Latest reviews by Dan Kittaka

(2014)
"The Ski Cap is the Best!"
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As reviewer Harry Ward notes, this is a Fleet Feet Signature race which means that race production will be on point. I'm sort of biased being a FF Racing Team member, race volunteer, and former employee, but I'm not lying when I say that you get an excellent experience at all of the Fleet Feet Signature events.

The ski cap is probably my favorite piece of race swag I receive all year. It's warm and looks good on pretty much everyone.

The 2014 edition had balmy temps, a competitive field, and I wasn't directed off course! That said, if you're visiting Chicago, you'll love the course, if you've raced a bunch in Lincoln Park, it won't be anything new, but sometimes that's just fine (if you're running fast or running with friends).

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(2014)
"Get Excited Because Racing Cross Country is Fun"
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Evanston Running Club does a fantastic job putting on this event. While it really pulls at the heartstrings of those who ran cross country in school, it is none the less also a fantastic introduction to the sport for adult-onset racers as well.

The race is hosted at the same site as my high school state regional meet near Old Orchard Mall, off I-94, and is relatively easy to get to from the city. The course is flat and fast over dirt and grass. Since it you are more or less running four loops, this event is great for spectators as they can see you multiple times per mile if desired.

An open race for those without team affiliations is offered, however the real draw are the Masters' (40+) and Open team competitions. Clubs from the Greater Chicagoland area come to compete for an informal "Illinois Club Cross Country Championship" title. Both the Masters' race and the Open race feature top notch competition. Winners receive pint glasses to commemorate their achievement.

As much fun as it is to hurt for 5000m, the post race party (who's main fixture is a keg of craft beer) is probably the highlight. Enjoying a fall day with fellow harriers while knocking back a few cold ones is the brilliant crux of the event. They also have plenty of bananas (they were giving them away in bunches as we were leaving), breakfast bars, and hot dogs for post-race consumption!

So while there isn't really swag (except pint glasses) and there aren't aid stations (except the keg), I still have given the event very high marks in both regards. Cross country is where I really got my start racing and this is a wonderful event that celebrates the sport.

Also Craig Virgin, Illinois native, Illinois HS, NCAA, AAU, and World Cross Country Champion, and multiple time US Olympian helps MC/host the event which is unique in its own right.

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(2014)
"Thankful for Cross Country; Happiness is Getting a Family Team Score"
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At the 2014 edition, there were about 35 finishers of the cross country style 5000m race, which as it happens was not a walk in the park. Hosted by the historic Riis Park Striders, this event in some form or fashion is in its 44th year and features the club name-sake park which is actually perfect for cross country, featuring a short steep incline on the north end and a more gradual descent on the south end as well as a cinder track start/finish. There is also an accompanying mile race held 15 minutes prior to the 5000m on the cinders.

The season finale of weekend cross country races held in the far northwest side (Fullerton and Central) Chicago park, this race (and all the other weekend races) are held for the enjoyment of the club members and greater community. This is no frills racing done by runners who have been at it for decades. Many of the members/participants present were in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s! The three dollar registration fee and hand timing say it all. If you want a t-shirt, you can purchase one at an additional cost (uninterested in race t-shirts, I didn't inquire of the cost). I greatly enjoyed the fact that I wasn't paying for amenities that don't add value to my experience. I also enjoyed being able to register six family members for less than twenty dollars and being scored as a team (Team Kittaka took 3rd Place, probably out of 3 teams)!

You'll find no aid stations on the course (crazy notion; when those RACING 5000m typically don't take fluids while running), but there were plenty of sandwich cookies (a personal fav) and juice in the field house while awaiting the awards ceremony. Age group winners took home bits of CASH and place ribbons which resulted in great fun when my mother was dubbed a "professional" after winning her age group of one.

Combine all these factors with easy parking and light traffic (on the morning of Thanksgiving) and you have yourself a winner, winner, Turkey dinner(?).

Based on what I observed of the membership, I'm sure the competition up front varies greatly from year to year. In 2014, I was pretty fortunate to have a crew of guys from the Northwestern University Running Club out in force. After our group up front finished there was a pretty constant stream of runners though no other larger groupings (1-2 finishers per minute). I would suggest recruiting your own competition.

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(2014)
"Excellent Aid Stations & Terrible T-Shirts"
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My fourth go-around hasn't changed my opinion that this is a bucket-list event. My earlier review helps explain why: http://bibrave.com/races/the-chicago-marathon/303#.VD3eEPldWSo

This race is run by professionals in one of the world's great cities so you can expect things are pretty put together. Pre-race communications are clear and concise. The expo has all the excitement and buzz you'd expect from a 40,000 participant event.

I would strongly recommend attending the expo on Friday (as opposed to Saturday) as it can be quite overwhelming and tiring. I've taken public transit (the Red Line to Chinatown) and walked to McCormick Place the last couple years and I actually would recommend this as you get to cross the course which in and of it self is exciting. McCormick Place is a pain to get to, but it's worlds better than the hated Navy Pier. If you're not from Chicago, don't get me started on Navy Pier.

A lot of people were complaining about the t-shirt (rumor has it that it was trending on Twitter). Ha, I don't really care, but it was totally weak-sauce. This was of course completely intentional as NIke calls the shots in Chicago and wants to sell their head-to-toe memorabilia. Turns out showcasing the human spirit is a great marketing tool.

One of the most encouraging things has been the increased crowd support over the years. The second half of the course can be very tough as it lacks protection from the elements and crowd support. That said, I think 2014 had the best crowd support in the worst areas in my four years running the event (2010, 12, 13, 14). This of course could all be my distorted memory as 2014 was my fastest Chicago Marathon of the bunch, but I think there is still some truth in there somewhere.

Finally, a quick shout out to the aid station organizers and volunteers. You don't notice aid stations until you've been to a race with bad aid stations. The aid stations in Chicago are monstrous (spanning BLOCKS) and are very well run by a crew of experienced captains guiding both n00b and veteran volunteers. Each time I run the race the more impressed I am with how well run the aid stations are.

**I'm pretty biased as I grew up in Chicago and I don't pay for my entries to this race (well except for the first year...).

Photo Credit: Ruben Gonzalez

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(2014)
"More Races Should Feature Complementary Revolution Beer"
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I enjoyed this race immensely for its low-key atmosphere and free pizza. Sometimes you don't need all the pomp and circumstance of a race with higher production values.

The course was a typical Lincoln Park 5k ending just south of the zoo and was decently marked and measured. My teammates and I were able to run (fast) and then enjoy ourselves with a complementary Revolution Anti-Hero IPA (a BIG step up from the typical piss-water served at races) and some free pizza.

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