Latest reviews by Ben Lamers

(2018)
"Chicago 2018"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Chicago is a race (like most majors) that I was signed up for seemingly forever in advance. Because that's the nature of the beast. It's also a race that I had heard SO many good things about. So it definitely had some hype to live up to.

Let's start with the expo. Holy bananas (not literally). So crowded. Of course, with a field size of about 44,000 people I knew that would be the case. Packet pickup and the expo is at McCormick Place, which is a monstrosity of a building in it's own right. I felt fortunate that I had previously done the Shamrock Shuffle, which is a good way to get a feel for what the expo (and race morning) will be like.

Despite stories of backed up lines and security in the morning, I breezed through to get my packet extremely quickly. This is one of those expos where you get your bib, then go allllll the way to the back of the room to get your shirt/bag/etc. Which is fine. I got my shirt, grabbed some new socks (NOT for race day) and got out of there. I'm not a huge expo guy.

Let's talk the shirt quick. It's a light blue Nike shirt, with Chicago in descending big bold red letters. I love the look of the shirt. But with the absurd amount of screen printing for the letters, I'm not sure how runnable of a shirt it would be. I probably won't attempt that, but I will wear it around.

Race morning. Living in the suburbs, I decided to grab a hotel down by the start with late checkout just so that I didn't have to wake up absurdly early (like before 4am) to get to the city, park, etc. So that was nice. I was also fortunate enough to get access to the VIP area for the CARA organization. If you can swing the $60 (or 35 for members) it is totally worth it. Especially on a rainy morning like we had in 2018. The indoor bathrooms and private gear check are clutch.

To enter Grant Park, you're supposed to go through a specific entry point. I followed that, and got through quick, but I don't think it really matters. Corrals close 10 minutes prior to race start, so give yourself time to wade through the crowds to get lined up. Again, this is where I was fortunate to have done the Shamrock Shuffle, as it provided a good measuring stick for what Grant Park looks like on race morning.

The race gets going pretty quickly. We spend the first few miles weaving around the city itself before making the turn north. This is the first section where we got to experience the wind coming from the north, although it wasn't awful at this point. You'll pass the 10k on the way up and the 15k in Lakeview on the way back. It started to rain a bit in this section. Not heavy, but enough to be noticeable.

The north part of the city takes you almost the entire first half, as you hit 13.1 coming back into downtown. After a couple miles next to the river (where your GPS will go crazy) it's off to the west side of the city. The crowds thin a little bit out around the 25k mark, but it's a nice spot to check in with yourself before the massive crowd support returns. You'll also run past a cheer section with all of the race charities, which is really cool!

Around 17-18 (memory is hazy) we turn to head back to the city. The rain started to pick up here, and this was the only section of the race that actually felt kind of cold. The rain picked up out here, but you're on your way to Mile 21 and Chinatown which is a huge boost. Somewhere along this section Biofreeze had a station you could make a pit stop in to get some spray on your legs. I made the stop, although I can't say if it helped or not.

Once you get through Chinatown (which is awesome by the way) you head south for a few miles down close to the Sox stadium. You'll turn and then it's about 2.5 miles to the finish and to glory. Remember what I said about that wind earlier? Well it was still there, and any wind feels much stronger when you're 24 miles into a race.

Runners get back into downtown quick, and then it's a right on Roosevelt (affectionately known as Mt Roosevelt) and a left to the finish. Roosevelt isn't much of a hill, but at 26 miles it certainly feels like it's one!!

The finish chute was complete with heat sheets, water, gatorade, and food. Oh, and the ever important Goose Island beer.

I didn't mosey over to the 27th mile after party, but instead headed for the great indoors and the CARA VIP area. Again, that bag check was super nice, and it was great to be able to relax inside for a time after the race.

I really liked Chicago and might do it again someday. It's definitely a must experience for any marathoner, or future marathoner!

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(2018)
"Amateur Hour"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Madrid Milers is an annual race held on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Madrid, Iowa. It features a 2 mile, 5 mile, and 15 mile race. 2018 was the third year in a row I’ve run the 15 mile here. Partly because, how cool is it to find a 15 mile race?? It’s also been a smooth event in the past, and is an easy age group win for me (no shame).

I couldn’t tell you how many enter the 2 mile, since it starts last. The 5 mile is the premier event, with lots of local runners and HS teams in the field. The 15 is the smallest event, and this year was around 40 people.

In a nutshell, the race starts by the school in Madrid, runs us up and down the river valley and onto open country roads. Around mile 9 or 10 runners get into the town of Woodward and take the famous High Trestle Trail back into Madrid where we weave around town to pick up the last mile or so. Aid Stations are roughly every 2 to 3 miles, but just have water. And since it’s a small field, if you’re not running with friends, you’re likely running alone.

Awards are given to overall winners, and top 3 age group. You have to wait FOREVER for the award ceremony, but it’s fine. The race shirt is normally a soft cotton shirt; comfy but not something you would run in.

The 2018 edition, though, had a bevy if problems, most of which in my opinion were preventable and stemmed from the Race Director.

Let’s start with the weather. It was very stormy the morning of the race, and while it was clearing, there was rain and storms very close to Madrid. Nevertheless, we ran. Around Mile 5, we had to cloud to cloud lightning literally directly above us, and we witnesses cloud to ground lightning strike a field less than two miles away. Personally, if I were out running, a storm wouldn’t stop me, but I wouldn’t run through an open corn field in a thunderstorm. And the race DEFINITELY should not have let all the 15 mile runners continue since we were the tallest objects on those roads.

Once we got into Madrid, we made turns on about every block, and there were volunteers at each corner to tell us where to go. Except for one corner. Fortunately I knew where I was going, so I made the turn. But literally at least 25% of the field missed the turn. Those runners got anywhere from 15.7 to 17+ miles.

One runner in the top 5 made the RD aware of the turn that was missed. He was told that “If someone was willing to donate signs” they could mark the turns. Seriously? All you need is a marker and a piece of cardboard and set it there. What’s worse, after being made aware, the RD never sent any volunteers who were working the finish area to cover that corner. Which led to 10+ runners missing the turn and getting lost.

While we were waiting for the last runner to come in, the RD was radioed that the runner was in town, and the sweeper golf kart rolled in shortly after. But we waited and waited for the last runner. About 10 minutes later (again the sweeper was at the finish) the RD gets a call that the last runner has collapsed about .5 from the finish. She called 911 and a bunch of us (about 6 of us still at the finish) took off back down the course to help. Amongst us (thankfully!!) a nurse and doctor. On our way to the runner, I saw the first responder police officer looking around not knowing where to go, because the RD didn’t say on the call, so we had to point them in the right direction. When we arrived both the nurse and doctor were attending to the runner, and asked if there was a first aid and/or IV Kit. No. There wasn’t one. How you don’t have those things for a 15 mile race in early September, I don’t know.

With first responders, a nurse, and doctor on scene, the rest of us jogged back to the finish area, because we weren’t needed at the scene anymore. We returned to the finish and the award ceremony was on going and almost complete. So the best I can tell, the RD called 911, a bunch of us took off to help, and she promptly started awards. Personally, I think starting an awards ceremony while you have your last runner down on course is incredibly tasteless and classless.

And this connects back to the missed turn. What if the last runner had missed that turn, and collapsed off course? The race new about this corner for OVER AN HOUR and never put someone there. Thankfully she made the turn and was on course. Prayers that she is ok and recovering fine!

Another runner raised some of these concerns to the RD. And this time was told “Well, we’re a small town race.” I think that’s a BS excuse. Being a small race is not an excuse for poor runner safety. If you’re hosting a 15 mile race, you need to be prepared, and the race and the RD were decidedly not.

As I said, I’ve run this race in 2016, 2017, and 2018. But I don’t see myself giving this race another go until they make runner safety a priority.

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(2018)
"Copper Mountain 50k"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Parking/Access
Race Management

What. A. Race.

Seriously, the whole Under Armour race day experience at Copper Mountain was fantastic, regardless of if you were running the 5, 10, 25, or 50k races.

I got out to Denver the Tuesday before the race, partly to give my body time to adjust to some altitude, and to see some friends. If you're flying into Denver, Copper Mountain should be about a 1.5 hour drive from the airport, but it'll take you closer to two hours because of traffic on I-70.

Packet pickup for the race is offered for most of the afternoon beforehand, and also on race morning. I grabbed my packet the day before, mostly since I could. There were a few booths from Under Armour and Fleet Feet set up, but don't come to the expo expecting to find and buy all the things. It is a nice little village for runners, though, and had way more post race (more on that later).

Quickly, let's talk about the race shirt. First of all, it’s an Under Armour hoodie, so you can't get much better than that. I've already worn mine a few times. It's very plain, so don't expect any over the top designs, with a logo on the back, and the logos for each mountain series race on the sleeve. I would've liked something to indicate Copper Mountain specifically on it, but that's fine.

I ran the 50k, which was the first race to start off at 7am. If you’re staying in Copper Mountain, which most people do, it’s super easy to get to the start. Just about all of the hotels are within walking distance. We got lined up in the starting chute, and away we went!

As with any large trail race, the start can get a bit congested as everyone is navigating their way onto the single track. It wasn’t too bad, but you could get bottled up on some of the switchbacks going up the mountain. But this was only in the first quarter to half mile, so it was no big deal at all.

The way up the mountain is a little over a 10k (by my Garmin) and there is only one aid station on the way up, and then another at the top. There are five Aid Stations set up on the course, and you pass one twice, so it’s kind of like 6. One of them is about 1k from the finish, though. If you’re doing the 50k, there is an AS at the Start/Finish line, so you can restock for your second loop there. All AS had water, powerade, and various fueling items. Aid Station 2, at the top of Copper, had the most things for you.

While the course winds you around jeep roads and single track, it is SUPER easy to follow. The course was extremely well marked, and included the occasional mile marker. On any corner that might have been a question, there was a volunteer there.

The post race area was rockin. Literally, there was a band. I didn’t explore the area much, because I was spent after the race, but I know they had various recovery items including foam rollers, stretching areas, and post-race massage. Oh, and each runner received a free beer, obviously the most important thing.
I absolutely loved the experience of this race! Super challenging course, but if you’re gonna run a tough race what better place than here. A couple days later, I was actually looking to see if the other two UA Mountain Running races fell into my calendar.

Highly recommend this bad boy.

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(2018)
"Killginton 50k"
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Oh. My. Gosh.

Without a doubt that was the hardest race I’ve ever run. The hills were unrelenting, the downhill chewed up your quads, and the mud was unreal. Basically, this is what a trail race was meant to be.

Packet pickup for the race was at the K1 Lodge in Killington, VT and was available most of the afternoon on Friday, and before the race on Saturday. I flew into Boston and drove up (about 3 hours) on Friday and didn’t arrive until after pickup ended, so I went straight for the hotel. I stayed at Chalet Killington, which was only about two miles down the road from K1 Lodge (also the start area).

As I usually do, I arrived early on race morning and grabbed my packet seamlessly. Much like at Copper Mountain last month, we got a nice UA drawstring bag (of which I now have many) and a nice UA Hoodie as well. The race series also lets you use any bag for gear check, so you can bring your own (I did) or use the bag given to you.

As we lined up to get going, we got a couple directions, the national anthem, and a very quick 5 second countdown before we were off and away. In stark contrast to Copper Mountain, we started out on mostly downhill, dirt (read: mud), gravel, and pavement before rolling onto some moist double track into the woods.

The first five miles of the race rolls you through some lush green forests on mostly grass double track. Some dips in the ground are tough to see, but if you’re a trail runner, or ran Cross Country in HS, this isn’t an issue. We gradually switchbacked our way down to the second Aid Station, and to what I believe was the lowest point on the course. And then we went up.

The climbing began and was unrelenting. I’ve you’ve read my reviews about the Music City Trail Ultra (and if you haven’t...go do it!) you’ll have seen me talk about the gnarly steep climbs in the Smokey Mountains. The climbing in the early stages of this race weren’t as steep, but just kept going. We would turn a corner and continue up. At some point just before Mile 8 our course merged with the 25k course, so we had a few more people to run with. We had a cherished downhill to the AS just after Mile 8, and then it was back up.

Miles 10-15 greeted us with nearly non stop climbs. We would hop on single track for a couple magical minutes before climbing back up on double track and service roads. At the point, everyone (I think) feels like death, and Mile 15 for the 50k was around halfway for the 25k.

At the AS at Mile 16, we had been treated to some nice downhill and the AS had a huge tray of bacon. Glorious. Coming out of there, we entered the mud fest. Mostly downhill, but easily the sloppiest part of the course. I was behind an ATV and watched it almost sink then tip over in the mud. I proceeded to almost do the same thing and I honestly thought I would lose a shoe in the mud.

Miles 16-18.5ish was probably the best stretch for the 50k since the opening miles. Runnable downhill mostly on grass and dirt/mud without too many rocks. We had a long downhill stretch to the AS at 18.5. This is where the 25k continued downhill to the finish, while us 50kers diverted to a different trail to get our remaining mileage.

We started this with a grueling uphill climb on an extremely rocky service road. At the peak of this hill, we descended on a fairly steep rocky downhill to the next AS, which was hit at about 21.5. From here it was a four mile loop and we would return to that same AS. Now, remember when I said the early hills weren’t as bad as the MCTU ones? Well, the hills on this four mile stretch were. We encountered the same type of mud we had earlier, but on the uphill. Easily the steepest hills of the race were back here. I mentioned to the guy I was running with that the first climb in these woods destroyed my soul. We had three more comparable climbs.

When we returned to the AS, we had to go back up the rock hill we had just run down. More steep climbing was ahead of us. Once we reached that peak (again) it was mostly downhill back to the finish. We returned to the last AS (where we were at around 18) before making our final descent. One of the volunteers said almost every 50k runner looked great coming through at 18, and looked like they had gone through Afghanistan at 29. That might give you a little insight into those miles.

The rest of the course was some of the most runnable downhill and flat since the start. The only tough part if that you need to look out for mountain bikers flying down the hills. But the race had volunteers out those crossings to watch and let runners know!

I actually liked the finish area way better than Copper Mountain. There was a nice grass hill to watch the finishers plus food drink and (of course) our free beer. The live music also wasn’t right next to the finish, so your ears weren’t blasted right away.

Like I said, this was a brutal course. I now know why Killington Peak is known as the Beast of the East. So challenging. I probably wouldn’t recommend this as a very first 50k, but I would HIGHLY recommend it as a 50k, if you’re looking for a fun event and a course that’ll really challenge you

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(2018)
"Mud mud mud"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Signed up to run the Father's Day 5k on a whim the week of the race. It was a good opportunity to get another race in, and try and go for the age group sweep with my Dad.

Like all Silver Circle Event races, packet pickup is super easy. Runners can either get their bib and shirt ahead of time at In-Step in Delafield, or the morning of the race. I opted for the day before, just for ease the morning of. Like I said, an easy process. I was torn on the shirt of this race. I LOVE the powder blue color, but I'm not a huge fan of the giant logo on the front, or the quote on the back. Thus the 3 star rating there.

Parking could be an adventure for this race. Most runners drive to the park, and park at the start finish line. It is $5 to do this, though. Being cheap, my Dad and I parked at the nearby Lannon Park (fo free y'all) and walked to the start. This is about a half mile (if that) walk to the start, not bad at all.

Separate paragraph here to note. INDOOR BATHROOMS. Amazing.

The 5 and 10k both get started at once, and the first 200m or so is a bit cramped because of it. Quickly, we turned onto the trail and it was instant mud. Overall, the first half mile or so was a swamp after the rains from the night before. As lots of runners were dancing around the outside of the muddy puddles, I said "F it" (hope there were no kids around) and charged right down the middle. Never saw those runners I passed again.

A majority of the rest of the race is light rolling hills, predominantly on double track grass. You could easily get by wearing road shoes in this race, no question. Around mile 2, you hit the dirt and rock again with more light rollers. There is also an aid station just past the second mile marker if you need it.

The course sends you in one big loop, you pass through some more slow muddy spots, and turn back toward the finish. Unless you opt to run the 10k, then you pass an aid station and head back out to do it all again! The finish takes you right back to the start line on the pavement.

It's also worth noting that Silver Circle's trail series has some of the best post race food around. You can't beat watermelon, right?

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