Latest reviews by Ben Lamers

(2018)
"Run into the New Year"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Run into the New Year is a part of Lighthouse Racing's Winter Run Series. The race is an out and back on the Oak Leaf Trail. The 5k distance runs the out and back once, and the 10k does it twice.

The race offers packet pickup at Performance Running Outfitters the day before the race, and also the morning of the race at the location. They encourage runners to pick up bibs ahead of time, but I never saw a huge line at the race.

We received lots of emails about parking at the race. The Sports Complex does have ample parking, but if it fills up you would need to take a shuttle in from a Park and Ride about 15 minutes away. The two times I was in the lot (arriving and leaving) I didn't see it full, so I'm not sure if it ever reached capacity.

Before and after the race, runners can hang out in the Sports Complex where the post race food, beer, results, and awards are all located.

The one different thing about this race is that the start times are all different. Because the Oak Leaf trail is fairly narrow, and it's an out and back, all races start at different times. The 10k starts at 8:30, the 5k at 10:15, and the "Easy 5k" at 11.

The course itself is mostly flat, although according to my watch we did get almost 100 feet of gain, which is no joke in a 5k. This section of trail runs over prairie, next to the river, and into the woods. The tricky part is that you'll cross a suspension bridge twice, which can get a little wild when lots of people are on it. This year the bridge was icy, but that's WI winter for you.

Water and a medal are waiting for you at the finish, and you can get your official results immediately once back inside. The race gives out awards for top 3 overall and top 10 (!!!) for age groups. As I mentioned before there is beer at the finish, and you'll get a finisher mug as well. Basically, the swag is awesome.

Lighthouse puts on some of the best events in SE Wisconsin, and the Run into the New Year is no exception.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2018)
"NYC 2018"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Before October 2018, I hadn't run a marathon with over 9,000 entrants, let alone a world major. The 2018 edition of the NYC Marathon became my second massive race, in a month. My only frame of reference to this is the Chicago Marathon, and New York did some things better, and some things not as good. Here we go.

I stayed in Queens for Marathon weekend, although there are no shortage of places to stay in New York City. Some would be closer to the start, finish, or shuttles for sure, but I went for cost effective. The weekend really starts with the expo, and I was about a 20 minute train ride away directly to the convention center. Perfect.

I got to the expo early on Saturday morning, since I was also manning a booth. Lines already began to form before it opened at 9, but they were very organized and moved very quickly. There is security, so if you are bringing a bag that might take some extra time. The check in process is super quick: grab your bib, go down to grab your shirt, and then head through the official merch area to get into the rest of the expo. I really liked the flow of the New York expo, and it didn't require you to weave through the exhibitors to get your bib and/or shirt.

And let's talk about the shirt. I love it! I had been told be fellow BibRavers who had run NYC in the past that the race shirt was very good. And it was! This year, the shirt was a dark blue (like almost every race shirt in 2018 it seemed), and long sleeve with the logo on it. I'm a big fan. Obviously, if you want more NYC merch, pick some up at the expo, or grab the race jacket like I did.

Fast forward to race morning. I had elected to take the ferry to Staten Island, and due to getting into the race late, I only had the option of the 5:30 ferry. So yes, it was an early morning. I was warned there would be no coffee at the start village (there was) but fortunately, there was coffee at the ferry to get to the island. So if you need your coffee fix before running, you're set if you take this option. There's security at the ferry as well, but just make sure you aren't bringing anything illegal and that you use the clear bag the race gives you.

The ferry ride is mostly uneventful, as it's literally a boat of runners chatting about their life and the race. The views of the harbor were pretty neat, since my ferry caught the sunrise over the city. After getting off the ferry, we walk through the terminal (or whatever you want to call where the ferry docks) and back outside over to the bus that takes you to the start area. It was a little chilly in the morning, but being on the first ferry meant my line moved pretty quick. Still, it took about two hours to get to the start village.

Once at the start village, there's more security to clear before going to your assigned color. Runners are either Green, Orange, or Blue waves. The start village has food, coffee, bag check, bathrooms, and some cheap but comfortable Dunkin hats. The big hurdle here was killing time. I had about 3 hours before race start.

Fast forward to the corral. The race is strict about getting into your corral, and you get a 35 minute window to do so. You can keep your throwaways on all this time, as there are donation boxes to toss them in the corral. There are also bathrooms in the corral. Clutch.

Once the corrals close, runners begin their walk to the bridge and to the start. I didn't expect that, but you walk another solid half mile before lining up to start the race. I checked my watch in the start area and had already accumulated about 4 miles worth of walking in the morning. And no, the race wasn't started yet.

Once the race gets going, congestion is more of an issue than I experienced at Chicago (it should be noted I started further back at NYC). The Green wave runs the bottom of the first bridge while Orange and Blue run the top before splitting. All three waves run a bit different the first 5k before coming back together in Brooklyn.

Much like Chicago spends almost the entire first half on the north side, New York spends almost the entire first half in Brooklyn. But it's worth it. The hills are minimal here, and the crowds are spectacular. Queens comes next, but only for a few miles before ascending the iconic (for the race at least) Queensboro Bridge. Be ready for this ascent, and then descent into Manhattan.

The crowds going up 1st Ave are spectacular again, but the key word is "up" 1st Ave. The second half of the race is where the hills take hold. First Ave is gradual ups and downs, and you still have bridges into the Bronx and Harlem to go. After getting through Harlem, runners take on 5th Ave, and an absolute grinder of a hill before entering into Central Park. While Central Park is mostly downhill, there are some tricky uphill segments here as well. You'll briefly exit the park to masses of crowds before coming back in for the iconic finish.

Once you finish, be prepared to walk. Regardless of if you go with the poncho option or the gear check option (this is what I did) it's almost a mile walk to the end of the finisher's chute. Then it's another walk out of the park. Fortunately, the chute spits you out right by the subway. That means stairs, but also easy commuting since there's a zero percent chance of getting a cab or Uber anywhere near the finish.

The only negative I had about the race was actually the Aid Stations. Not that the Aid Stations were bad, not at all; in fact the volunteers at NYC are AMAZING. But I've never seen so many runners WALK through the AS right next to the volunteers. It makes it incredibly hard to grab something. At Chicago it's preached to grab and go, but apparently not at New York.

All in all, running the NYC Marathon was an incredible experience. I liked it way more than Chicago in terms of the experience of a world major. Although, with the crowds of runners, I'm not 100% certain I'd want it as a goal race. That being said, there are a lot of things I would do differently leading into the race had I been planning to run for time.

If you get the chance, run the NYC Marathon. Do it.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2018)
"First Spartan Experience"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Spartan Race Series: Toyota Park Stadium Sprint (what a mouth full, right?) was my first attempt at a Spartan race. A race not too far down the road, and as a stadium version? How could I say no.

The Stadium Series is a newer addition to the Spartan races, and (as far as I know) only features the Sprint distance. This year was the first year of the Stadium Sprint at Chicago's Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire MLS soccer team.

The registration process was super easy for the race, but make sure you hold onto your confirmation emails. These will be the only ones you get with details about race morning. All information is readily accessible on the website, though. The Spartan also allows you to register for one of three categories: Elite, Age Group, and Open.

There is no pre-race packet pickup, so you'll have to do it the morning of the race, so give yourself extra time for that. The check-in process is easy, provided you have your barcode prepped either as a picture, in your email, or on a webpage. You'll need this barcode to get your packet; although I think the race will look it up for you. In your packet you'll get a timing chip to put on your wrist, a wrist-band saying what wave and time you start, a Spartan sweat wrist-band, a headband (which is also your bib), a wrist-band for your free beer, AND the race shirt. Basically there is a lot.

Also keep in mind that parking costs $10 at the stadium, so bring cash for that.

If you want yet another wrist-band, head over to the bag check (which costs $5) to get one for that as well. Yes, your wrists will be full of things.

The pre-race area is filled with athletes, merch tent, bag check, and various sponsors; basically it's like having the expo and start line in the same area. Oh and indoor bathrooms!! And since there are multiple waves, the bathrooms never got too busy since everyone starts at different times.

Be prepared that once you head over to the start, you'll have your first obstacle before the race starts, as you have to jump a wall (your first of many on the day) to get into the start corral.

The Sprint version of the Spartan ranges anywhere from 3-5 miles. My Garmin picked up this race as 2.7 (and the person running the start area said it was just short of 3 too), but Athlinks lists the race as 4. So who knows how long it is.

Your race will be filled with walls, ropes, stairs, more stairs, weights, and burpees. If you're like me and train purely for running, your upper body might be a little sore after this one is done (I'm still in soreness pain). And to give you an idea, the race bills the average finish time as 40 minutes, and the elites took about 25. So don't expect to break any speed records. But you do get a shiny medal at the finish, as well as a third of the Spartan Trifecta medal.

The Spartan Stadium Series Sprint was something totally different and out of my wheel house. It was also a humbling experience for someone who really just runs road and trail races. I'd definitely recommend a Spartan to anyone who hasn't tried one, but definitely start with the Sprint distance!! Right after, I said I probably wouldn't do another one, but at the same time it would be fun to go and get the rest of those Trifecta pieces.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(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!

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2018)
"Halloween Hustle 2018"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I hadn't run the Halloween Hustle since 2014, but it was a race that held a special place in my heart. The 2014 version was my first Age Group win EVER and one of my all-time favorite race shirts. Now that I lived in the area, going back was a must.

Let's start with logistics. The race does offer packet pickup on Friday before, but unless you live in the NW suburbs, you're best just getting your bib and shirt on race morning. Parking for the race is super easy. Despite taking place almost in downtown Palatine, runners have access to the Palatine parking deck, so it's super smooth the morning of. Packet pickup is right by the start line, and this year the race had a few vendors out there as well. Kind of like a mini expo, which was neat.

The primary purpose of the race is to wear a costume and have fun. Best if you do those things and run fast. The course is SUPER flat and fast. If you were looking for a fast 5k, and/or a fast tuneup for a late Fall Marathon, then look no further than this race.

The course itself is fairly standard as runners are looped through a neighborhood and past one of the schools in town. There's actually a decent amount of crowd support for a chilly morning run in a suburb neighborhood. Somewhere on the course (I don't remember where) there is an aid station if you need it.

At the finish there is water and other such post race snacks. There is a gear check area as well if you choose to use it, but the parking deck isn't far away so you could easily use your car as your gear check.

Briefly I want to talk about the post race awards at a local bar and grill. Runners get a ticket for a free beer and a free sandwich. Pros and cons here. The beer is awesome, but the "sandwich" was a chicken pesto wrap. Normally that would be delicious, but not at 9am after a race. But the area is warm, has plenty of tables, and the awards ceremony is pretty quick.

Also, the 2018 shirt is again one of my favorites all time.

The only thing I'm a little salty about is the photos for this race. The race advertises free race photos, but this year it took almost 3 weeks to post those, and I would say maybe 10-15 runners are featured in the photos. So if you want epic costume photos from the race, have a friend take them for you.

Otherwise, I do really like this race! And barring a weird race schedule, I'll be back in 2019.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.