Latest reviews by Cassandra Balzarini

(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)
"Running Lungs Half Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

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"
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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