Latest reviews by Kate Pezalla
Top reasons I'm giving it 5 stars:
- small and manageable field
- easy parking and stress-free navigation on race day
- super-affordable entry fee
- flat and (mostly) fast
This was my 9th marathon and my 2nd time qualifying for Boston, so I definitely agree with others that it's a great race to reach for a PR!
My one caveat would be that the course got really crowded around mile 8 or so, which might hamper your time. We ran through a beautiful park with restored prairie and native plants, which was a welcome break from the otherwise suburban scenery, BUT it reduced us to a narrow sidewalk without room to pass.
The expo is small, but that also made it manageable and non-exhausting. Still plenty of booths to stock up on free candy.
As other reviewers have mentioned, it's a flat course except for a hill at mile 24. It's not a terrible hill, but it's good to be prepared for it.
Parking near the start/finish area was free and pretty easy. There are lots as well as ample street parking. Since this race is fairly small, it's a breeze to navigate your way to your starting corral. You don't need as much time to get there as you would at a bigger race.
The aid stations were awesome, and the volunteers were SO cheerful despite the horribly rainy and windy weather. It was clear which tables had water and which had Gatorade, and there was Gu available several times along the course.
I don't really care about the race t-shirt (I rarely wear them) but I was SUPER excited for the fleece blanket at the finish!!!! It was so warm and cozy -- perfect, since I was soaking wet and freezing by the end of the marathon.
And the medal has Abraham Lincoln on it!
The race management was wonderful overall, but I deducted 1 star because of a currently ongoing lack of communication. A little over 3 hours into the marathon -- when I was running up the hill in mile 24 -- a cop car drove through announcing that the race was cancelled due to severe weather. There weren't many runners near me, and the few who were nearby kept running. I slowed momentarily while trying to decide what I should do -- seek shelter or keep going -- and ultimately decided that it would be better to keep running and find my friends at the finish line rather than get stuck in the middle of nowhere without my phone.
I crossed the finish line and my understanding is that the time counts for Boston, but it's more than 48 hours after the race and this still hasn't been confirmed. Some friends from my running group are very anxious because they were told that finishing times from cancelled races don't count. It's especially stressful for first-time qualifiers, so it would be great if the race organizers would send out some sort of communique about it.
But that's likely a one-off type of situation, so overall I'd say definitely consider the Illinois Marathon if you're looking for a flat local course.
This race marked my first-ever official ultra (I did devise a sort of ad-hoc ultra up Western Avenue for my friends, back in May, that took us the full length of Western plus a little additional to equal 30 miles for a friend's 30th at her behest ... I may have the best running friends ever), and so I might be biased, but I thought the race organizers did a terrific job, and I would highly recommend this race to anyone considering his or her first ultra.
- The volunteers were fantastic. It says a lot about a race if it inspires people to wake up before sunrise on a Saturday to be unfathomably kind to total strangers for hours, in this case in unseasonably cold weather, for no pay. These volunteers were so supportive and so friendly; they buoyed my spirits every time I passed an aid station.
- Speaking of, the aid stations were more than well-stocked. Everything you could have wanted was on hand, including chews, gels, candy, potato chips, actual potatoes, broth, electrolyte-filled liquids, water... and they refill your hydration system for you, so you don't have to struggle with that at mile 45.3.
- The scenery was incredible. I had camped in the southern unit of Kettle Moraine before, but never explored the trails in any depth. Every time I made it up one of the many hills, I forced myself to stop and appreciate the view. It's a gorgeous, well-maintained state park, and I felt unbelievably lucky to be running it.
- Spectating is easy. My husband met me at every spectator station with no problem, and we were able to drive to the start of the race without any hassle. (If you camp in the Ottawa Lake campgrounds, which we did the night before and the night of, you can walk to the start/finish area. We drove because it was cold and I'm a huge baby.)
- Dean Karnazes was there to give out high-fives as we crossed the starting line, AND I saw him again at an aid station and on the trail. Running behind a running legend was very, very cool (although short-lived; he is, unsurprisingly, much faster than me.)
The swag wasn't much to speak of, but I gave it 3 stars because our packets did include a free pair of socks and because they were more minimal and environmentally friendly than most race-day bags. I appreciate not having to go home with a bunch of stuff I don't want and then have to discard. The T-shirts are blank at packet pick-up, but they screen-print them with your distance (at no additional charge), if you don't mind waiting until race day to receive the printed shirt.
Expo is rated 2 stars because there wasn't one, but the folks working packet pick-up were incredibly friendly.
In sum: Run this race if you've never run an ultra before. The small field ensures individualized attention, but the dedicated volunteers cheer for you as if you're in a big-city marathon.