Latest reviews by Melinda

(2017)
"AMAZING crowd support - dubbed a "marathon-sized party" for a reason!"
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If you are the kind of runner that thrives on fan support and even a Jell-O shot (or four, and a couple beers, and maybe a mimosa, too) - or even if you WANT to be that kind of runner - then the Route 66 Marathon is the race for you!

Just... don't try to PR it.

The course is difficult. So now I understand the need for all that beer. Oh, did I mention there were also Fireball shots? While not officially race-supported, these "aid stations" are fully supported by the race and the communities therein. I only wish someone had a Jell-O shot for me at Mile 24, when the was incredibly sparse with fans and support. The official aid is about every two miles - water and Gatorade, with rotating flavors if you're into that. There was at least one gel station (maybe two).

And about 80 billion-ty hills.

Everything about this race is incredibly well-organized. The medals and swag are some of the best of any race I've participated in. I loved the confetti cannons for each of the start line waves. Finish line had beer and pizza (no gluten-free options, sorry!).

Get the VIP Mother Load upgrade: skip the packet pick-up line, and options for upgrades for pre-race accommodations (real toilets that flush!) and post-race party (more free booze, if you didn't have enough on the course). I didn't participate in the Center of the Universe Detour, and there was seemingly no additional cost to do so. Bummer, because it looked to be a blast - there is also free beer there, too, and a special coin commemorating your completion of the "world's shortest ultra-marathon."

Sincerely, you missed the best party of the year. Even Santa was there.

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(2017)
"10 out of 10 for Big 10 Fans!"
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As an Ohio State fan - and no longer living around a lot of Buckeye fans - the BTN Big 10k race was SUCH a blast. Right off the bat at registration, you get into the theme of school spirit by selecting your school as your preference of race shirt. I also loved the option for RAM Racing to mail my packet (with my shirt and bib) to me, since I don't live in the Chicago area either.

On race day, there fans from all the B1G schools lining the streets alongside the college mascots and cheerleaders. I saw Brutus right away and grabbed a selfie. The MC did an awesome job of getting the racers pumped up before the start. It was a warm day, so any way I could keep my "school spirits" was preferred.

I was a little annoyed with feeding in the overflow on the corrals (the next corral should have waited to let the previous runners in before moving the rope forward), but it didn't feel overly crowded. The staggered race starts weren't too long between waves either. The course highlight was the City of Chicago buildings looming all around and its beautiful lakefront. The sun and humidity, however, made most of those open areas feel downright miserable.

I felt like there could have been one (or maybe even two) additional aid stations given the heat on race day. The first hydration stop wasn't until two miles in, and the volunteer told us it was the only nuun on the course (not sure why she said that; it wasn't true). I'm not a nuun fan, but I took some, considering how hot it was. I was also hoping for some cheer stations or more course entertainment in line with the college theme (like, a drum line or something?) There were a couple water slides on the course, and I'm surprised more runners weren't enjoying them; I went through the first and though awkward, I was happy to interject some silliness in my morning because I was not having a great race. To be honest, I really wanted to jump in the lake. :)

The finish line "tailgate" was beyond amazing - so many fun vendors with food (I definitely pigged out on some sausage) and drinks (free beer for 21+, which I can't have, so I gave to my husband) and live music - and, of course, cheers-ing with other fans. The finisher medal was a blank Big10 logo, and you got to customize with a special magnet that fits into the front of the medal. It was a really great touch! Each school had its own tent and photo backdrops and things for sale to support the alumni associations. However, I wish OSU had some swag like I saw at the other booths (and not just a shirt for sale).

Despite the heat, I really enjoyed my time in Chicago — based on reviews from previous years and my own experience, RAM Racing is doing great work at personalizing this event for sports fans. GO BUCKS!

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(2017)
"An amazing backdrop for this destination race — and a great way to spend your holiday over Memorial Day weekend."
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The Race Directors moved the start to 7am, given that the race was stopped last year because of the heat concerns. We had a cool (but humid) 54 degrees to start, and the sun warmed things up quickly. Naturally, the back part of the course is full sun. When I noticed that the red flags were up around mile 21, I grew more anxious about the conditions getting worse over the last few miles of the race. Still, running in red flag conditions can be scary. The spectators and neighbors came out to celebrate the race and helped to keep runners cool with ice pops, sprinklers, garden hoses, extra water... it was amazing.

I was a little overwhelmed and confused by the start area; I only found the starting corrals by stroke of luck (and walking around). I didn’t see any directional signage and thought the start was actually in the park (it's actually on the street next to). There are no corral assignments, so runners lined up by their expected pace — there was pace signage and course pacers. You can think of the course like a clover – it starts near Battery Park and takes four loops out of downtown Burlington and back, and then loops around another side of town (and repeat. and repeat). The course felt really crowded for the first few miles, and then it runs out-and-back onto an incredibly boring (and full sun) couple miles of highway. I loved that we passed through Church Street twice.

And then there is Mile 15: The Assault on Battery. Though the majority of VCM feels flat, there are seemingly constant rolling elevation changes (per my Garmin).

The aid stations were scattered every mile or so of the course and were manned by wonderful volunteers — all seemed to have water-Gatorade-water set-ups and there was signage when the aid stops were 1/2 mile away. There was also a bonus candy aid station near the mid-point of the course and an ice pop station at the back portion of the course. Clif shots and gels were provided at two different points, and there looked to be plenty of Kybos (portable toilets) along the course, too.

The best parts of the course BY FAR were in the neighborhoods between Miles 18-21. The race had some designated spots for course entertainment, but most of the fun came from the neighborhoods getting together to cheer and party. On our Church Street pass-throughs, there were drag queens giving high fives and many of the bars and restaurants opened their patios earlier to spectators. The best section of the race, as I mentioned above, was after leaving the city and that awful hill on Battery Street. Spectators were handing out slices of watermelon, oranges, bananas, candy, ice pops; neighborhood kids passing out drinks from their lemonade stands (adorable!)… And then by far one of the best things I’ve ever seen on a race course: SHOTS OF MAPLE SYRUP.

The crowds and spectators thin out once you hit the bike path, which takes you the remainder of the course to the finish line (which, while wooded, didn't offer a lot of solace from the sun). The finish area was just as confusing as the start. Volunteers handed us a bottled water and a bag to carry food through the athlete area. I didn’t see the results tent — and to be honest, I had no idea where to go. That said, Waterfront Park is beautiful and you can't beat taking a medal selfie with Lake Champlain as a backdrop.

Burlington is such an amazing place to go for a destination race and a great holiday adventure over Memorial Day weekend; also, Vermont City Marathon is great for those who love smaller races.

Bonus: Finishers get FREE race photos, sponsored by the local tourism board.

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(2017)
"A race weekend that the community enjoys as much as the runners!"
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During the Illinois Marathon weekend, I took part in the Half I-Challenge - running the 5K Friday night and the half marathon on Saturday morning. My weekend in Champaign-Urbana was incredible, and the energy of the spectators and excitement of the runners really made this an A+ event. The Illinois Marathon team put on a great event, and if you’re looking for some fun (or a PR), I would definitely add this race to your calendar. The communication from Illinois Marathon RDs was also excellent leading up to the race weekend. They utilized Facebook and Twitter and interacted with participants, and sent out several emails regarding race info, packet pickup, and after parties.

Each race had its own drawstring race bag and t-shirt. The half marathon shirt is great — a bright neon yellow short-sleeved tee with a breathable tech material. I also love that it’s v-neck. The drawstring bag for the half has a mesh back and extra zippered pocket in the front. Challenge runners get two shirts AND two bags (and all the flyers within).

The course for the half marathon was flat — and it was fast (I ran my 2nd fastest half marathon time). A lot of it was run through neighborhoods and some through paved trails in a park, but I didn't find any of boring. There were several aid stations, including one with oranges (!!!) around 6.5 miles into the course. Some hydration stations had water and others with both water and Gatorade. There was also a GU stop, with several different flavors available. The race finishes in Memorial Stadium - which is the big appeal of the race. Also at the finish was both water and muscle milk. If you're a Challenge finisher, DO NOT FORGET YOUR EXTRA MEDAL (I got all the way up in the stands before I remembered and had to return to the field). Inside the concession areas was pasta, and GOOD NEWS GLUTEN-FREE RUNNERS: there was gluten-free pasta available. The 27th Mile celebration was just outside Memorial Stadium, similar to the party the night before after the 5K — free beer for participants and free cake and live music.

The college was celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017, and race day was a PARTY (did I mention there was free cake at the finish line to celebrate?). I really, REALLY enjoyed myself in Illinois — even the hotels totally supported the runners, opening up breakfast earlier and keeping the food out late; my hotel even had free bottled water and fresh fruit set up in the lobby and the marathon posters hung up around the elevators.

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(2017)
"Fun nighttime run on a fast, easy course that starts off marathon weekend!"
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I took a road trip to Champaign-Urbana to participate in the Half I-Challenge race series — this review is of the 5K. There are four different distances as part of the Illinois Marathon weekend: the full marathon, half marathon, a 10k and 5k. There is also a youth run, a marathon relay, and the challenge races that all include the 5k on Friday night and one of the distances on Saturday. I love running at night, so I was excited that the 5K was the evening before the longer distances.

The Health & Fitness expo takes place at the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and, after parking, was easy for this out-of-towner to find her way. Parking was a little annoying, but there was plenty of it and it’s free. Signage was very helpful around campus to direct where to park — and look for all the volunteers with orange foam fingers. Arrows directed you to the bib pick-up area at the ARC; the expo was in a larger gym space (where you pick up your bag and t-shirts) and it was HUGE. I was impressed by flow of everything and the selection of vendors.

All of the races for the weekend start near the State Farm Center and end inside Memorial Stadium. There was a great energy along the course, with a lot of students cheering from the sidewalks and porches and bar patios around campus. The 5K started at 7:30 pm — and the corral area was crowded; all the runners couldn’t fit into the corrals, and there was quite a long wait in between waves in order to fit all the people in as each corral moved forward.

The big appeal of the Illinois Marathon is the 50-yard finish inside Memorial Stadium. Imagine my surprise to learn we would be doing the same for the 5K! It was a really cool experience, and inside the concession area was free food for finishers: Jimmy John’s sandwiches (sadly no lettuce-wrapped), bananas, and Nature Valley granola bars.

There was an added "4th Mile" after party outside the Stadium to kick-off to the 5K and race weekend. All participants got a free drink from Riggs Beer Company; there was also live music and FREE CAKE to celebrate the 150th birthday of the college. Speaking of birthdays, the 5K medal is a balloons bouquet celebrating the sesquicentennial — with a special charm denoting the 150th.

A flat, fast course (I PR'd!), and a fun kick-off to the marathon weekend.

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