Latest reviews by Preston Ramsey
The Detroit Free Press Marathon has always been a "bucket list" race for me, but it nearly always falls on the same day as my "home" race in Columbus. Fortunately for me, the race in Columbus was completely cancelled and opened up the opportunity to participate in the Free Press Marathon - even if it was virtually!
I decided to go all in and sign up for THE SUPREME challenge. This challenge series consisted of a 1-mile run, 5k run, and a full marathon and these three events would have taken place over two days. Since it was virtual, I spread them out of three days instead - making it a Friday, Saturday, Sunday affair. In fact, I was able to utilize a hybrid version of my "home" course in Columbus to run the virtual full marathon!
The race organizers were very good with keeping participants excited and informed with timely communication, via email as well as via social media. I did have to dig occasionally in my spam emails for race messages, but that's no fault of the organizers.
The swag - specifically, medals and shirts - arrived on the Saturday of race weekend...right about the same time I was wondering if they would show up at all that weekend! The timing could not have been better - just after I finished my 5k on Saturday. The 1-mile and 5k medals were practically the same, which was a little disappointing, but the marathon and challenge series medals more than made up for that.
I won't lie - I still want to run this race in person and fully intend to do so within the next year or two. I want that experience of running over a river into Canada and then back into the U.S.A. via a tunnel going UNDER the same river. I want the crowd experience.
Detroit is a great city (as is Windsor, Ontario, Canada) so why not give the Free Press Marathon a look if you're looking for a fall 2021 marathon - I know I am!
This race has been another on my list of "must runs" for a while now, especially since I grew up relatively close to Dayton and the Air Force Museum - where the event is typically held. This year's event was moved to a virtual event as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so this review will not include many of the typical items, but I will say this - BIG PROPS to the race organizers for still putting on a fantastic event!
COMMUNICATION - The race management did a A++ job of keeping participants in the loop and engaged across all platforms. Consistent emails and a great social media presence definitely helped build energy leading up to the event.
VIRTUAL EVENT EXPERIENCE - I didn't really know what to expect here, but again - the organizers knocked it out of the park. A centralized online location to "participate" in the race expo, upload results, download race bibs, and even open a video with the national anthem just to name a few of the ways the event went above and beyond to give participants the race day experience.
THE RACES - Participants could register for the 5k, 10k, 13.1, 26.2 mile distances OR could do a challenge series which included 3 of the four distances (5k/10k/half OR 5k/10k/full). There was also a 1k kids run option available. ALL distances and challenge events were available for the virtual version of this year's race.
SWAG - Every year, the AFMarathon features a different aircraft as the highlight of their swag, with that aircraft prominently displayed on the medal and shirt (and other pieces as well). As of this review, participants have not yet received their SWAG, but the shirt and medals look great from what I have seen online. I look forward to updating this portion once I receive those items.
OVERALL - Despite this event being virtual, I am still more than pleased with how things went. I still felt as if I was in Dayton, participating with thousands of others, even though I was running around my own community in central Ohio, a mere 75 miles away. Very glad to have been a part of this event and I look forward to running IN-PERSON next year on September 18, 2021!
Cancer sucks. Thankfully, there are organizations out there that do all they can to kick cancer in the face. The organization that immediately comes to mind for ME is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (or LLS) and Team in Training.
I ran with Team in Training in 2019 for the Chicago Marathon. Running that particular marathon is a big deal, but running as part of TNT absolutely made the weekend even more amazing. I'll always support good organizations doing good things for good people and TNT is no exception. They made me feel like part of a family - a freakin' huge family - and I will never forget that.
This September, the TEAM recruited runners from around the world to participate in the Resilience Challenge - to come together show resilience in the on-going fight against blood cancers. The challenge was two-fold 1) run/walk/move at least 50 miles in September and 2) raise money to support Team in Training. However, it should be noted that it was free to participate in the challenge and there was NO fundraising minimum.
In addition to participating as an individual, I created a team - Team Strive for the Highest - which was composed of family and friends. The TNT web platform allowed us to keep track of our mileage and fundraising, while also keeping our fellow team members accountable. While our team may have come up short on our fundraising goal(s), each one of us absolutely blew the 50 mile challenge out of the water!
On a personal note, my family has been affected by cancer multiple times. It doesn't get any easier, but knowing that there is a group of people working day in and day out to beat cancer gives me hope. I would strongly recommend that YOU consider joining Team in Training for a future event - perhaps even the Resilience Challenge the next time around!
This race has been on my list of "must runs" for a while now, and I FINALLY got to do it! After a very stressful 2 hour drive from Columbus to Cleveland on race morning (read: I woke up later than planned and was pushing it to arrive on time - but I made it with a little time to spare), it was time to get my Christmas Story on!
PARKING - First up, getting downtown for this race was MUCH smoother than I anticipated. I thought there would be big traffic issues and I was dead wrong. Got to CLE with maybe 30 minutes to spare before race start and had no problem finding a place to park. In fact, I was able to park in one of my go-to locations that my wife and I use when we travel to downtown CLE for just about anything.
PACKET PICK-UP - Walked over to the Renaissance Hotel to pick up my packet which, like the parking, seemed like it would be much worse than it was. The line to get into the room where runners collected their bibs wasn't TOO long, but it definitely wasn't short. The saving grace was truly the fact that race staff was moving with the quickness! Still had some time yet before the start, so I headed out to Public Square to meet up with Amy and Jackey - fellow BibRave Pros!
THE RACE - The race itself is pretty simple when you get right down to it. The 5k is a point-to-point and the 10k (the race I ran) is an out-and-back. The race starts at Cleveland's Public Square and follows a pretty straightforward course to the Christmas Story House. What really gets your attention on the course - besides the two bridges with AMAZING views - are the fantastic costumes! So. Many. Bunny. Onesies!
MEDAL & SWAG - The medal is pretty neat and captures perfectly the "Oh Fudge!" sequence from the movie. The medal is almost covers my palm completely, so it's not small! The SWAG for this race included a red long sleeve cotton shirt in addition to a green drawstring bag. The shirt is nice, but personally would have preferred a dri-fit or other tech-type shirt. Aside from that, the random LED light bulb we were given in the swag bag was unique, but hey - free bulb! One of the best perks of the race itself is that each runner gets free admission to the Christmas Story House & Museum on the day of the race (a $13.00 value). This perk is cool, but be ready for a LONG, LONG line on race day. You're almost better off collecting your bib early in the week and visiting the House beforehand (if possible?).
TRANSPORTATION - the organizers are very good about ensuring those of us running the 10k had a way to get back to the House if we wanted as well as making sure the 5k'ers could get back to their cars downtown. HOWEVER, again, LINES. There are a LOT of people in a tight neighborhood with not a massive amount of buses (but a decent amount) all trying to do the same thing at the same time. Have a backup plan to go either direction. I ended up walking back to downtown Cleveland with my friends Amy G, Jeremy, and Jeff and their dogs Bucky and Einstein.
OVERALL, this race more than lived up to my expectations and provided a great experience. The things I enjoyed significantly outweighed anything I might not have - and that's a good thing. I would definitely recommend that you check out this race, especially if you're a fan of A Christmas Story!
Let me start with this, I was excited to knock this one off the list for a few reasons. One - Chicago is a World Marathon Major, which means I only have four more to go (completed NYC in 2017). Two - it checks Illinois off my list for my goal of running a marathon in all 50! But I digress - to the review!
Upon landing at Midway on Saturday morning, I linked up with a friend who lives in the Chicagoland area and we rolled to the expo together. The traffic and parking situation around McCormick place left a little to be desired, but it wasn't the worst I've ever experienced. Props to Chicago PD for keeping things moving!
EXPO LOCATION: McCormick Place really is the best place for the expo. It's HUGE and can handle the large influx of people. Plus, it allows for greater flexibility with the vendors and what they bring with them (looking at you Goose Island and your L-train bar car). My favorite thing about the expo from a logistics standpoint would be how they managed the packet pickup. Each runner had to have their packet pickup ticket - essentially a QR code - to enter. Once the code was verified, along with my ID, I was sent to one of the packet pickup stations. Keep in mind there were easily more than 50 (maybe even more?!) of these stations. This meant no massive lines to stand in, no hunting for your bib number and then looking for it on a sign. The organizers nailed this and it made pickup SO MUCH EASIER. Other large scale marathons can definitely learn from this model, though the technology and planning involved might be more than some races can manage.
My favorite thing about the expo OVERALL was meeting PAULA RADCLIFFE! I honestly did not even know she was going to be there. I was standing next to a particular vendor's set-up and just happened to look up at the large monitor above, which suddenly mentioned that PR would be at that booth...in just a few minutes. Looked over and THERE SHE WAS! Ran over, got in line, and got to meet a running legend. Let's not talk about the fact that I did not keep it together AT ALL. Very thankful for this random meeting as her world record was finally broken the very next day!
Unfortunately, one disappointing thing about this expo was the official race gear. I was severely underwhelmed at the choices presented by this large, well-known, sports company which was a major sponsor of the event. My standards for event gear, especially at a WMM event, are fairly high thanks to my experience at other events. This is probably the ONLY area where I felt let down during the entire race weekend. On the plus side, it helped me get out of the expo having spent ZERO dollars! :-p Here's hoping YOUR experience with official merchandise is more enjoyable than mine!
TRANSPORTATION: Getting from the expo back to downtown Chicago was super easy. Walked a few blocks from McCormick Place to catch the L (Chicago's "sub"way network). One stop later, I had a quick transfer and then I was on the Orange LOOP train which took me to a station less than a block's walk to my hotel. Did not realize the L was going to be so close and so convenient all weekend. Sidenote: do yourself a favor and get a Ventra card in advance of your trip. I did the 3-day pass, which was $20 for the weekend. Whether you add $$ to the card or purchase a multi-day pass, this really is the easiest way to navigate Chicago. Also, paying in advance and planning travel via the L will save you the (repeated) cost of using Uber/Lyft.
LODGING: Plan ahead, especially for a race like this one. I was fortunate and found a hotel downtown that did not require a three-night minimum. It was close-ish to the start/finish and less than a block away from the L. Added bonus(es): There was a Walgreens next door which was great for replenishing any last minute needs. There was a branch of my bank across the street = no ATM fees if I needed cash! My primary concern was access to transportation, which I nailed, but got lucky with the surroundings. Do your homework ahead of time and you'll enjoy similar results.
TEAM IN TRAINING: My trip to Chicago and participation in the marathon was in part thanks to two groups: Team BibRave and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. I did not get into the Chicago Marathon via the lottery, so when the opportunity came about to possibly get in via another method, I jumped at it! From the minute I got to the expo, every person I interacted with from LLS/TNT was absolutely amazing. They made me feel as if I had been a part of the TEAM for years. What I will add here for review's sake is this - don't sleep on the charity bib as a way into a marathon. Yes, you'll get to run the race you've always wanted to, but you also will do a LOT of good along the way. LLS/TNT is just one of MANY charities that partner with the Chicago Marathon, so I encourage you to find one that speaks to you and consider supporting it! I'll talk more about my LLS/TNT experience in my detailed race report over on my blog - presramsey.com
RACE MORNING: On race morning, I walked over to the LLS/TNT hotel and walked to Grant Park with a group of my fellow teammates. It was great heading over with people who have done this race before. They knew exactly where to go and when to get moving to be there. Getting INTO the park was a little stressful because there were so many people and not as many security folk checking bags. PRO TIP: make sure you read up on race day policies BEFORE you get to the security checkpoints, no matter what race you run. Most races will NOT allow any bags aside from the clear plastic one runners can collect at the expo. Follow the guidelines and your race day will go smoothly!
GEAR CHECK / CORRALS: Gear check was what you'd expect - find your bib number and give'em your stuff. Pretty straightforward. Best part about gear check was the amazing views of Buckingham fountain (which was on!) at sunrise. The corrals themselves seemed organized about the same as any other race I've run. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get from gear check BACK to your corral though, as there is a little bit of a walk between the two.
THE COURSE: The start was a little crowded, but it began to spread out fairly quick. The course itself is absolutely great - AND FLAT! The only exception to this would be the bridges, which are small rolling hills at best. Best advice I received and that I will repeat to you: go for the carpet on the bridges! You'll have better traction and lessen the chance of slipping/twisting an ankle in the grating on the bridge. Aside from that, the only real difficult spot on the entire course is inside the last half mile when you make your last right turn and have to climb over the only real hill on the course - "Mount Roosevelt". Favorite part of the course was running through Chinatown! I did not expect it to be as cool as it was and the spectator turnout in that area was amazing.
AID STATIONS: There was no lack of aid stations and toilets along the course. Plenty of Gatorade, Water, and gels to get through the race. The toilet were set up on side-streets along the course near the aid stations, almost like pit stops in an car race. For as many people as there were in the event, the toilets never seemed to be overwhelmed or gross - definitely a plus.
OVERALL: You should ABSOLUTELY make it a priority to run the Chicago Marathon. I don't care how you get there - lottery, charity, etc - just go and experience it. The event is fantastic, the organization of the race is second to none, and just being in Chicago will make it that much more fun.
I would definitely consider returning to Chicago in the future. Thank you BibRave and Team in Training for an amazing weekend!