Latest reviews by Cassandra Balzarini

(2019)
"Holy Shiplap - a truly fun race! "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The 2nd annual Silo District Marathon weekend was held at the Magnolia Silo's in Waco, TX. This race is created, organized and physically run by HGTV Fixer Upper Stars Chip and Joanna Gaines and raises money for rare cancer research through the "Brave like Gabe" foundation. I was so excited to run this race as I am a HUGE "Fixer Upper" fan. Here are the details!

PRE-RACE: I expected more communication from the race organizers overall pre-race, aside from a confirmation email and some information about opting into fundraising, there wasn't a lot of communication and the website wasn't rich with information either. As the race got closer we were informed that a race app existed, this provided much of the race information I had been hoping to receive (parking, expo, etc.) and 6 days before the race I did receive a pre-race email recapping a lot of what the app had been able to share. Something interesting to note is that the race information through social media comes entirely through the @magnolia account, which can be confusing for those unfamiliar with Joanna and Chips' Magnolia branding. Searching #silodistrictmarathon also allowed me to find a lot of posts about last year's and this year's race.

Although this was the second year of the race, it was the first year that Magnolia Co. had organized a pre-race expo. The expo was modest but still a lot of fun, packet pickup and swag distribution was truly seamless and the small number of (all Waco owned) vendors seemed to really be enjoying the atmosphere. There were plenty of opportunities to photo ops (always a highlight for me) both at the expo and throughout Magnolia Market at the Silos. There was plenty to do at the Market itself too, food trucks, shopping, outdoor activities and more: If you are patient I 100% recommend checking out the Silo's Company Bakery and the Magnolia Table restaurant (just be warned, lines will be long!) Over 6,000 people travel out to Waco for this race so it's really special to be surrounded by so many runners and fans - the atmosphere was so exciting!

THE SWAG: The swag for this race was pretty standard, a dry fit t-shirt and a nice canvas bag. I really loved the material of the bag as apposed to some of the more plastic feeling ones I have received from races in the past. The t-shirts ran a little large but they were willing to size swap the following day for anyone who wanted a smaller size. Additional swag was available for purchase including more t-shirts and a baseball cap (which tbh, I regret not buying). Everything Magnolia designs is truly adorable so I enjoyed taking in all the merch and rocking my race t-shirt for some photos at the vendor fair.

THE RACE: Parking for this race is a breeze, there are two large parking lots about 1.5 miles away from the start line with ample shuttle buses taking runners right to the start, signage was clear and finding parking was simple. The beginning of this race was a little stressful, porta-pottie lines were extremely long and after waiting nearly 20 minutes I actually gave up and made my way over to the start corrals. The corrals were super crowded and it was a little hard to understand where I should go - I definitely recommend showing up at least 30+ minutes early to this race just so you can get yourself situated. The race starts in waves about two or so minutes apart, Chip and Joanna (plus baby Crew!) were manning the start line cheering on runners. The course itself is beautiful, weaving through Baylor Universities campus and various neighborhoods of Waco. Much of the course is shady and green, a nice contrast to the crazy humidity Texas is known for this time of year. It was so humid this whole race that at every single water station I needed to dump a cup of water over my face, it was HOT out there! There was not as many spectators along the course as I was expecting for a race this size, however, aid stations were plentiful and there was water, gatorade, gels, pickles and more available throughout the route. There were a few bands and some entertainment along the course but nothing major. I absolutely loved the inspirational quote mile markers, but did notice that on the Half Marathon route they disappeared after mile 10. I spent the last 5k of the race having no idea how close I was to the end. The route itself has several hills and at least one of them is very steep - the hardest part of the course for me was the very end, for about the last half mile you can see the finish line -- it was absolute torture! Overall I really enjoyed the entire course and the scenery of the race. One of the only downsides of this race is that there is NO race photography on the course, even when I look terrible I do usually enjoy seeing photos of my experience during the race.

BLING: I enjoyed the medal for this race, designed in a true medallion style there were separate medals for the 5k, Half Marathon and Full Marathon races. Each medal had a separate colored lanyard
and there are super cute large medal displays you can take photos with once you've completed the course.

FINISH LINE & POST-RACE: This race finishes back almost exactly where it started, with plenty of fans cheering you on in the finishers chute. The after party at the silos was a lot of fun, I ended up getting some sweets in the bakery and stopping by the awards ceremony. The entire weekend was a lot of fun and I really hope to run this race again next year!

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(2019)
"Little Rock (1/2) Marathon: A Race Odyssey "
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

PRE-RACE: This race provided seemingly endless amounts of information! From frequently email updates, heavily utilized social medal accounts (@lrmarathon) and a pre-race booklet there was plenty of opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of Arkansas largest and most popular marathon. The best part of the pre-race communication however, was the smartphone app created for this race. The LRMarathon app includes ALL necessary race information, offers the ability to register for the race and provides live-tracking of runners during the race. This app was super useful to myself as a runner and to my long-distance cheering squad checking out the race from across the country.

The pre-race expo for this event was great! With over 70 vendors there was plenty of do and see throughout the two day event. My friend and I arrived to the expo on Saturday after lunchtime and there was still plenty of merchandise, giveaways and activities. A highlight of the expo for me was the ample opportunities for photo ops! The race organizers (known at this race as the 'chicks in charge' CICs) did an awesome job decorating the whole venue according to this year's theme. "A Race Odyssey" I loved seeing the giant flying saucer, space shuttle and alien autopsy set up throughout the venue.

THE SWAG: The free swag for this race was pretty run of the mill. Runners had the opportunity between selecting a t-shirt style with the race logo on the front. Depending on your distance you received four different colors of shirts, or multiple shirts if you signed up for their two day challenge. The 5k and 10k took place on the Saturday of this race weekend with the half and full marathon options on Sunday. There was a HUGE variety of swag available for purchase at the event as well, they had tank tops, sweatpants, pint glasses and even more. One thing I wish I had known about in advance was the fact that all the merchandise was still available for 50% off the original price after the race was over on Sunday. So if you're a bargain shopper like me, hold out and see what they have left once you've crossed the finish line! I'm still quite happy with my neon yellow tank top featuring an adorable alien with a flower. I've already worn it on several runs since.

THE RACE: The half marathon and marathon run on the same course up until mile 12 of this race this course includes some rolling hills and a few challenging sections. The little rock half-marathon course is one of the most energetic, well attended, enthusiastic race I have ever had the pleasure to run. Each mile of this race is sponsored by a local group or organization, and they line the streets to cheer on runners and hand out food and water. Some highlights from the race course included: tons of live music, a road side spin class, church groups dousing runners with holy water and providing 'communion on the run', a local college step team providing motivation and entertainment, grilled pineapple (YUM!), live music and tons of beer. I personally don't drink during races but I saw many other runners sample the variety of offerings along the course. There were several out and back sections of the race that allowed me to see my friend running the full marathon and made it possible to check out the variety of costumes adorning the runners. Runners were dressed as astronauts, aliens and even Elliott from ET. (Complete with ET attached to the front of the runner in a milk crate) - it was really awesome to see the sprit and excitement that everyone involved put into the race. Much like the expo, the race featured ample roadside photo ops including baymax from Big Hero Six and many other space themed characters.

BLING: People come from all over the country for the famous medals of the Little Rock Marathon weekend. The bling for this race is truly unbelievable. The full marathon medal is quite literally larger than my head and the half-marathon medal comes in at about 50% the size. Glow in the dark, sparkly, including a spinner and tons of decorations this medal was quick to become one of the best in my collection.

FINISH LINE & POST-RACE: This race finishes back exactly where it started, with plenty of fans cheering you on in the finishers chute. Post race includes an amazing celebration with plenty of snacks, water, a pasta lunch and plenty of beer. I got to hang out at the after part for about two hours while I waited for my friend to finish the full marathon and had fun meeting runners from all over the country. The entire race expo was also still set up for those who wanted to do a little more shopping. I would love to run this race again in the future! 10/10.

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(2019)
"Florida: The Marathon State?"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

PRE-RACE: There is plenty of information on this race available well in advance. The website is easy to navigate and informative and the races social media pages offered several opportunities to register for a discount. Email communication was limited up until the week prior to the race. The email newsletters were extremely informational and indicated when there were updates to information that had already been sent out. I felt very prepared showing up for this race. Packet pickup was quick and easy and although the pre-race expo left much to be desired, there was still a nice selection of Kerch and race swag to look at. Plus a great fuel vendor and even some pickle juice. Packet pick up is also available the day of for this race.

THE SWAG: The swag for this race was average but nice. A long-sleeve tech shirt with the races logo on front, plus a matching hat and bag. I loved the hat and ended up wearing it during the race. The bag was cool and unique (at least to me) because you were able to carry it as a tote or wear it as a backpack if you wanted, I enjoyed this feature. As I mentioned, there was a variety of other swag available for purchase at the expo that was fun and colorful.

THE RACE: The marathon course for this race is a double loop of the half-marathon route. This course is almost entirely flat minus the on-ramps of the two causeway bridges (technically four on the marathon) that you encounter on the route. The views from the top make the hustle worth it! This entire course is gorgeous and offers ample waterfront views. There were more porta-potties, water stops and aid stations along this course than any race I’ve ran, I felt well supported! Formally known as “the music marathon” this race course offers able course-side entertainment and most years even features a grand piano atop one of the causeways (the rain kept him away for my race unfortunately). The marathon pack was fairly small for this race (less than 50 people) but the half-marathon was packed! Great support and crowds at various points along the route and many neighborhood families cheering on from their front yards. This race is a combination of “highway” running and small neighborhood side streets. I loved the course!

BLING: The race medal for this race was fun! Every year the race celebrates one of Florida’s famous fruits and this year the rave medal featured a surfing strawberry with an outline of the sunshine state. Different colored lanyards differentiate between the Marathon and 1/2 Marathon medals, which I thought was a nice touch.

FINISH LINE & POST-RACE: This race finishes back where it started but this time, a red carpet greets you! This was my first marathon and I needed all the time I could get, I finished with about 8 minutes left on the course clock. I was disappointed when I arrived that most of the after-party had been entirely packed up. Rumor has it though that this race features pancakes and beer for all its finishers. Finally, enjoy an photos of you taken along the course for free, there are no charge for photo downloads. Overall a lovey race, 8/10 would run again!

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(2018)
"Allstate 2018 Hot Chocolate 15K, A Truly Sweet Race"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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)
"Phoenix 10k"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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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