Latest reviews by Preston Ramsey

(2019)
"Oh Fudge!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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!

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(2019)
"My Kind of Town (Chicago IS!)"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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!

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(2019)
"Start Your Engines!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (henceforth referred to as the Indy Mini) may have been race #4 for me in 2019, but I witnessed quite quickly why this race earned its spot as half-marathon #1 on The BibRave 100! Note: I signed up for, and completed, the Mega Mini Challenge - running a 5k immediately followed by the half marathon. This review will focus predominantly on the half.

***

COMMUNICATION (leading up to the race): Can't say enough good things about the communication leading up to the race. Plenty of reminders about where to go, what to do, how to this, how to that, etc. The social media team was also spot on - not simply just engaging with comments, but doing so in a VERY timely fashion. I'm going to toss the Indy Mini Marathon Mobile App into this category as well because it was helpful in gaining useful race weekend info. I will say that I thought the app was a little buggy compared to some other race-specific apps, but not enough to make me knock the organizers for it. Overall, communication - very well done.

WEATHER: You can't control the weather. It was pretty nice the night before the race and, as local meteorologists predicted, it was cold(ish) and rainy on race morning. It was still fairly dry with maybe a stray sprinkle here and there during the 5k and through the first few miles of the half, but after that it was rain. ALL THE RAIN. Personally, I was happier than a duck in a pond, but it definitely made for some slick, splashy conditions.

EXPO: The Indy Mini expo took place at the Indiana Convention Center. This place as a whole is freakin' huge. I was surprised when I got to the expo, which only utilized three of the exhibit halls, and found the vendors so tightly packed together. It seemed as though they could have spread out vendors a little bit more to give attendees more room to move. I was there around 5 - 5:30pm on Friday (night before the race) and it just seemed way more crowded at this expo than at other expos I've visited. Despite that, there were quite a few awesome vendors and things to see. Another plus (for me)? I got out of the expo having spent zero dollars!

PARKING: Easy. I parked in a garage next to my hotel. While I did have in/out privileges - which cost a tad more than I would have liked to have spent, mind you - I did not have to move my car until I left to come home. My parking solution - and the hotel - was just slightly more than a mile from the start/finish, meaning that I could just walk and not deal with traffic.

COURSE: The Indy Mini course is (mostly) flat. There are a few rolling-type hills and a few bridges, but truthfully this course is flat. The most significant down/uphill is going into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After that, runners are rewarded with a 2.5 mile loop on one of the greatest race courses in the world. From a crowd support perspective, I feel like there were points when the crowds fell off, but not enough to make it seem as if there was no one at all. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a large crowd turnout in the community of Speedway, Indiana (where the speedway is - get it?). I genuinely did not know there was more there than just offices and industrial properties! Similarly, the scenery on this course isn't exactly picturesque - but what is when it's raining?! - but obviously the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the focal point of the course. Even when it's pouring, that speedway will ALWAYS look good.

MEDAL: The medal is double-sided with the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway "wing & wheel" logo on the front along with imagery from the Indy 500. The back of the medal displays the map of the course. It's a hefty medal, and one I'm very happy to have earned!

MY RACE: As I mentioned at the top, I participated in the Mega Mini Challenge - running the Delta Dental 5k and then running the OneAmerica Mini Marathon (half). My PLAN was to somewhat sandbag the 5k and go for a really amazing time in the half. That plan went out the window quite quickly as I decided very early to push fairly hard in the 5k - finishing in the top 50, just about 1:30 slower than my current 5k PR.

After crossing the finish, challenge participants were to stay to the left and follow signage to return to the start area. It seemed as if the volunteers knew this, but made it a point to give different directions once in the finish area. To stay on point, I had to turn my music back up, put my head down, and do what the race instructions told me. I got back to the start line pretty quick, found Bill (a fellow BibRave Pro!), and we lined up for race #2 of the day.

I knew before I crossed the start line for the half that it was not going to be a PR. Not after the performance I just threw down in the 5k! I was fine with that. If I could come within 10-15 minutes, I'd still be happy. Honestly though, I wasn't really focused on that. I was focused on what everyone else was focused on - getting out to the speedway and taking a lap on that iconic track! Although I was posting a pretty good pace through the first half, I slowed up once I got to turn 4 at the track and turned into a tourist for a little bit. Took photos down the front straightaway. Took some of where my father and I used to sit when we came to the Indy 500 from 1994 through 2002. Took a selfie of me kissing the bricks - hey, why not?! The second half of my half marathon was definitely slower and I could tell that the 5k was catching up to me. My legs weren't having this run as much any longer. There was definitely some run/walk happening in those last 4-5 miles, but thankfully more running than walking!

Fast forward to the finish line, I was able to come in around 1:49 for the half marathon - only 8 minutes off of my personal record. Not too shabby at all.

***
This race is well worth the trip simply based on the history, the tradition, and a very unique 2.5 mile section. Beyond that, this event is incredibly well organized, there is pretty decent crowd support, and it is very evident that the City of Indianapolis (and even the State of Indiana) truly get behind this race.

If you're looking for a half marathon to run in 2020, start your engines, get to Indianapolis, and chase down that checkered flag at the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon!

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(2019)
"Mountains & Moo-mosas"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

From the start, just know that if you want a race that is challenging AND incredibly scenic - you've found it! The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon earns all the stars (and probably even more than that) from me. Why? Keep reading!

MARKETING: I first heard about the Blue Ridge Marathon while walking around the expo for the Flying Pig Marathon in 2018. As you'd expect, a expo go'er interacts with MANY race reps, but the rep for Blue Ridge stood out above them all. She was by far the most polite and most energetic about her event. I had absolutely no issue signing up for their email list, which also entered me into a drawing for free entry into the race - I did not win that, btw. However, as a result, I've received email updates over the last year that kept me very interested in this race.

PRE-RACE COMMUNICATION: Speaking of emails, the ones focused directly at runners who have registered were always full of useful info (race weekend happenings, where to stay, what to see, etc) and left out any of the typical fluff stuff. The organizers do not beat around the bush in any of the communication - this race will be tough, but you can do it! The BRM Facebook / Twitter / Instagram accounts were always up to date and informative as well.

EVENT APP: I used it for logistical information, but not so much outside of that. However, my wife downloaded the app to track my progress. She reported that it was a little buggy and not the better of the tracking apps she's had experience using. It should be noted though the app's platform is very reminiscent of what some other marathons use, so I don't think Blue Ridge should get dinged on this. The fact that they offer an app with race info and tracking is definitely a plus!

RACE WEATHER: We could not have asked for better weather. Overcast, cool,

EXPO: I arrived in Roanoke late Friday night (the night before the race) and as a result, I was not able to attend the expo. :(

LODGING/PARKING: Rather than stay at a local hotel near the start, I opted instead to book a place through AirBnb. I was less than a 10 minute walk from the start/finish - which means I didn't have to worry about parking at all. Even if I had to drive to the start area, there did seem to be ample surface street/lot parking to satisfy the number of attendees.

COURSE: Let's be honest - the elevation chart doesn't do this race enough justice. THIS COURSE IS HARD, HARD, HARD. You're climbing (read: most likely walking) up the first of three mountains - which just happens to be the LARGEST of the three - within a mile of the start. I overheard tons of people give the same advice in the starting area: conserve your energy early or you'll hate yourself later. This also plays into why the pace team's fastest pace group was 3:45! However, once you make it up to the top, the views are absolutely stunning for MILES. But don't be fooled - what goes up must come back down and the downhill sections are just as challenging as their uphill relatives. If you're signing up for a future Blue Ridge Marathon, my advice would be to almost exclusively train on hills. Speed work MIGHT help you finish, but hill work WILL ABSOLUTELY get you there.

MEDAL: It's a big, vertical rectangular medal that celebrates two main focal points of the event - 1) the over 7000' of elevation change traversed and 2) the fact that this year's race was the 10th anniversary. It's a very nice medal indeed (see the accompanying photo!)

OTHER SWAG: I picked up my bib a few hours before the race and I was surprised that I was the only one there when pick-up began! I came to learn that this event is incredibly low-key which I love. I also did not register for a shirt, but ended up being offered one - so I took it! The only other "swag" that is worth noting are the FREE race photos. Within a few days of the race, I got an email saying my photos were ready to review. With the exception of a few (trust me, we all have THOSE pictures), they really turned out very nice!

SUPPORT: Such a great race for support. The Roanoke community truly comes out to celebrate their race. Plenty of spectators and tons of helpful volunteers helped to make the pain of all that elevation melt away - or at least made me forget about it for a minute or two! My favorite support location on the entire course was just after runners visit the Mill Mountain Star and are on the way back down Mill Mountain. At the halfway point of the race is a beautiful home overlooking the valley below, where the residents are distributing MOO-MOSAS! I may or may not have had one or two!

MY RACE: Due to the massive amount of elevation and my severe lack of hill training, the ultimate goal was to FINISH. That's it - get from point A to point B without falling apart. For the most part, I was able to do that without too many issues. Had to walk quite a bit, but not at the normal spots like mile 18-19 and onward, but off-and-on throughout the race - and for obvious reasons (elevation). The great part about a smaller race (only ~750 runners if memory serves me correctly) like this is the feeling as if I'm running in my own community, even though I'm a 6 hour drive from home!

Truthfully, this race was a challenge. I drove down the night before, didn't get a ton of sleep (but who does the night before?), ran the race, hung out briefly afterward with fellow BibRave Pros and other runners I had made connections with throughout the race, and then drove back home. A whirlwind weekend for sure, but I'd definitely be open to going back to Roanoke again.

CONCLUSION:
GO RUN THIS RACE!

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

The Flying Pig Marathon is quintessential Cincinnati. For 20 years, this race has been almost like the unofficial start to summer, taking place the first weekend in May every year. And, like clockwork...I've avoided it.

I avoided it because for two reasons - 1) the hills of southern Ohio are not friendly and 2) I felt like people hyped it WAY too much. Well, I'm not COMPLETELY wrong about the hills - they still suck, but they aren't nearly as bad as I feared - but I was WAY off about the hype. Over the course of my brief time in Cincinnati, this race more than made its point and earned its spot as one of my favorites.

I only signed up for the full marathon, but I know plenty of people who did the 3 or 4-way challenge (some adding the "extra cheese" option). Having run a 5k the day before this race and three other races within the last two weeks prior, I felt only running one race was good enough for me! The plan going into this race was simply to FINISH - nothing more. As I'll talk about a little further down in the review, that plan changed a little.

***

As for a breakdown of the Flying Pig Marathon event in general...

COMMUNICATION (leading up to the race): Pretty darn good. Enough emails to stay informed, but not so many as to drive one crazy. In addition, the race's Facebook / Twitter / Instagram accounts were always spot on with kudos to those training as well as providing in-the-moment updates about various aspects of race weekend. An added bonus under communication would be the Flying Pig Marathon APP. This little gem not only kicked out notifications about the event, but also provided access to the event web material and live runner tracking.

RACE DATE / WEATHER: The Flying Pig Marathon takes place annually on the first Sunday of May. In Ohio. This generally means the weather could be a huge crapshoot in regard to what could happen. Thankfully, the first half of the race (for me, at least) was pretty comfortable, though it did heat up a little bit closer to 10:30/11am. For reference, the race began at 6:30am.

EXPO: The expo for the Flying Pig took place at the Duke Energy Convention Center, which - like so many other things about this event - was incredibly easy to access. I rolled into Cincinnati the day before the race and I was concerned primarily about parking, how to access the expo, how far away I would be from the start, etc. All those concerns went out the window when I got off at the exit for where I was staying and immediately saw the convention center! As for INSIDE the expo, plenty of signage and volunteers made this expo very easy to navigate. Like other marathons, I received a clear plastic gear bag which normally doubles as a "shopping bag" during the expo. However, the primary race sponsor (Proctor & Gamble) had an area on the expo floor where they were distributing free samples of P&G products - Tide, Gain, Olay, etc - and a large nylon laundry bag!

PARKING: For me, parking was a breeze. I parked in a garage right next to the hotel and did not have to move my car until I left to come home. The hotel/garage was within about a mile - maybe less? - of the start line. Needless to say, no headaches with parking for this guy!

COURSE: This course had everything one could want in a really good marathon - just the right amount (and size) of hills, crowd support, plenty of traditional (water/Gatorade/Gu) and non-traditional (graHAM crackers, SWINE & CHEESE station, and - of course - BACON) aid stations. The amount of crowd support along the course was actually quite surprising. At no point did the race have any overly significant "dead zones" with zero crowd support. In fact, there was one specific area, near the easternmost point of the course, where spectators set up a huge block party between a few houses with easily over 150-200 people at this one spot. It was cool to run through as this was one of the most populated cheering areas AND by far the loudest!

MEDAL: The medal for the marathon is a double sided medal (photo below shows the front) with the reverse of the image on the back side. What's that mean? It means you're looking at the backside of a pig on the backside of the medal!

OTHER SWAG: All race participants received a technical race shirt, a poster celebrating the 20th anniversary of the race, an indoor/outdoor travel blanket, and a black finishers jacket with an all black Flying Pig Marathon logo. Genuinely, I walked away from this event with so much more than what I anticipated! If you are thinking of running the Flying Pig - especially if you're doing the multiple race challenges - make sure you pack accordingly and have room for all your swag!

MY RACE: As I stated at the top, this goal for this race was to FINISH. Two weeks prior, I had run the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, where I 1) completed the race I DNF'd in 2017, 2) ran the entire distance without walking, 3) broke 4 hours for the first time ever, and 4) as a result, I ran a PR of 3:58:12. I had hung with the 4 hour pacer for the first 5 or 6 miles before I just decided to go a little more by feel than by pacing. Well, that feeling had me passing the pacer within another mile or so and not ever looking back! When I got to mile 20 in right around 3 hours, I knew there was a possibility of breaking 4 hours again, but had no idea I would be anywhere close to running another PR, especially on an unknown and hilly course! However, it became clear when I got within about a mile of the finish that I was going to PR - but it was going to be VERY close. I ended up finishing in 3:57:23 - nearly PR'ing by a full minute.

***
I came into this experience with many preconceived notions of why I was not excited to run the Flying Pig, but I am SO very glad that I did. Yes, the hills are tough, but they are manageable - which is why we all put in our hill training, right? Even if all the SWAG is removed from the equation, this race is well worth the trip simply based on the organization, the support (from the organizers, volunteers, crowd, and so on), and the general atmosphere. Cincinnati really gets behind this event and it shows.

If you have the opportunity to run the Flying Pig Marathon (or any of the challenge series races), I highly recommend signing up and getting "piggy" with it!

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