Latest reviews by Frank Nardomarino

(2017)
"Ravenswood Run 5K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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I really wish I ran this race in the past because I didn't realize just how awesome it was! The crowds were bigger than I anticipated and the energy was immense! Though, I shouldn't be too surprised since I've run just about every RAM Racing event. They always do such a great job with the course layouts, swag, and prerace energy. Here are a few of the highlights:

Registration: RAM Racing always makes it easy with the website registration and remembers you from previous races. Fees for the race are definitely reasonable and being that this was a great charity race to support the community, you can't put a price on it.

Packet Pickup: There was no suburb race packet pickup for this race, probably due to the fact that it was a true local neighborhood race. Fleet Feet Lincoln Square is easy to get to and there were multiple days to pickup your packets as well as race day pickup which I rarely take advantage of! I came on Friday to get my stuff and the staff is always friendly and smiling.

Parking/Bag Check: If you read the participant guide prior to the race, then you knew which streets were going to be closed and what times they lasted until. I know that neighborhood well enough so parking was plentiful and I didn't get there too early. The bag check was easy to find near the start line and it looked like many took advantage of it.

Race Start: There's something about the start line energy that gets me pumped up for every race. RAM Racing always kills it with motivational loud music and words of support for the runners. There were plenty of announcements as well as time updates so people could start to migrate to the corrals. Another great thing that RAM Racing includes is the start line National Anthem. They always seem to pick a singer with a great voice! The 3 corrals were started with about a minute interval between them. I didn't realize that there were 2500 runners for this race!!

Course: The course runs through one of my favorite Chicago communities and right next to my all time favorite pizza place ever. The course is pretty flat but there were plenty of speed bumps throughout the streets. The awesome volunteers stood by each bump with megaphones to warn all of the runners. The support along the smaller race was incredible, Many people were sitting outside their homes to watch and cheer the runners along. There was one aid station with Nuun and water but for a 5k race, that was more than enough.

Finish Line: Seeing the enormous finish line marquee always gives a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. The crowds were enormous along the entire last quarter mile. The volunteers were amazing as they always are with every RAM race. The post race area was filled with the usual freebies like bananas, water, chips, crackers, and nutrition bars.

Swag: The t-shirts for this years race were great! I love a red tech shirt with a cool logo and this didn't disappoint. The sizing was just right and while I don't wear the race shirts on the day of the race, I do wear it for training the day before the race.

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(2016)
"North Shore Turkey Trot 5K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I've run almost all of the RAM races simply because they always do a great job from registration to post race. The North Shore Turkey Trot was no exception. I've run this particular race for the last few years mostly because it's in my hometown. There were some cold years and today was actually pretty decent out.

Registration is always simple on RAM's website and I really like the way I can log in and most of my data is filled in automatically. There was a 5K or a 10K option but considering I am injured and having surgery soon, I opted with the 5K. This was another sell out year since the Turkey Trots are extremely popular. I'm glad I got in early!

As for the packet pickup, there was only one date and location for the bibs and the line was a little long at the Fleet Feet Deerfield store. It moved along and there were donuts and juice waiting for the customers. The staff there is always friendly and they were moving quickly! Over the years, the Turkey Trot has always given out great clothing for the goodie bags including sweatshirts and pajama pants. This year's long sleeve shirt is outstanding!

The race course itself runs through the scenic north shore town of Highland Park and crowds are pretty supportive. I love the Star Spangled Banner before races and this year, there was a young gentleman who nailed it! The post race area had the usual water bottles, Clif Bars, and the BEST APPLE PIES! Please keep these coming for years to come!

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(2016)
"My First Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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When I began running a few years ago, I did set a goal that I wanted to run a marathon at one point just to say I did it. I had the opportunity to run a few over the last four years but wanted my first to be the Chicago Marathon. I’m not sure why it had to be that one, but it did. So each year that I didn’t get into the lottery, I was depressed but also a little happy because I was truly doubting my ability. When I applied for the 2016 and got in, I was overwhelmed with excitement and fear. I was really going to do this. I knew I had to train properly.

I went to the Expo planning to meet up with fellow BibRave pros Heather and Mark and ran into BibRave co-founder Jessica! The excitement and energy at the expo was off the charts. There were so many vendors and great people to meet and this is why I wanted to run this race!! Seeing my fellow BibRave Pros that I’ve run so many races with is always great to me!

As for the race itself, I tried to go to bed early but was so anxious that I got very little sleep. I woke at 4am and headed out to my early routine of walking around Chicago in the dark and people watching to see how everyone else preps for this race. I’ve run big races before but nothing close to this size. There was so much happy energy from everyone! The morning was a little chilly out and I didn’t want to gear check so I just shivered and dealt with it. After the sun broke out, energy levels picked up and I headed over to my corral. I was assigned to corral F in the second wave. No big deal as I’ve never run this distance before. I looked out for the realistic pacing group of 4:30 in my corral and told myself to stick with this group.

The start energy is just amazing and roar of the crowds gets you warmed up quickly. Inching your way towards the start line was an exciting feeling and then…you’re off to conquer! The first few miles felt great. I had virtually no pain and my pace was exactly what I wanted. The course was beautiful and the crowds were insane! I could actually do this! Then came mile 8. I felt a twitch in my knee and the pain subtly began. I tolerated it through mile 15 and I slowed my pace down because I needed to finish this! What helped me through these tough miles was seeing Mark at mile 5 on that bullhorn and encouraging the runners, the fans cheering through the neighborhoods, and seeing my family at mile 14. The pain definitely got worse as the race went on and at mile 16 I ended up with a severe calf cramp that made me hobble to the side to stretch it painfully out. I’ve had cramps before but never this debilitating. Onward I went through mile 24 through some of the best neighborhoods and energy I’ve ever seen at races. Pilsen neighborhood…thank you for such incredible and supportive people along the route. Your inspirational words and snacks pushed me through! The last couple of miles along Michigan Avenue were tough but as I neared the final turn, the crowds were still loud and that beautiful finish line was a sight I needed to see.

This race taught me a lot about my body and its limitations. It taught me to be humble and grateful I can even run. It taught me that there are people who don’t even know you but are willing to say inspiring things. It taught me that there are good people in the world. It taught me that I need to push myself to strive for goals. It taught me that I can do things that I thought were unattainable in the past. It taught me that runners are a crazy group. It taught me that runners are the most supportive athletes. It taught me that I can.

The Expo: Unbelievable! So much energy and so much to buy! I've been to many expos but this takes the cake. They do it right and cater to the runners!

The Medal: What can I say?? It's my first marathon medal and it's just so darn beautiful. I didn't get it engraved but it's set up for it if you chose to.

The Course: Scenic and energetic. The crowd support is unreal and the volunteers did an incredible job pushing you! The skyline and running along the main Loop streets is such a huge rush!

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(2016)
"Mag MIle Half Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Mag Mile Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

I love running fall half marathons and very much love running the races along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront. The Mag Mile Half Marathon caught my eye earlier in the year from their colorful logo and awesome looking medal. This race used to be called the Magnificent Mile Women’s Half Marathon and for this year was renamed. There were also two charities that sponsored the event. The first was the American Cancer Society and the second being the Chicago Help Initiative.

The Mag Mile Half had packet pickups on two different dates at the Deerfield, Elmhurst, and Old Town Fleet Feet stores. I went to the Old Town store as parking is usually pretty easy and the store just has so much eye candy of running gear! Plus, I knew I had to get the new Saucony Chicago Marathon shoes! As always, RAM Racing has friendly workers handing out the packets quickly and always wishing you luck. The shirt is a long sleeve cool design in either pink or black. Also included is a Fanny May Mag Mile salted almond chocolate bar.

The race itself starts as many of the RAM races do in Grant Park and right at the crack of dawn. There’s always plenty of parking garages in the area for reasonable fees. Everything was well labeled for gear check which opened at 5:30am as well as the plenty of port-o-potties. The course takes the runners along Randolph and onto Michigan Avenue which is the only race to do so. You eventually turnaround and head south back down Michigan and around by the Lakefront path. There is just so much to see with the skyline and running past McCormick Place and Soldier Field. The course then heads back north towards Grant Park and the finish line. I do like how you can see the leaders heading back along the adjacent path as they cruise to victory. It’s always inspiring to see just how fast some runners are!

The post race party is just intensely exciting as expected. There are always tons of supporters and your name being announced as you cross the finish line. You are immediately greeted by volunteers handing out the blue cold and wet towels before receiving your incredibly cool medal! It was bigger and heavier than I thought from the pics I’ve seen. There is a also a table of bagged goodies for the finishers. There were chips, a great Corner Bakery sandwich, and an Eli’s Cheesecake. The post race area also had a huge set up of local vendors and shops like Fleet Feet Sports, The Brookfield Zoo with a cool Sloth, post race massages by Athletico, Columbia, and North Face.

All in all, a job well done by RAM Racing and Fleet Feet for putting on yet another great race and post race party. And, as always, it was great to see my fellow BibRave Pros Eric, Heather, and Kim!

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(2016)
"Rock the Night 5K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

Wanting to run this venue for a couple of years now, I'm glad I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. As always, RAM Racing always does such a great job with organizing these events with Fleet Feet.

Packet Pickup was a breeze at Fleet Feet Old Town. I think it's pretty smart to have a packet pickup at a store that stocks eye candy. The staff is always friendly and smiling and there are so many goodies for a runner. I'll eventually get in to get properly fitted for some shoes (Like when the Chicago Marathon shoes comes out!) Being overly OCD, I always get there right as the packets are ready. I've never had to wait more than 5 minutes. The packet came with the bib, some advertising, and a great race shirt.

Parking for the event was even easier at the Waldron Deck near Soldier Field and there was tons of parking available. I was already downtown for other business so I got there extra early to stretch and walk the lakefront paths near the harbor. The parking ended up costing only $20 for the night.

The event itself was just one big party with great food, great beer, and some loud music. I met up with my fellow BibRave Pros Eric and Heather. It made the event even more fun to be there with such excited happy people.

My goal for the race was to PR my 5K but I sadly didn't hit it. My legs just felt heavy and I think it was due to over-training for the Chicago Marathon. As for the race and course, it was very similar to other RAM races heading south under McCormick and then turning around and heading back north along the lakefront paths. It's always a beautiful course when you head north and see the Chicago skyline in all of its glory.

The post race party was top notch with plenty of food and spirits while listening to Maggie Speaks playing all sorts of music genres. The Bells Brewery beer was absolutely great and the line was super long but moved pretty fast. I ended up trying the Oatsmobile and it absolutely hit the spot after a race. I mean, come on, a cold tasty Pale Ale after exerting yourself for a 5K?! The sausages were from Amylu and you had a choice between the savory Apple and Gouda or the Spicy Andouille Chicken. I, of course, opted for the spicy and another home run.

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