Latest reviews by Linda

(2018)
"Grandma's Marathon is a Winner in my Book!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I signed up for Grandma’s Marathon after so many of my blogging friends raved about what a great race it is. While the weather was less than ideal, I loved this race and would consider doing it again.

Race Registration: Registration is online through RaceRoster.com. I registered for this race on December 31st, the last day to register and receive a free fleece-lined, full-zip jacket. I also received 10% off of my registration through being a Marathon Maniac.

Pre-Race Notifications: E-mails about the race and its logistics started coming in March, with several updates in the two weeks preceding the race.

Parking/Hotels: This is a point-to-point race, starting in Two Harbors, MN, and finishing in Duluth, MN. The race website gives a long list of options for area lodging, all of which fill up fast, and most of which are very pricey. We stayed at the Radisson, about ½ mile from the race finish. The hotel itself was decent, but the prices were jacked way up because of the race.

Race Expo: The expo was held just a few blocks from our hotel, at Paulucci Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Downtown Duluth. The expo was very nice and of considerable size. There were lots of exhibitors, with packet pick-up at the back of the hall. We picked up our race packets which included our bibs and a few other things, but surprisingly, no race shirts. We found out later that finishers would receive their shirts at the finish line after being awarded their medals.

Race Swag: The free zip-up we received for registering by December 31st is very nice. It’s very good quality, and the fit was perfect. Runners receive race shirts only at the finish line after being awarded their finisher’s medal. The volunteers handing them out kept telling everyone they run small, but I picked my usual size and it fit great. I was at the back of the pack of finishers, and there were still plenty of shirts available in all sizes.

Race Morning: Since we stayed near the race finish, we needed a way to get to the start. Besides driving on our own, the race offers two (free) options: Buses or train. We opted for the train, as people recommended it as ‘part of the experience’. We were advised to arrive by 4:30 a.m. to get a seat. We arrived at 4:45 a.m. and were some of the first to board. That made for a very long day, as the race doesn’t start until 7:45 a.m. The other option was school buses, but I can’t comment since we opted for the train.

The Race: The entire course runs along the coast of Lake Superior. There was a heavy fog for the first 14 or 15 miles of the race, so much of the view was obscured. We drove the route the following day, and it was absolutely beautiful.

Porta-potties/Aid Stations/Security: There were Powerade/water stations and porta-potties every-other-mile on the odd-numbered miles. Medical tents seemed to be positioned about every five miles. There wasn’t a huge police presence, but there were security officers on motorcycles riding up and down the course for the latter part of the race.

Spectators/Fan Support: There is very little crowd support except for the last two miles, though there were people scattered along much of the course cheering us on and offering anywhere from water, to fruit, to ibuprofen and pickle juice! There were lots of spectators at the final mile or two, giving runners that extra boost of energy!

Post-Race: There were a few photographers at the end, and we received water bottles (that the volunteers so nicely opened for us!) as we came through the finish. Along with our finisher shirts we received a ticket for a free beer at the beer tent, where a band was playing and people were dancing.

Race Management: The race seems very well-managed and communication was excellent. This was the 42nd annual running of this race, and everything seemed very organized and ran very smoothly.

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(2018)
"Beautiful Race Through the Streets of NaperTHRILL"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I ran this inaugural race in 2016 and absolutely loved it, but I had to skip 2017 because of a family wedding out of town. I ran again in 2018 and I am already registered for 2019. Held the third week in April and just minutes from my home, I’ve decided to make this my kick-start race for the running season each year.

Race Registration: Race registration is online through active.com. Registration opens at $1.00 (they don’t really say how many spots are available at this price, but I suspect there are very few), and then goes to $5.00 and keeps increasing in $5.00 increments as the lower prices sell out. I got in for 2019 at $30.00. The current price is $50.00, and the final price closest to race day is $100.00. If you are thinking of running this race, register sooner than later to get in on these great prices!

Pre-Race Notifications: Not much is received after the confirmation of registration via e-mail. There are a few notifications in the weeks before the race, but not much between registering and this later time period. This is not a big deal for me since I live very close to the race venue, but I can see where this would be frustrating for people traveling for this race.

Parking/Hotels: The race is held on a Sunday morning, so ample parking is available in and around downtown Naperville, Illinois. My dentist’s office is just two blocks from the race start/finish, so I get to park there for free, which also means I get to arrive just minutes before the race starts. There are a couple of hotels in the immediate area, but I can’t comment since I live so close to the venue.

Race Expo: There isn’t one! Packet pickup is in the basement of Naperville Running Company (a running store) in downtown Naperville. No frills here—just arrive with your ID, pick up your packet, and be on your way. That is fine by me. Packets can be mailed for a fee of $25.00, which seems a little pricey to me, but for out-of-towners, that may be the best option.

Race Swag: Runners receive race shirts and a free pair of Belaga running socks (at least during packet pickup at Naperville Running Company—I heard from some ladies at the race this year who did morning-of packet pickup that they did not receive the socks, but maybe they were just out by that time). Runners also receive a nice little drawstring bag. Shirts can be exchanged for size, but only after the race and in limited numbers, which is not very practical. I ordered a size S in 2016 and it fit perfectly. My size hasn’t changed, but the 2018 S is much too small for me. There were no Ms or Ls left when I came to exchange, so no 2018 race shirt for me.

Race Morning: The race starts and ends in Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium at North Central College in downtown Naperville. It’s a small race so there is not much pomp and circumstance—just a few exhibitors and some music and announcements before the race starts.

The Race: The course runs through many beautiful neighborhoods throughout Naperville, where you can spot some pretty amazing homes and landscapes if you are into that sort of thing! Participants also run on Chicago Avenue and Washington Street at different points of the race, both of which are main streets for the town. One side of Washington (the main drag) stays open to traffic, but because the race is held on a Sunday, that isn’t much of a problem for runners. The final two miles take the runners on a trail along the DuPage River. Beautiful and scenic, it is a narrow path, but with a race of this size, it’s not a big deal.

Porta-potties/Aid Stations/Security: There are plenty of water/aid stations along the course, typically manned by high school volunteers. There is a good police presence as well as enough scattered porta-potties along the route.

Spectators/Fan Support: Depending on the weather, there may or may not be too much spectator support. Since most of the race runs through neighborhoods, it is a pretty quiet race, but there are a number of people sitting at the ends of their driveways along the course cheering runners on. The final stretch of the race is lined with cheering spectators, which is a nice boost at the end.

Post-Race: There’s not a lot of hoopla to this race. It’s a small race, but I suspect it will continue to grow over the years. There are some snacks offered to finishers and music playing in the background, as well as the same vendors who were there at the start of the race, but that is about it.

Race Management: The race seems well-managed and I haven’t run into any bumps the two years I have run it. There is not a ton of communication from the race organizers, but I didn’t think that affected my experience. I can see where out-of-towners would need more communication between registration and race day.

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(2017)
"The Bank of America Chicago Marathon...I am Legacy!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

This was my fifth consecutive year running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which now gives me Legacy Status, meaning as long as I finish five in a 10 year period, I will have guaranteed entry rather than hope for a lottery spot. That right there, my friends, is a huge win! I've been lucky to get in these past five years, and it's all smooth sailing from here on out!

This review is specifically about the 2017 race, but includes my perspective over the past five years.

Race Registration: Like most of the World Marathon Majors, registration is by lottery system. The lottery typically opens the last week in October and is open for about a month. Successful lottery applicants are notified in mid-December, and their credit cards are automatically charged. Bib transfers are not allowed, so if you are applying for a lottery spot, plan to pay for it whether you wind up running the race or not.

Pre-Race Notifications: Once notified of successful registration, there is a bit of a lull in information received. Starting in May, however, monthly e-mails are sent with important updates about the race. Links to training plans are provided along with lots of other useful information for planning for race day. More frequent e-mails are sent in the final weeks leading up to the race.

Parking/Hotels: It’s Chicago. It’s expensive. We splurge on hotels since it’s such a big event, but you can stay off the beaten path for much less $$$. Parking is expensive (it’s Chicago!), so public transportation is your best bet.

Race Expo: I have run a number of races in the past five years, and the Chicago Marathon Expo is by far the best. Held at McCormick Place, it is absolutely huge, which can be overwhelming for some. Shuttles are available to transport runners from several area hotels. Parking is also available at McCormick Place, but it is an ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE trying to leave the parking garage, so plan to either shuttle or Uber/Lyft your way there. You will thank me later! The expo itself is well organized and laid out, with ID verification at the entrance and packet pickup at the back of the huge hall. With 40K+ runners, the process is surprising streamlined and goes very quickly. Lots of vendors are there displaying their products, with a number of booths designed to educate runners and help them succeed in their race goals. There is a Nike Pace Team booth where runners can discuss their goals and match up with the right (free) pace team.

Race Swag: Runners receive race shirts that come in either men’s or women’s sizes (waaaaay better than drowning in a unisex shirt!) There is typically nothing very special about these shirts, but they are of good quality and the color and design vary from year to year. A very nice feature of this race is that stations are set up for shirt exchange in case what you ordered doesn't fit. Other than that, there are just a few coupons and samples (like gummy vitamins or band-aids) in the swag bag. Many runners miss the free posters that are available at the entrance to the expo. Artists are commissioned each year to come up with an original design depicting the race. Some people love them; some people hate them. I have all of mine framed in my home gym.

Race Morning: There is a security checkpoint for all runners entering the course. Security is not as tight as one might expect for such a large venue. Lines move quickly and corrals are clearly marked. Security does not seem too strict in terms of people lining up in the wrong corrals. Photographers are everywhere at the race start, and there is music blaring with a typically fun announcer keeping the runners energized before the race.

The Race: Runners go off in waves according to corrals, so those at the back of the bus can expect to cross the starting line a good 15 to 20 minutes after the official race start. In the interest of time, I won’t include the details, but the race course winds through 27 distinct neighborhoods of the city. Having lived on the West Side of Chicago the first 25 years of my life, I absolutely love this 26.2 mile trip down memory lane! Some of the highlights include running through Chinatown, Pilsen, and Boys Town, where you will experience some of our best cultural and ethnic flair! Chicago is known for its flat course, so there is very little elevation throughout the race. But in a cruel twist, as your make the final turn onto what is known as Mount Roosevelt, there is a steady incline for the last quarter mile or so before you make it to the finish.

Porta-potties/Aid Stations/Security: Plenty of each…’nuf said!

Spectators/Fan Support: Nothing will ever beat this. An estimated 1.7 million spectators cheer the runners on throughout the course! Spectator support is a bit sparse between miles 22 and 24, but other than that, people are lined up elbow-to-elbow supporting runners throughout the race. Expect to be offered water, candy, pretzels, tissues, and even beer from enthusiastic spectators along the entire course!

Post-Race: Exceptional. Almost immediately past the finish line and after having your finisher’s medal placed around your neck, you can pick up your ice-cold Goose Island beer, along with a bag of goodies to help replenish yourself. Of course there is water, plus a good number of race photographers available to take those post-race finisher photos.

Race Management: Top notch. After 45 years, every detail is well-managed and down to a tee. I suppose people will always find room for improvement, but pulling off such a huge event where there are many unknowns (there can be a 40 or more degree temperature difference from year to year) is no small feat. I commend everyone involved, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the race for the past five years!

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(2017)
"Oorah! The 2017 Marine Corps Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
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The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) was one of my bucket-list races, and it did not disappoint! I ran this race last year just two weeks after the Chicago Marathon, and was so glad to have had the chance to participate in this great race.

Race Registration: Registration is by lottery, but there are a few other options available. Three thousand spots are made available to Active Military/Reserve, and ‘Four Star’ registration packages are available, but can cost upwards of $2000! MCM offers the ‘Access Granted’ 17.75K race in March, where all finishers receive a guaranteed entry into the MCM. This was the option I chose, but if that is the route you want to take, be aware that the 17.75K sells out in minutes! Bib transfers for the MCM are allowed.

Pre-Race Notifications: I received my confirmation e-mail when I registered using my Access Granted pass. A few days later I received an e-mail notification with information about my bib, packet pick-up, and a few more logistics about the race. Not much communication was received via e-mail after that.

Parking/Hotels: The race starts and ends in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. There are myriad options for hotels in the area. In general, parking and hotels in the DC area is expensive. However, there are cheaper options if you stay in the outskirts. Public transportation is very easy to navigate, so that is a great option for those looking to save a few bucks.

Race Expo: The expo was held at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Oxon, MD. We took the Metro to the Eisenhower stop where lines of luxury buses were waiting to shuttle runners to the expo. The entire trip including the Metro took just 30 minutes, and was well worth avoiding DC's Friday rush hour traffic. The expo itself was smaller than I had imagined. It was not crowded at all. Packet pickup was extremely quick, and rather than choose shirt sizes at the time of registration, shirts were available to try on in all sizes. There was an ample supply on Friday evening before the Sunday morning race.

Race Swag: Runners received a neon-orange long-sleeved technical shirt. I liked it; my son hated it (because of the color). The finishers’ medal, however, is AMAZING!

Race Morning: Public transportation is the best bet. There was a Metro station immediately outside of our hotel, and the Metro opens extra early to allow for the added traffic on race morning. It’s best to load up your Metro card a day (or two) BEFORE the race, as we had the foresight to do. The lines to buy and/or load Metro cards on race morning were outrageous. We only had to travel one stop from Pentagon City, where we were staying, to the Pentagon stop. We got off the train and to Runner's Village, a little over a mile from the train station.

The Race: Directly from the MCM website: Hosted in the nation's capital with the start and finish in Arlington, VA, the Marine Corps Marathon offers an unparalleled journey through the most recognizable landmarks in our country. Begin the run situated between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, continue through Rosslyn before journeying into the District to tour Georgetown and the National Mall on the way to 'beating the bridge.' Enter Arlington and pass the Pentagon, tour Crystal City, and finish uphill (you read that right) at the Marine Corps War Memorial.

The infamous "Wear Blue Mile" comes up at about Mile 11. It is a very quiet and solemn part of the course. There is an entire mile of the course lined with posters showing pictures of falling military along with their names, ages, and were they gave their lives in service to our country. Immediately after the signs were tons of volunteers holding full-sized American flags, cheering us on and giving us words of encouragement.

Porta-potties/Aid Stations/Security: Given the area of the country and the magnitude of this race, there was a very strong police presence. Water and Gatorade Endurance is available throughout most of the course, as are a good number of porta-potties. However, there was NOTHING available on the 14th Street Bridge (as in the famous ‘beat the bridge’), which starts at about Mile 20. Let me tell you, that bridge is hell. It seems like a mountain, and it seems to last forever. It is pure concrete with not a porta-potty, water station, or millimeter of shade in site. It was extremely hot and sunny the day of the race. Luckily I had my own water supply.

Spectators/Fan Support: There is a good amount of fan support throughout the race, with many ‘incidental’ spectators who just happen to be visiting the DC area. There are bands playing almost every mile along the course, though spectator support is almost non-existent between Miles 20 and 22. It then picks up again as the runners arrive at Crystal City. Fan support continues to build from that point until the end of the race.

Post-Race: There is nothing more special or moving than having a uniformed, active-duty Marine place a finisher’s medal around your neck! The post-race festivities are one big party with lots of excitement and fun! The area is not huge and it is very crowded, but since I am a slower run, the crowds were starting to thin by the time I arrived.

Race Management: The race is extremely well managed. After all, it’s the Marines!

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(2017)
"Access Granted! The Marine Corps 17.75K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

A couple of years ago, I made it my goal to run the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), but I didn’t want to rely on the lottery to get a spot. I found out that running the Marine Corps Marathon 17.75K race in March gives finishers guaranteed entry into the MCM, so I used this race to get a guaranteed spot in the marathon.

Race Registration: Race registration is online and opens in mid-February. I sat at my computer about 10 minutes before registration opened, and started madly clicking the minute it open. It took a few minutes, and I was lucky enough to get a spot (I heard the race sold out within 10 minutes). The race sells out very quickly because so many people use it to gain guaranteed entry to the MCM.

Pre-Race Notifications: E-mail confirmation and continuing communication for this race is good. The race was held just a little over a month after registration, and there were several e-mails during that time notifying participants of important information including packet pick-up options, etc.

Parking/Hotels: Several reasonably-priced hotels were available near the race venue. I stayed at a Springhill Suites for under $100. Parking at the race site was not an option, but the MCM provided three locations for parking, each within 2 to 3 miles of the venue. I planned to park at the local high school, but as I passed one of the smaller parking sites, I noticed there were still a few spaces available, so I parked there instead. An added surprise was the nice luxury tour buses lined up and ready to drive us to our destination.

Race Expo: There was a very (very) small pick-up area for the race. Packet pick-up was located in a small building in Quantico, VA. There were several signs around the property designating this as the MCM headquarters. The people working the packet pick-up were very nice, many of which seemed to be military vets.

Race Swag: Tables of shirts were set up at packet pick-up and registrants were able to try on and choose the appropriate size right there…nice! The shirt itself wasn’t exactly gorgeous, but it was themed for the military, which was a very nice touch.

Race Morning: As often is the case with early race starts, it was rather cool at dark o’clock in the morning, so I welcomed the surprise of a church building located at the site that was open for runners to keep warm before the start of the race. Inside of the church there was a comedy show playing on a big screen to keep us entertained as we waited to start lining up for the race. About 20 minute before start time, I headed out to find a place in line. This was the first race I’ve run where there were no obvious pacers or no designated areas for runners to line up according to pace. Being a middle-of-the-pack finisher, I made my way up to the middle of the crowd, excited for this great race to begin. At 6:55 a.m. the singing of the National Anthem signaled the runners to start moving forward, and in true military fashion, the race started at o-seven-hundred hours sharp.

The Race: I was so glad to have read a preview of the race the night before, and knew to anticipate a gravel terrain for the first few miles. I would describe it more as rocky than gravel, and in fact we came across a number of boulders on the course. The trail wasn’t very wide for the first few miles, allowing only 6 or 7 runners across. Lots of runners were veering off the trail to pass the slower runners. I myself was happy to just plug along and try not to slip on the rocks and fall. The first 3 or so miles of the race were also very hilly. Did I mention I hate hills? I did no hill training for this race, and in fact I avoid hills like the plague, so the first few miles were particularly challenging for me. Then at around 3.5 miles in, the ground turned to pavement. I think this was the MCM’s way of buttering us up before we hit the 4.5 mile mark, where there was quite the butt-burning incline. An exaggeration of course, but it seriously felt like a 45 degree incline! The next 5 or so miles were relatively benign, although they were still a little hilly. Then at around mile 9, we were back to the hilly gravel terrain as we looped our way back to the starting point.

Porta-potties/Aid Stations/Security: There are plenty of water/aid stations along the course, all manned by Marines. There were enough porta-potties along the route for such a short course. There didn’t seem to be much security personal, besides, of course, the Marines along the course.

Spectators/Fan Support: Given the nature of the venue, there weren’t many spectators to this course at all. Runners were greeted at the finish line by uniformed Marines awarding finisher’s medals and a congratulatory handshake. I got a little choked up when a Marine placed my medal around my neck, and I shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

Post-Race: Once past the finish line, we were given the Golden Ticket, in other words; the Access Granted card, with an individual code for guaranteed entry to the MCM in the fall. The actual post-race festivities were rather small, but there was entertainment and food, which is more than enough for those completing the race.

Race Management: The race was very well-managed, in true military fashion. I experienced no bumps in the road and would definitely recommend this race to others—especially as a guaranteed way to run the MCM in the fall.

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