Latest reviews by Cassandra Balzarini

(2018)
"Allstate 2018 Hot Chocolate 15K, A Truly Sweet Race"
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PRE-RACE: There is plenty of information available for these races before they take place. Between the emails, the consistently updated website and social media accounts, it's easy to get any question you need answered. Parking for this event can be tricky but the race organizers provided a lot of info on this as well, and a super helpful map. Packet pick-up is not available day-of for this race but there is a two day expo the Friday and Saturday before which features and handful of vendors and the beginning of many, many opportunities for sweet chocolate snacks.

THE SWAG: The swag for this race is incredible, race registration came this year with a zip up jacket featuring a version of the race logo. The jacket came in a wine colored version for women and black for men. The best part of the jackets was the try-on station they had available at the expo. If you didn't like the size you had ordered, you could exchange the whole packet. The only thing to be mindful of is the fact that you cannot try on the actual jacket IN your packet, only the testers. Once you've opened your packet and taken out the jacket it cannot be exchanged. If you're interested in more swag the Hot Chocolate races feature a handful of merchandise available for sale both at the expo and after the race.

THE RACE: There are TONS of participants in this race so waiting for your corrals start time can take up to 25/30 minutes. A 15k was a distance I had never seen before so it was a cool opportunity to experience something different. This course is entirely flat and weaves in and out of the retail area surrounding Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Several sections of the course are out and back. There are aid stations every two miles or so with medical attention, water, the sports drink Nuun and of course, candy. M&Ms, Marshmallows, Chocolate and more was available along the course. Something I thought was a nice touch was the special attention the volunteers gave to your name tags (attached to your bib) they'd be sure to shout personalized encouragement from along the sides, great motivation! There weren't a lot of spectators along the course but the volunteers more than made up for it. The course is well staff with plenty of signage and markers. My favorite part was the signs counting down every 100 yards to the finish starting at the 500 yard mark, I was so excited coming into the finishers chute!

THE BLING: The race medal for this race is AWESOME! A larger than life candy bar featuring Arizona's famous red rock mountains. A good thing to note is that the medals are only for 15k finishers! The Hot Chocolate race series tours around the country and each medal is redesigned for the city the race is in. All finishers, both 5k and 15k receive the finishers hot coco mug, complete with snacks and a steaming hot cup of Hot Chocolate.

FINISH LINE & POST-RACE: The after-party for this race is awesome! The finish line is packed with fans and spectators, including many of the 5k participants! The 5k finishes long before the 15kers so be sure to make a plan with your friends if you're running different distances! The energy crossing the finish was a ton of fun, but the energy at the after party was even better. The post race party included plenty of inflatable photo ops, hot tubs, merchandise and plenty of chocolate. My only critique is the fact that your only option when it comes to enjoying your giant chocolate mug and snacks is to sit on the ground - this is a bummer! I am a mid-pack runner but I had a friend with me this race that averages about 14 min miles, so she was much closer to the end. We were super happy that everything was still set up and plenty of people were still hanging out once she had finished the race. The race organizers are super prepared for anything and it showed. Finally, enjoy any photos of you taken along the course for free, there are no charge for photo downloads.

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(2018)
"Running Lungs Half Marathon"
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THE SWAG: This race featured a plain white t-shirt with the race's logo on the front. Plenty of sizes were available as the race was VERY small. Also included with the race was an at home lung testing kit. A nod to the Linda Wortman Lung Cancer Foundation who sponsors the race.

THE RACE: A entirely trail-based event, this race took place in the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills AZ. For those who may be familiar with the park, the race took place on the Pemberton trail. An "out and back" style race for all the events the half marathon itself was an out and back then out and back again. I was not a huge fan of this particular style of race as it became a little monotonous after the first complete lap. The race course was also marked incorrectly so I ended up running 14 miles instead of my intended 13.1. The race lacked volunteers so all the water stations consisted of water and gatorade packs alongside the trail in random locations. Although the park itself was beautiful, I found the race route relatively challenging with a variety of uneven surfaces, holes and hills. The race website did not specify that this was a trail run, so I was relatively unprepared for this terrain and race style. There was plenty of snacks and water available after the race and a small crowd of race volunteers cheering on all the finishers.

THE BLING: The race medal was extremely simple and featured the race logo on a basic medallion. I was a little disappointed by this medal after running in the desert for over 2 hours. But still felt a feeling of accomplishment since this was my first half marathon in over two years.

FINISH LINE: As I mentioned, this race was extremely small. With maybe 30 runners total the finish line was pretty empty by the time I arrived. There were however a small group of dedicated volunteers who cheered me on as I arrived at the end.

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(2018)
"Phoenix 10k"
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THE SWAG: This race featured a nice blue unisex t-shirt with the logo for the race featured across the front. A random note, but this t-shirt was super soft and is really comfortable, definitely one of my favorites in my collection!

THE RACE: This entirely flat course zooms throughout downtown Phoenix. If you are into the urban landscape then the "scenery" this course provides will appeal to you. I personally enjoyed running through downtown areas I hadn't seen before and scouting out new places to eat. A fun feature of this races was the live music stationed throughout the course, I enjoyed taking out my earbuds entirely to cheer on local bands and hear a variety of unique styles of music. There was a decent crowd throughout the course cheering on the runners and a large number of runners participating in all three events (5k, 10k and Half Marathon). Aid and water stations were spread out about every 1.5 miles or so which was ideal. I consider myself a "mid-pack" runner but definitely felt this way with this crowd, there were so many racers - things were a bit congested at first but spread out pretty evenly throughout the course. The expo before and after the race was extensive, and featured a few dozen vendors, samples and booths to checkout. Transportation to downtown Phoenix from the light rail is recommended but street parking throughout the city it relatively easy to locate.

THE BLING: The medal for this race changes year to year, this year it was a large rectangular medal featuring the year's orange color scheme and showcasing that it was the 43rd annual event. This medal was really cool and pretty size-able (size doesn't always matter of course but I enjoy a flashy medal after the hard work of a race).

FINISH LINE: The finishers chute of this race was amazing! Large crowds, tons of volunteers and an almost overwhelming amount of energy. It was so fun finishing this race! The finish line had plenty of snacks and water just steps off the course so it was easy to refuel upon finishing. Vendors and booths from before the event were still set up so there was plenty to explore. Overall a really great race, I would consider doing the Half Marathon next year!

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(2018)
"New Castle 10k"
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THE SWAG: All available apparel is not including in the cost of race registration. Although the registration cost was relatively low ($30 for early registration climbing up to $40 by race day) I was a little disappointed to not receive any sort of t-shirt. All runners did receive however a stainless steel pint glass with the race logo on it if they registered by a certain date. Since the race is still relatively new, I imagine that the swag for this race will evolve over time.

THE RACE: THIS COURSE IS GORGEOUS. Beginning at the New Castle Island Common, a waterfront park area located in Portsmouth area of NH and wrapping around the entire New Castle peninsula this course offers numerous opportunities for waterfront views and even features a peek at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Portsmouth Naval Prison, which many say resembles a castle. A course with rolling hills, this is the perfect race for new and experienced runners alike. I had a blast with this race! A relatively new and smaller-sized race, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of vendors featured at the expo and the great crowds throughout the town and along the course.

THE BLING: There was no medal for this race, which was ultimately disappointing. I hope that as the race grows over time that this is something they begin incorporating.

FINISH LINE: This large loop course finishes where it started in the beautiful Great Island Commons. A decent crowd and breathtaking views makes this an exciting and memorable finish. There was plenty of parking located at the start/finish and transportation out of the event was a breeze.

I hope to run this race again in the future!

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(2017)
"Black Bear 10k"
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THE SWAG: Swag for this race including a UMaine Black Bear tank top featuring race sponsors and race information. A fun addition to the expo included the ability to purchase race swag from the other UMaine sponsored races at a discounted price, it was fun to look through some of the older race shirt designs!

THE RACE: Hosted and run by a variety of staff members of The University of Maine, this race definitely has a small-town, family-style feel to it. The course runs through the tiny downtown area of Orono Maine and then weaves along the Stillwater River, before breaking off from the Half Marathon and Marathon tracks. The 10k then wraps back through the UMaine campus (As an alum I may be a little bias but this place is absolutely breathtaking) before finishing up at the track of the UMaine football stadium. If you enjoy nature and wooden scenery, this is absolutely a race for you!

THE BLING: My bias showing again but I am a huge fan of the UMaine race series bling. This particular race featured a large Black Bear face that matched the tank top received at packet pick up. A nice nod to the institution and the theme of the race itself.

FINISH LINE: The finish line for all 3 races (10k, Half and Full Marathon) takes place on the track of UMaine's football field. I've mentioned this in race reviews before but I love a race that ends in a stadium, it gives spectators and place to sit and the crowds are always size-able! I ran this race with two other friends (who are much faster than me) so it was cool to see them cheering from the field as I crossed the finish.

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