Latest reviews by Mary Jo Minarich

"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.


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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"The Caribbean Running Cruise"
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I had to share this with you all about a run or should I say RUNS and cruising. John (the Penguin) Bingham and Coach Jenny Hadfield host a wonder set of races at different ports during a Caribbean cruise. Now the entire boat is not running. The Caribbean Running Cruise is basically a small group on the ship. And by the end of the cruise you will be known as the runners!

During the 2017 Caribbean Running Cruise, we ran in San Juan, St Croix, St. Maarten, Barbados and Grenada. Yup, we ran 5 5Ks to 4 mile runs! It was a blast. Here’s a recap of each race.

San Juan: We ran the San Juan Friendship Run the day of boarding our ship, the Jewel of the Seas. It was so nice waking up in San Juan. It was a warm morning with a few raindrops at the very start of our race. Then a gorgeous rainbow appeared. The Borinquen Runners Run Club hosted our Friendship 5K Run in San Juan. It was a beautiful out and back course with a water stops and spectacular views. The San Juan police department really kept us safe throughout the race. They were at every corner directing traffic and making sure we stayed on the course. You saw every type of runner on this race. You had the fast runners, the walker and the run/walkers. I could tell they trained run/walking because you could hear the beeps on their timer for each interval. This run was definitely for fun and everyone ran and took pictures.

St. Croix: On the Royal Caribbean ship we met in a lounge big enough for our large group and had breakfast together. Then we all walked off as a group as soon as we docked. Our group was so large that we made up 10% of the ship. And when we were all together we made up a nice size race!

As a runner you could choose a 5K or 10K for every race. We decided to go with the 5Ks since we have not been training in this heat. And it was HOT! I believe it was 80 degrees at every race start all week. But we didn’t care,because we were on vacation!

The St. Croix 5K was a really nice run. The course ran through a small street and then we headed into a rainforest. It was beautiful and the shade made it feel wonderful. The roads were a little challenging and they even joked that it was more of a trail run rather than a street run. But we managed fine and there was a nice water station at the turn-around.

I knew I wouldn’t win the race but before the cruise you fill out a predicted time sheet. The winner closest to their predicted times for all the races wins a yellow hat. I predicted I would run this race in 30.01 minutes. I wanted to make sure I gave myself a comfortable pace for the heat and humidity.
The finish felt wonderful and HOT! John was waiting for all of us to finish the race and we received a bottled water, a new string bag and towel from the Virgin Island Tourist Bureau. We cheered the runners coming in and then headed back to the ship to shower. The rest of the day was spent on a beautiful beach baking in the sun.

St. Maarten: Our day started in St. Maarten with a nice, HOT 5K! We all met and had breakfast together at our usual lounge in the morning. Then we debarked and walked on the pier to the start of the race. I love a race that has palm trees at the start. There was gear check that moved our bags from the pier to the finish line in case you wanted to stay in St. Maarten after the race. This race had some spectacular views and hills!

We did have to run past the finish once and then turn around to get to it. It seemed a little confusing at first but John and Jenny were there giving us directions and then waiting for each of us to finish.
Let me tell you it was hot. But it felt great! I was really loving all the running we have been doing every day in a warm climate. It’s going to be a shocker to get back to running in cold weather again in Illinois.
We were invited to the Chez Delphine for a lovely post run French breakfast after we finished the race. It was all organized for the runners and it was YUMMY!!! I would love passion fruit at every breakfast now…

Then we headed back to the ship to get ready to head out on our excursion. Jenny and John put together three great choices for us to do during the rest of the day:
Afternoon biking
Hanging out at the Orient Beach
We decided to be beach bums and relax on a beautiful beach. So we boarded 3 buses and took a 30 minute drive to the French side of St. Maarten and got to play at a wonderful Orient beach.

Barbados: Ever heard of a Hash Run? This was my first time running one and we did it in Barbados! The run was organized by the Barbados Hash House Harriers. Now a Hash Run is when a runner sets up clues through a specific course to get to the finish. The person who sets it up is a fast runner called the Rabbit.

The Rabbit gets a head-start and sets up the trail with some helpers. If you caught up to the Rabbit he has to buy you a drink at the finish line.Clues are white marks made on the street. And these are made with small piles of flour. When you saw a clue you yelled, “On On.” There are also clues to dead ends. Those are marked with an X. When you see the X you had to turn around and head back and try again from the last clue point.

We had a blast looking for clues and run/walking through Barbados. We saw a huge section of the island as we passed by homes and small businesses. And the people of Barbados were so kind. If they saw us lost they would help us out and point out a clue. The Hash Run took us through 3.5 miles of Barbados. We then finished at the beautiful Copacabana Beach Resort! There we rented a couple of chairs and an umbrella for $20.00. We then enjoyed complimentary drinks and lunch right on the beach. This was all part of the running cruise arrangements.

Grenada: Our last run was the pirate run in Grenada! Yup, 250 grown-up runners dressed like pirates running through Grenada. The morning started with the usual breakfast of eggs, fruit, cereal, bagels and bacon. Now the object of the pirate race was to get to as many stops from a list of places John and Jenny gave to us. You had to be back on the ship within 1 hour and 15 minutes. This included time to get though security. And the farther away the place was, the more points it was worth. So our strategy was to go to the farthest place and work our way back. Little did we know we would be fighting a lot of traffic throughout that whole race. It must have been quite a sight seeing 250 pirates running around. We all ended up on deck 11 in plenty of time where we received our medals and a mimosa.

The Final Note! This was a fantastic cruise. We had perfect weather, a great group of friends and tons of fun in the sun. I look forward to my next running cruise with John and Jenny. I have not been disappointed yet by these 2 wonderful people. Be sure to check out their website! You definitely want to run the world with John and Jenny!!!! If you want a day-by-day recap that includes information about the ship and travel tips, be sure to read my blog at! I believe every runner should try a running cruise. It’s the best way to travel!

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"Having FUN running the Fort2Base"
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I loved being an ambassador for Fort 2 Base this year. This was my 5th time running this race and it never gets old!

It was easy to share information about this race with friends and people at race expos because I just love the course. And this year did not disappoint. The entire weekend was packed with run club friends, good food and a lot of laughing!

The day before the race we stayed at the Courtyard Marriott. They put together a special package for the runners. We got…
• Package pick-up at check-in
• Deluxe accommodations!
• Free Wi-Fi
• An awesome breakfast
• 1pm late check-out

We arrived in the late Saturday afternoon. We dumped our luggage and searched for some carbs and coffee! Our search led us to a Dunkin Donuts just 8 minutes away. I know donuts are not the healthiest but it was delicious!

Saturday night a group of 15 runners all ate together at Anastasia’s Restaurant & Sports Lounge. They took great care of our huge group. We carbed up with pizza and pasta. And the Hubs had a calzone that was as big as his face! We ended the evening with a soak in the hot tub and then an early night because the race started at 7am.

Race Day!
We parked our car at Rosalind Franklin University and we were bused to the start of the race at Fort Sheridan. There we found a billion port-a-potties waiting for us (OK, maybe not a billion but there were a lot).

There was a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem and then we started the race while the song “Proud to be an American” was playing.

2 Course Choices
Participants have a choice of two race distances. The first is a 10 Nautical Miles (11.5 miles) distance which will began at Fort Sheridan and ended at Naval Station Great Lakes via the spectacular Green Bay Trail.

The second course stretched over a distance of 3 Nautical Miles (3.45 miles) within the private expanses of Naval Station Great Lakes. Both courses had some beautiful views and it was great running on a military base.

Hero Hill
Hero Hill change this year due to some construction. The new hill wasn’t as steep as the original hill but it was still a great challenge. I was heading up the hill when I really wanted to stop around half way. Then a group of cadets started running behind me chanting some motivating song. I couldn’t help but stay with them. I even chanted with them!

No Course Pictures
I didn’t take any pictures this year because I was afraid I would drop my phone. You see this year was a hot one. Humidity was around 85% which means we were basically running through water. There was no breeze but we were in the shade through most of the 11.5 miles. We all finished in a sweaty mess.
10 Reasons I love Fort 2 Base

But even with all the sweat, Fort 2 Base is still one of my favorite runs. Here are my top 10 reasons!

1.It’s an affordable runcation for us. We get to spend the night at the Marriott Courtyard with a swimming pool, hot tub, huge room and tons of race support. Our packets were even waiting for us there!

2. Dunkin’ Donuts is 8 minutes away.

3. I get to eat dinner with my run club.

4. We all understand the importance of cupcakes when someone is having a birthday. This week we had 2 birthdays to celebrate at our table.

5. Runners in a hot tub make for a relaxing night.

6. Tons of port-a-potties!

7. The course runs on 2 active bases on the SAME DAY!!

8. We get to see all the beautiful military people.

9. FREE downloadable pictures!

10. The bling!

If you get a chance to run Fort 2 Base please do it. You will not regret it! Not only will you have a great race but you’ll also be helping out the USO of Illinois!

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"Eagle Chase Half Marathon"
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The Hubs and I completed our 5th state half-marathon by running in Wisconsin’s, Eagle Chase Half in Sauk City on July 2nd 2016. I was excited to run this half because I really love this state. We have spent many years coming up with the kids for vacations and now we were heading north to run it!
We stayed 30 minutes north of Sauk City in Wisconsin Dells. We arrived 2 days prior to the race. That way we could enjoy the area and get there early enough to pick up our packets the day before the race.
You could pick up your packet on Friday or on race-day. We wanted to see how long it was going to take us to get to the start so we drove down on Friday. Packets were in a cute little park called, August Derleth Park. Everything was very organized with tons of volunteers. We picked up our bibs, a bag of goodies and our blankets. Yup, we received a picnic blanket instead of a shirt. We both thought that was a nice change.

It was an early night for us because the race started at 7am. After setting out our running clothes, we hit the hay for a 4:30 wake-up call. The morning drive was an easy 30 minute ride with absolutely no traffic. 57 degrees at the start made for perfect running weather.

250 runners running the half, a 10K or 5K started all together between 2 fire-blowing devices that exploded as we ran between them. Don’t worry–it was totally safe and we can now say “we ran through the fire” at the start of a race.There were police, bike volunteers and a water table at every 2 miles or less! The whole town seemed to support the race. It’s funny the difference between running a big race in Chicago compared to a community race. It was much quieter here with people out cooking breakfast on grills or sitting in lawn chairs, drinking coffee and clapping for us.

The beginning of the course ran through some of the cutest neighborhoods with manicured lawns and flags everywhere. Then we were on a paved trail that had some of the most scenic views of valleys and hills in the distance. The Hubs and I stayed together through most of the race and enjoyed the beauty.
The paved trail course lead to a loose gravel trail up a very steep hill. We thought it was funny that the hill was near a hospital. Luckily neither one of us needed the hospital’s help.

It felt good to see mile 7 for me. That has got to be my favorite mile during a half. It signals to me that there are more miles behind me then in front of me. Duane likes mile 10. To him, it’s only a 5K to the finish after that! As we headed back toward the river we were running along some really sweet trails with gorgeous water views, bridges and SHADE! At mile 10 we were running an out-and-back that had signs that read “Beware of Cow Crossings.” We were now deep in farm land and all I could think about during this part of the run was we are definitely taking our shoes off before we get in the truck!

Once we hit mile 11, I was getting a little hot and tired and was ready for some pancakes! Yup, I knew pancakes were waiting for me so I told Duane “see you at the finish” and finished up at my own pace.
At the finish I was given this cool medal and a nice congratulations. A table of bagels, bananas and Culver’s lemon ice was waiting for me. Yum

I watched the Hubs finish strong and then we sat and enjoyed some pancakes along with various refreshments.This race had a little of everything–trails, community, scenery, rivers and PANCAKES! Oh and did I mention a couple of hills?

• Pick up your packet the day before the race. It helps you scout out parking and the start of the race.
• Read the course map. We didn’t realize the end of the race was at a different location. Rookie mistake! And we weren’t the only ones. Runners had to go back to their cars at the start to get their money. Luckily the Hubs always carries a couple of twenties for emergencies.
• In case you forget your Bodyglide (like I did), use deodorant! It worked great for me!
• Pack $6.00 a person for the pancakes. They were delicious! Plus any money they make goes directly to the 6:8 Sauk Prairie Against Hunger Pack Event where they pack food for global hunger relief. Over the past 4 years most of the food packed in Sauk Prairie has gone to Haiti. Some of this food feeds those at Anchored in Hope as they are given jobs to support their families.

The rest of our weekend involved a lot of soaking in the sun, floating in a lazy river, napping on a lawn chair and eating. Because this race happened over the 4th of July weekend, the blankets came in handy for our firework watching.

The Eagle Chase committee did a fantastic job with their very first race! They sponsored my race and we had a blast. And the medal had a wonderful meaning behind it:

“We would like to say thank you for your support!!! The making of these medals employed 7 Haitian men for a month! That provided them with the means to provide for their families and put food in their children’s mouths. It may sound simple, but jobs and employment are hard to come by in Haiti, especially these days. I wish I could tell you how many times these guys have asked me if I had more work to give! I always had to say no not yet, but then with this order of the medals we were able to pay these men for the beautiful work that they did. Not only do you get an amazingly awesome medal, but you are providing jobs for men who can provide for their families with dignity. Thank you for partnering with us to better the lives of these Haitians.”
Jessica Burmester with Anchored in Hope in Haiti

You can see more pictures on the blog at

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"Boston's Run to Remember 2016"
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The Hubs and I ran the Boston’s Run to Remember Half Marathon on May 29th. It was one of the most organized, emotional races we have ever run. The Boston’s Run to Remember is a tribute to fallen law enforcement officers and first responders. And then being on Memorial Day Weekend made it even more special in this amazing city.
Travel Tip: Pack your weekend clothes in your check-in bag and your running clothes in a carry-on. The idea is that you will still have your running clothes just in case your luggage gets lost. It’s easy to replace every day clothes like shirts and underwear but impossible to replace your running shoes and favorite shorts for your race in 2 days! Plus you don’t need to open your running clothes suitcase until race morning.
Saturday was the expo! It was located at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center which was only about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. I love how you really don’t need a car in this city. Everything is within walking distances!
We grabbed our bibs, shirts, looked around and took all the runner pics that you normally do at an expo! It was a really nice expo with about 40 vendors.
They had a beautiful memoriam for the officers that died in the line of duty. Especially for the 2 most recent officers Police Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. and Trooper Thomas Clardy. It was very moving. At one of the tables you needed to pick a coin that could be placed inside your medal. You could pick a firefighter, first responder or the police coin. I personally wanted all 3. But we decided to go with the police in honor of those officers.
Here's another packing tip! Don’t forget to pack 3 sets of running clothes. One for a hot race (70 degrees or more), one for nice running weather (50-65 degrees) and one for cold (anything under 50 degrees for me!)
I was all set to wear a tank top and light shorts but when I walked outside I turned straight around and changed into a slightly warmer outfit. The weather changed from 90 degrees one day to 58 degrees the next!
It was a perfectly overcast day with the temperature hovering in the low 60s at the start of the race. We totally lucked out! This race is amazingly organized with TONS of potties at the start, volunteers and a HUGE police force protecting us.
Flags were hanging everywhere with 10,000 happy, excited runners. Everyone got in the corral they wanted to run the race in and we started off in 2 waves. The super-fast and the not-super-fast.
Once we started we were just bombarded with spectacular views of the city. I wish I could have a camera built into my hand. The city views were breath-taking along the Charles River.
One of the coolest things along this course is in front of MIT in Cambridge. There you will find a long line of police cars with their lights on, facing the course. In front of each car was a police officer high-fiving the runners. I made sure to high-five each of them and thanked them for their service.
The race was super-supported with tons of water, Gatorade and port-a-potties. This race seemed to fly by and it’s definitely not because I’m fast. I remember looking at my watch the first time thinking, “wow, that was 6 miles already!?” And then we hit mile 10 and I was kind of sad it was almost over. This was another race I did not want to end.
We finished the race totally enjoying this course. I think I played with every single photographer on the course! I felt awesome at this finish except for one thing–I fell right before mile 1. UGH, I can hear my Mom say “Oh no, not again!”
In the beginning of the run, it’s pretty crowded. I stepped into a dent on the road and down I fell. Two nice runners picked me up and I was fine. I didn’t let it mess with my running mojo and thanked the universe and my kale and spinach diet for not breaking any bones.
I didn’t even notice my knees were bleeding until mile 7. Ha! After grabbing my medal and an orange, I headed to the medical tent and got a swab and 2 band aids. They were very nice there too!
Another great thing about this race is after you get your medal, re-fueling foods and drinks you end up right back in the Expo. Here we used indoor bathrooms, stretched and sat on a nice carpeted floors for a bit.

Boston’s Run to Remember Tips!
• Even though there are tons of port-a-potties at the race, get their early. Lines were long within a short amount of time.
• Really enjoy this course. Look up and see where you are running. But watch your footing!
• Look for the photographers! They take wonderful pictures and there are free downloadable images.
• Bring money or credit card in case you want to buy something at the Expo after the race.
• Bring band aids!

For more information and pictures, be sure to visit

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