Latest reviews by Jenn

(2018)
"There is a reason Grandma's Marathon is a bucket list race!"
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This race is fantastic. Super-well organized, fun crowd-support, a beautifully scenic course, and enough people on the course (around 6,000 marathoners) to make the atmosphere fun without feeling overwhelming. 

Probably the most challenging aspect of Grandma's for most runners is the logistics of getting there and staying nearby. I wound up making the 15-hour journey via car which meant that I had to build an extra day into my travel time. Also, lodging in and around Duluth is not cheap. Most hotels charge upwards of $300/night and require a two-night stay over race weekend. 

A friend and I wound up staying in a dorm about 3 miles from the course which was easier on the wallet but made for some extra juggling to figure out parking on race morning. Fortunately, we are both early risers and so we arrived at the transportation area for the shuttles around 4:30am and had our pick of parking spaces. I easily boarded the scenic train to the marathon start and my friend got on a 4:45am shuttle to the half start.

The train was lovely. However, I will say that the bathrooms were disgusting within about 30 minutes of the trip. Train lavs don't flush very well and with that much use, they were blocked and overflowing pretty quickly. I talked with a woman who has ridden the train in year's past and she said the same thing happens every year. So if you're riding the train to enjoy the scenery then go for it; if you're riding the train to take advantage of the bathrooms, skip this "perk" and take your chances with a porta-potty instead. They are plentiful at the start line as well as along the course.

Grandma's is a point-to-point race course starting in Two Harbors, Minnesota and finishing in Duluth (hence the shuttles.) The course is pretty much flatish -I live in a hilly area so this felt flat to me but there are a few gentle rollers and short but steep "hill" dubbed the Lemon Drop which is more feared than it needs to be simply because you hit it around mile 21 of the race. 

There is lots of crowd support and music along the course so if you feed off of the energy of the crowd, you can get your fill here. The crowds aren't huge but you are rarely alone on the course. If you prefer, you can just look to the left and soak up the view of the tall pines bordering Lake Superior. Even though it was foggy and overcast on the day of this race, I could still and smell enough of this scenery to really make me fell like I was at a destination race. 

After the race, you can grab your medal, t-shirt (only finishers get shirts!), and food which this year consisted of fresh fruit, bagels, chicken broth (because it was a pretty chilly day), and snack bars. The finish line also has showers where you can get cleaned up and a rockin' party that certainly outlasted me although that wasn't really saying much!

Bottom line: Grandma's is a fantastic race that is so fun and well-organized that you'll be glad you added it to your list.

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(2017)
"The best little race that you've never heard of"
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This past weekend, I ran the Ridgway Marathon. This is a pic of the start line (and 2 of the guys in this pic were running a marathon relay!) As you can see, it's an extremely small race. I had never heard of it until a friend put it on my radar last year. But it was an amazing race, and here's why you might want to add this one to your calendar.

The logistics for this race were a breeze. I live close by but even if I didn't, I know I could get a hotel for a minimal fee (no exuberant fees for race weekend!) I was also able to park AT the start line. I've run 24 marathons and I've never been able to drive to the start line before!

The racecourse is flat and fast. It's a certified Boston Qualifier, which is cool. And it's perfectly scenic, running along the local rails-to-trails path. I managed to pull off an 11 minute PR so I can attest to the fact that this course (a 13.1 mile out and back) is fast.

And the race organizer and sponsor are wonderful. It's a small race, so they treat runners like elites. Both before and after the race, they made sure we had everything we needed (like ziploc bags for our gadgets since it was raining.) After the race, the main race sponsor, Dr. Cole, lended me an arm to walk my over the the food area where he got me a banana and opened my Gatorade. He also let me know that his office (the race "expo") had a shower that I was free to use. And he had also brought in folks to do free massages (with tips going to hurricane relief). I took advantage of both and went home much less cold, stinky, and sore than I would have been otherwise.

The only negative about this race is that because it is so small, it can get a little lonely out there. If you thrive on spectators, this isn't the race for you. While I do usually like a few spectators to help keep me motivated, I have to say that I was fine just listening to my music and taking in the beautiful race course.

Also, because there were so few of us, I got a high five from each of the marathoners as we passed each other at the turnaround. And I knew the names of each of the four other women who were running. It really made me feel like I was running with friends even though I had only met these people minutes before.

Bottom line: The Ridgway Marathon is the perfect little marathon that you have probably never heard of. Check it out...I hope to see you there next year!

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(2017)
"Train for the hills and this may become your new favorite race"
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The Pittsburgh Marathon offers an amazing way to tour this beautiful and crazy fun city. Yes, there are some hills, including one doozy around mile 11. But honestly, they are not that bad at all and if you just include a hill or two in your training rotation you will be fine. The race organizers even recruit special volunteers to be "hill runners" whose sole job is to encourage and run with people up that tough hill. That support, plus the support from volunteers and spectators was amazing.

Other than that big hill, you'll experience gentle rollers that take you past PNC Park (where the Pirates play), Heinz Field (Steelers), the Carnegie Science Museum, the Strip District (not at all seedy), and a number of cool subdivisions in which spectators came out in droves offering everything from beer to gummy worms.

The swag was your usual standard fare of long-sleeved tee and race bag along with some really cool custom race socks. Nice touch!

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(2016)
"Spendy race but it's worth it."
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The Wineglass Marathon has been on my bucket list for a number of years. And while it cost a bit more in race fees and logistics than some of the other races I have done, it was definitely worth it.

One of the biggest issues and expenses surrounding the Wineglass Marathon is lodging. It's hard and expensive to find. And most hotels require a 2 or even a 3 night minimum stay which means that those fees can really add up! My advice - if you know you want to run this race, get your lodging sorted as quickly as you can!

My family came along with me for this race and I was so glad they did. The race expo was held in the Corning Glass Museum - a venue absolutely loved. And we received free/discounted entry for the museum all weekend with our race registration so that was a big plus. And it meant that my husband and daughters had something great to do on Sunday while they waited for me to finish and therefore I didn't have to worry about them standing around and being bored at the finish line.

The race itself lived up to all of the hype. The course was fast and scenic, aid stations were plentiful, and the weather was crisp and lovely.

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(2016)
"Possibly the most supported and best organized race I've ever run"
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I ran the Buffalo Marathon in 2016, that's the year that many other races - including the Vermont City Marathon - had to shut down and pull people off of the course due to the extreme heat. The same thing would have happened in Buffalo - where temps were in the high 80s on the day of the marathon - if it weren't for the fact that race organizers prepared for this extreme weather in every possible way.

About a week before the race, I started receiving emails from race officials about the possibility of high temps on race day and the importance of hydrating often and early - including the days before the race. As race day got closer, the emails - which were very friendly in tone - continued to remind runners to hydrate while also encouraging anyone with a time goal to sit this one out.

On race day, organizers doubled the number of water stations available on the course. They also put out the call to the local community to help in any way possible. As we ran through the scenic suburbs of Buffalo, spectators handed out water bottles and offered hose-water showers to anyone who needed to cool off. It was a real testament to how much the community loved this race and wanted to support its runners!

Despite the high temps, I never overheated and I had an amazing time taking in the sights on this beautiful course. If you're looking for a medium-sized race with easy logistics, a fun atmosphere, a scenic course, and amazing community and race management support - the Buffalo Marathon is the race for you.

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