zoo this year and he loved it! We left early and watched the sun come up over the lake as we drove through the city. It was very romantic… (Not really, it was just early.)

But because we were so early, we were able to get awesome parking and our bibs without any crowds. They also had a super organized gear check so we could have dry clothes ready for us at the finish. And we got to enjoy indoor zoo bathrooms and some of the animals before there were large crowds.

The weather was perfect with absolutely no humidity, a nice breeze and blue skies. And I love the way everything was on time.

7:30 a.m.: 5K Run/Walk
8:15 a.m.: 10K Run
9:00 a.m.: Safari Stampede (Heat 1)
9:45 a.m.: Safari Stampede (Heat 2)

Because my wonderful Hubby gave up his early morning for me, I decided we could stick together throughout the whole race. He wanted to do a run/walk pace (his favorite) so I ran it with him. And let me tell you–it was a lot of FUN.

During each of our walk breaks I took pictures! There were 600 runners in the Run for the Zoo 5K.

The course was pretty crowded and LOADED with kids. It was fun watching all the families run together. This is definitely a family-oriented event. But if you are a serious, fast runner, you do get some great prizes. Like plane tickets, zoo memberships and plush toys from their gift shop.

We had a blast running around kids, puddles and by the animals. There’s nothing funnier than hearing, “Oh look, a zebra!” during a race. We crossed the finish line together and totally enjoyed the race. And look, you get FREE downloads from the course photographers.

When we were done we grabbed some water, fruit and freebees like waterbottles and snack bars.

We did make it back in time to watch the 10K runners start their race. Ram Racing did a fantastic job getting everyone through each race. And the announcer kept everyone excited to start.

After wishing everyone good luck we headed to the beer tent! Isn’t it funny that runners think nothing of drinking a beer at 8:30am after a race???

The Run for the Zoo was a fun race and I would definitely recommend this run to anyone who wants to support Lincoln Park Zoo. The money keeps the zoo free for everyone to enjoy.

Helpful Hints
Get to the race early. Parking lots fill up fast and there are street closings that begin at 4am.
Pack a clean set of clothes. There are plenty of bathrooms to change in.
Bring your own bag for gear check. They do not have them there.
Get to the front of the corrals if you plan on being fast. It’s pretty crowded after the first couple of corrals.
Bring your ID for the beer tent. They require it!

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"Soldier Field 10 Mile"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

Here was my 7th time running the Soldier Field 10 Mile race! I love this race for its length, location and beer at the end!

And we definitely deserved a drink after this race. BECAUSE IT WAS HOT! According to my phone, we started in the 70s and ending in the mid 80’s by the end of this race.

With a 4:30am ride to the city we were all in front of Soldier Field for our regular group pictures by 6:15!

Ram Racing and Soldier Field did a great job organizing its 15th race. I had prime starting position this year in corral C. I was glad I could use my Athlinks account to help me prove that I could run starting in this preferred corral.

Now just like last year, be prepared to cry at the pre-race ceremony. You start inside the Soldier Field stadium and get to watch Budweiser do an amazing tribute to Folds of Honor and its contributors. Here watch and grab a tissue…

After the video, names of fallen military men and women this year, a gun salute, Taps and the National Anthem, the race began in small waves. The course was the usual with an out-and-back heading south first. While in the shade of the stadium it felt great. But once you were out, you definitely noticed the heat and the sun.

Here’s My Mental Diary!
Mile 1: Hmmm, toasty already. Just get through the McCormick Place tunnel and focus on staying hydrated.

Mile 2-3: Hit the water table and keep going. “Definitely stay to the right to get as much shade as you can.” That sun was already hot and it’s only 7:30!

Mile 4: You can start to see people coming back from the turn-around. “I wish I was on that other side already…”

Mile 5: YES, the TURN-AROUND!!!

Mile 6: Water table time and I have got to take a picture! The city looks awesome!

Mile 7-8: “I thought this was the windy city??? There is absolutely no breeze.” I’m starting to get a little angry now and I’m done…

Mile 9: I hear my name and there’s my friend John. That totally perked me up. Especially knowing that I am less than a mile away and I can hear the inside of the stadium.

Mile 10: As we run into the tunnel onto the Soldier Field field, I realize this is why I love this race so much. It is definitely an amazing feeling running into this huge building.

Finish: DONE and AMEN!!!

Runners get a great medal, water and can take pictures before they leave the stadium.

Afterwards, you can walk through the stadium building and there are water bottles, Nuun and bathrooms. It felt so good to just wash my face. Before you leave the building, they give you a bag of goodies that we all gobbled up!

After grabbing our cool-looking Budweiser beer from the beer tent, my run club and I sat in the shade to watch the rest of the runners finish. This has become a fun tradition.

Would I recommend this race?
Heck Yeah! It is well supported, super-organized and a ton of fun–EVEN IN THE HEAT. Ram Racing did a great job taking care of all the runners with extra water tables, ice cups on the course, and frozen towels at the finish.

Put this on your to-do list in Chicago!

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"Silo District Marathon"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

The Silo District Marathon race day was on Sunday, May 6th!!! I still can’t believe that this was Fixer Upper’s, Chip Gaines first race and he’s running an actual marathon! He looked great, especially when he was with his family who were all there to cheer and run with him.

Here are the Details!
Packet Pick Up: Packet pick-up was the day before at the Waco Convention Center. There you got your bib, a tech shirt, a plastic gear-check bag, and tons of goodies from big sponsor names like TARGET! And you got cute tote bags from Magnolia.

Parking: I highly recommend parking in the remote parking they have set up. There was plenty of room and the busing system was perfect with tons of air-conditioned city buses. There were buses coming and going until 4pm and we never had to wait for one.

Port-a-Potties: There were a ton of port-a-potties for the runners at the Silos and on the course. And we got there early enough to use the flushing bathrooms. This is very important to runners…

Waiting Area: The Magnolia grounds were lit up with a ton of cute lights. And it was nice watching the sun come up behind the silos.

Gear Check: Gear check was available. The line was a little long but it moved quickly.

Pre-Race Warm Up: They had warm-up exercises with REFIT Studio founder Cathy Ballas. Who by-the-way had her condo designed on one of the Fixer Upper shows.

To the starting lines: After warming up, we headed to watch the marathoners take off. Marathoners were starting first in corrals A and B. And Half-marathoners started in corrals C, D and E. We wanted to watch Chip start the race so we headed to the front to watch. Here is where I wish I was 3 to 5 inches taller. It was hard for me to see Chip until he stood on the steps.

Brave Like Gabe

There he talked about Gabe Grunewald’s Foundation which was the whole reason we were here. 100% of the profits from the race will be donated to the Brave Like Gabe Foundation. Funds were collected for research on rare cancers. Gabe who continued to race throughout the 2017 season despite battling adenoid cystic carcinoma inspired Chip to run a marathon. And rather than find a race, he decided to stage his own in Waco. And that’s how the Silo District Marathon dream started.

We watched Chip start and I couldn’t believe that he was wearing long pants and A TOOL BELT!

The corrals were packed and we ended up having to start in the way back. It was fine because we met some lovely people. Everyone shared where they were from, all the runs they have done and why they were all here–for Mr. Chip Gaines!

The Silo District Marathon Race
This race has got to be one of the most organized races I have ever run in. The police were out everywhere and volunteers were cheerful and helpful.

The heat reminded me that we were definitely in Texas. I am so glad I trained inside lately because it definitely got really hot during this run.

In the beginning you get to run through the Baylor University campus. It was beautifully paved and clean. The air was still cool and the trees that aligned the streets created nice shade. Then you got to run around McLane Stadium.

Next we were in the heart of Waco and I ran past the library with its mural walls! I always like to see that in a town.

Miles 5 to 9 seemed to fly. Not because I was going fast. It was because the scenery changed all the time. We ran along the Brazos River, and the turn-around was along some beautiful trees and greenery.

There were water tables every 2 miles and I stopped for water at each one of them. I could start to feel the heat around mile 8 and knew that I needed to stay cool to finish this race strong.

Crossing the suspension bridge meant we were heading back into town. That was a nice feeling because it was really starting to get hot around mile 10.5!

The mile signs were a nice distraction. Every mile there was a positive quote to keep you going.

The Silo District Marathon Finish: You can see the finish at the end for a long time. I could tell it was close and far at the same time. So I worked staying focused on my breathing and listening to the crowd. The crowds were huge at this point and the announcer was fantastic. And with this race you get a free downloadable picture!

The finish chute was divided with the marathoners ending on one side and the half marathoners ending on the other side. And the medal was huge and fantastic! They really do things big in Texas.

After the Race
After the race we grabbed some sweet teas and sat down to watch the other runners finish the race. There was a jumbo cam up so you could watch the finish line. There was also the Chip Cam where we could see where he was on the course during the race.

We enjoyed a couple of the food trucks available including the sweat tea truck again while we waited for Chip to finish. Chip finished in 5:21:54 and looked amazing. I’m so glad we stayed to watch him finish.

This was a fantastic running trip and we would definitely do the Silo District Marathon again if it wasn’t so expensive for us to fly to Waco. I do recommend this race especially for the great cause, the Brave Like Gabe Foundation. Which by the way, this race raised $250,000!

The one thing I would tell runners is, this race is a definitely Bucket List race. Especially if you are a Fixer Upper fan!

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"Mad Marathon and a ton of Vermont FUN!"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

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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"Dam to Dam"
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Race Management

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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