Latest reviews by Ben Lamers

(2019)
"Cinco"
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Cinco de Miler bills itself as the only 5 mile race in Chicago. It's also a unique race distance that you don't see out there a ton.

The race, like many RAM events, has packet pickup the two days prior to the race at the Fleet Feet in Old Town. I was in Southern IL the better part of the week for work, so I had a friend pick up my packet for me. So I can't comment much on the expo.

The race starts in Montrose Harbor, which can make parking a little interesting. I parked a little under a mile away using Spot Hero, and wasn't the only runner using that lot. As with most races in the city, just plan ahead a little with parking, give yourself some extra time, and you'll be alright.

Until I arrived, I didn't even know there were corrals for this race, but there were. Everything was super close, and it was easy to head over to the bathrooms and get to the start line easily.

The course runs predominantly along the lakefront trails, with a few turnarounds in there. For a five miler, the race has a pretty small footprint. A couple spots had to be rerouted a bit because of all the rain in Chicago, but it didn't effect much of the race, if at all.

I'd also like to say that we finished under a giant inflatable pinata, which was epic.

The post race featured beer, food, and a pretty solid amount of vendors that the race had brought in. There was also a mechanical bull you could ride, if that's your thing.

For the swag, the medal was massive, and very classy looking. I'm not always a fan of getting medals in a shorter race. But if you're going to give them out, they should look cool and these did. I didn't love the shirt design, but it's been growing on me in the days since the event.

This is a great race if you want to increase your distance from a 5k, need some miles, or need a tuneup race for a late Spring marathon. This one is for you!

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(2019)
"Fantastic Event"
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The Illinois Marathon is the quintessential spring race, and sometimes I've seen it ranked higher than the Chicago Marathon for best in Illinois. And after running it, I can totally see why.

The expo is at the Rec Center on the campus of the University of Illinois, and is right next to where the race starts and finishes. Because of it's placement by the football and basketball stadium, there is plenty of parking. Just follow the signs and it's super easy. Volunteers inside direct you to the expo, where you grab your bib, drawstring bag, and shirt (more on that later). The expo itself is fairly small, but I'm not a big expo person so that was fine by me.

The race does have a pasta feed the night before. But living close enough, I packed my own dinner (plus I thought the price for the pasta dinner was a little excessive).

Easy was also the name of the game on race morning. After doing a pair of world majors in the Fall, I forgot how easy a small town race can be. Parking is right by the start line, and the race even had bagels and coffee available for runners in the start area. I don't know how many porta-johns the race had, but it was enough since the lines weren't too bad.

The first half of the marathon (and the duration of the Half) runs through downtown, some parks, and campus. The second half runs almost entirely through residential neighborhoods. If turns are your thing, this race is for you. It's also super flat, with the only thing passing for a hill coming at 24, and it's not bad at all.

Aid Stations were very clearly marked with Water and Gatorade. And a surprising amount (I thought) had Gu as well if you needed a gel boost. There was also an unofficial beer station, jello shot station, and pickle juice station.

The finish of the race is on the 50 in the football stadium. I don't love stadium finishes, but I get why they're a thing. Walking out of the stadium (aka up about 30 stairs) is also not something I enjoy, but that's minor.

Now for the swag. I didn't love the medal as I thought it was a little too busy. On the other hand, I LOVE the shirt. Easily the best marathon shirt I've gotten in some time, maybe ever. Finishers also get a finisher blanket (which I am 100% laying under while writing this) which is awesome!

Once you trudge up the stairs, food awaits. It's pretty much all stadium food, but if you're hungry after a marathon, then you'll be in heaven. It was pretty chilly by the time I got done, so I didn't stay for the post-race festivities, but they looked like fun when I walked past.

All in all, I would HIGHLY recommend the Illinois Marathon. Great course, amazing volunteers, and unparalleled organization

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(2019)
"HC MSP"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

My initial plan was to run the 15k fairly hard at the Hot Chocolate in Minneapolis. But that was before signing up for a Spring Marathon only two weeks later, so I opted down to the 5k to run with friends.

I wasn't able to make the expo partly due to work, and partly due to shortened hours because of the snow Minnesota was getting. Fortunately, my friend was able to swing in and grab my packet. And that's one thing I love about the RAM Racing events, is that it's super easy to pick up someone else's packet.

Parking the morning of the race can be a little tricky if you haven't ventured into downtown for a race before. But if you've run Twin Cities Marathon, Polar Dash, or any others in the city, I would argue parking for this one is on par with those.

For the race, I opted to run with my friend, so we started around the middle of the 5k pack. The 5k course runs mostly along the river in the city, which provides nice scenery. The snow lining the roads was a little disappointing, but hey it's the Midwest. It was also the first time I've raced in Minnesota since I ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 2016, so it was nice to get back up there.

The finish area is also top notch. Runners get a great bowl of fruit, snacks, and of course hot chocolate. Throw in the awesome zip up hoodie, and the swag from this race is on point.

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(2019)
"MKE is BACK"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
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The fourth time (and third owner) was the charm for the Milwaukee Marathon! After taking a gap year to find itself in 2018, the race came back with new ownership and a new course.

The expo was held at the Milwaukee Bucks new arena, Fiserv Forum, as the Bucks are one of the new sponsors of the race. If you’ve done Brewers Mini or the Cellcom in Green Bay, packet pickup was similar. Go through security, and the expo was in the lobby, if you will, of the stadium. There was a bit of a line to get in when I arrived, but that’s because I got there around 4pm so it was a busier time. I was pacing the race, so I just had to swing by the Performance Running area to get my packet as opposed to going through the regular line, but I heard that was super easy.

It is worth noting that unless you pay for race morning pickup, you have to pick up your packet at the expo. You can have someone else pick it up for you as well.

Fast forward to race morning. The race promoted the parking garage across from Fiserv, and you could pre-purchase that through the race. The option did sell out, but from what I heard it took a while to park, since a lot of runners did that option. There are plenty of other lots, though, in the city and around nearby MATC all for the same cost (I think) of the ramp the race used.

The start area is in the plaza of the arena (aka: outside). Gear check, the volunteer tent, and bathrooms were all out in this area; along with the stage used for the after party. I did think this space was a little cramped, but I have a feeling once the demolition of the old Bradley Center is complete, the race will have more space.

Since bathrooms are always key, I’ll talk about that quickly. I saw porta pods in three different areas in the plaza. The line in the one I went to wasn’t bad, but again congested with it being closer to the start corral.

The race did have a corral start as assigned by what was on your bib. Runners did have an opportunity to put in their projected pace before hand. I’m not a fan of corral starts, but I totally understand using them.

I’d also like to note that the 5k starts a half hour before the Half and Full. A surprising benefit of this was being able to watch the 5k finish while in the corral waiting for the race to start!

The course itself starts in downtown, and the first mile is down through Water St working your way out to Lincoln Memorial Drive. A majority of the miles in the Half are on Lincoln Memorial, which runs you right along the lake.

Past versions of the race have run up the hill on Lincoln Memorial, but this year we went up the hill by the water tower, through the upper east side, and down the steep hill on LM. I absolutely LOVED the change. While a bigger hill, I think going up Water Tower is a much easier (read: less steep) climb.

To get the distance, once the course winds back into the city, runners turn west up Wisconsin Ave. Its not a steep hill, but it’s a long hill. The Half ran up to Marquette’s campus, and then turned around to get back to the finish. The full keeps going up WI Ave.

At the finish, you get all your standard drinks, snacks, and medal. Naturally, a beer as well. Gear check was smooth both for dropping off and, more importantly, picking up. I didn’t stick around the finish for too long, because it was chilly and most of the people I knew running were done at that point.

And finally, let’s talk swag. All runners received a Finisher’s Shirt which has a simple but sleek design. My only gripe here is that you receive your Finisher shirt at packet pickup and not when, you know, you finish. Whatever. Runners in the Half and Full also received a 1/4 zip fleece. It’s comfy and has a nice design, but it’s not a life changing item, and not one you’d run in. I thought the medal was decidedly ok. Nice, but not crazy. Who am I to complain about that though?

All in all, the 2019 version of the race got just about everything correct! I’m excited to see how the race improved going forward, but I think the MKE Marathon finally figured it out and is here to stay.

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(2019)
"April Trails"
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The Run from the Taxman is the first of the Wisconsin Trail Assail Series by Silver Circle Sports. It runs through the summer at various state and county parks in SE Wisconsin.

This race is at Lapham Peak in Delafield, and is arguably one of the toughest places to run (if not THE toughest place) in Southeast Wisconsin. Be prepared for lots of hills. The race features a 5k, 10k, and Half distance. There's also a lookout tower in the park, and you better believe you'll run up that.

Packet pickup is at In-Step, a local running and PT place in Delafield, and is very straightforward. Bib, shirt, and away you go.

Race morning is quick, but make sure you plan ahead. There's plenty of parking at Lapham, but make sure you either have a State Park pass or bring $5 to get into the park. If you didn't pick up your packet early, you can do so on race morning in the shelter as well. There are limited bathrooms (state park, remember) but nothing that will hinder your race start.

The 10k does one loop on the "outside" loop, or if you've run Lapham on your own, it's the black diamond loop. The Half does two of those. And I literally have no idea where the 5k goes. Because of this, the 10k and Half start at the same time, and the 5k five minutes later.

The first two and a half miles bring the hills, so you get thrown in right away. Once you get on the west side of the park it flattens out a bit onto some grass areas as you enter the cross country ski area. Also, this is easily the muddiest area if it's rained (which it had the week prior) since the water doesn't really have anywhere to go. Oh, and there was some snow on course this year.

Once you head back into the woods at mile 5, it's a long single track climb to the watch tower. As mentioned before, yes you get to climb the tower before continuing on. The last mile is mostly downhill, but there is one more good climb before you barrel down to the finish.

Half runners receive their medal, which is an awesome design this year, and age group winners are announced in the shelter. There's also an incredible fruit bar which is at every race in the series. Oh, and beer too.

If you're looking to dabble in some trail racing in SE Wisconsin, definitely check out one of the races in this series. And if the Taxman is your first trail run then it (probably) only gets easier from there.

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