Latest reviews by Frank Nardomarino

(2016)
"BTN Big 10K"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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I've wanted to run the BTN Big 10K for the last couple of years but my schedule never worked out until this year. I've had friends run this and raved about the whole experience and I was excited to take part. Thankfully, a few of us BibRave Pros were given the opportunity to be part of the RAM Racing event. Even if you are not a Big 10 alumni, the whole college rivalry and support for everyone cannot be beat. There were 2 race distances to choose from. The 10K started at 7am and the 5K started at 8am.

Packet pickup was a breeze at the Fleet Feet Sports Old Town store. You also could have had the packet mailed to you at a minimal cost to save you a drive. I chose to pick up my stuff because, well, it's a running store! There were four days to choose from when picking up your gear and I went on the first day due to sheer impatience and eagerness to see my bib and shirt. The folks there were friendly and it was extremely well organized. I was in/out in less than 10 minutes.

My goal for the race was to hit my 10k PR since I was familiar with the course running many of the RAM Racing events downtown Chicago. Parking was plentiful if you planned ahead. I always reserve a spot early using a parking app on my phone within a 5 minute walk to Grant Park. I woke up around 4:30am to head out and sight see/stretch before meeting my fellow BibRave Pros. There were tons of runners around the streets heading to the race all wearing their Big 10 jersey shorts. You definitely couldn't get lost if you were new to the area by the sheer number of people heading to the start line.

The BTN Big 10K is a much bigger race than I expected and the prerace area was packed with tons to do. Besides taking selfies and scenery pics, you could chat with the alumni at every one of the schools at their respective tents, pick up your school sunglasses, talk with the vendor tents, or just people watch. There was a gear check area organized by bib numbers with extra bags and pins if you forgot to bring one.

The corrals were well organized and easily labeled. There were tons of friendly volunteers doing everything they could to ensure you had a great experience. I was in Corral C and it seemed that there were a few hundred runners in each of the corrals. The start line faced the skyline heading north and these RAM races always do a great job getting you pumped up to start with some loud motivating music and with a great rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The emcee for this year's race was our own Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber.

As for the course, we were lucky enough to have 70 degree weather at the beginning though it definitely warmed up as we raced. The race goes North through the city, under the tunnels of Randolph and Lower Wacker Drive. Most of the races I've run downtown follow similar routes in the tunnels which aren't very scenic. But, when you exit and head south along Columbus, you see the crowds on the sidewalks with their motivational signs and words of encouragement. After a little longer down South Michigan Avenue, you head east towards the lakefront past the Shedd Aquarium before heading north along the beautiful lakefront paths. Running past Monroe Harbor was the best part for the scenery but the path is a little beaten with some decent potholes. There were volunteers near the dangerous areas to warn you about them. The race finishes in Grant Park to a roaring crowd and post race festivities.

At the finish line, you are greeted by dozens of volunteers with cold RAM Racing towels and pools to dip them in. You also have the usual water tables and a well labeled area guiding you to the finishers medal tables. Every school had a small table with volunteers handing out your school specific finisher medal. Then you proceeded to the food area with the bananas and Clif Bars.

Your race entry also gets you a beer ticket, sunglasses ticket, and food ticket all attached to your bib. The post race beer was Goose Island! The sausages were either spicy of savory and I opted for the spicy which definitely hit the spot. If you were a tailgater, then this BTN Big 10k was perfect for you. There were tons of activities to do for all ages. I didn't get a chance to participate but there was a huge tailgate game area with a 40 yard dash area, a field goal area, inflatables area, and a bunch of smaller games for the kids.

All in all, the ambience of this race is just plain old fun. While racing a smaller distance with big crowds, you also get a chance to support local charities like the Special Olympics Chicago as the official charity. I had a ton of fun running with some great people and will definitely be a part of it next year.

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(2016)
"North Shore Classic Half Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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The North Shore Classic half marathon run by Ram Racing has been a popular race along the northern Chicago suburbs for many years. I’ve run this race for a few years and it’s probably my favorite half marathon. Besides being wildly popular by the local businesses and runners, the course is just beautiful running through the beautiful suburb of Highland Park. If you haven’t run this race before, you definitely need to add it to your list of must-dos.

Training -
I promised myself that I would train properly and shoot for that PR in my hometown race. Even though I’ve run this race for a few years and know the course layout and what to expect, I still wanted to do my best and take every training opportunity seriously. I knew that the Park Avenue hill would be brutal so I ran hills to gain some speed and strength on every hill I could find. My best previous half marathon time was a 2:04 and I really wanted to break that 2 hour wall. My strength and endurance was definitely where I wanted it to be but my race day mistakes got the best of me. I neglected to eat any breakfast and should have known better that the body needs the calories and energy to sustain distance runs. I also only carried a couple of GUs and took in only one of them. And I wondered why I hit that “wall” around mile 10 for this race…

Lessons learned!

Packet Pickup:
Ram Racing has always done a great job for race packet pickups throughout the Fleet Feet stores in Chicago and Deerfield. I obviously chose Deerfield since it was closer to me. Being super OCD, I’ve always been early to the pickup and while I was 45 minutes early, they were up and ready to go! The staff is always friendly and fast at what they do. This years shirt was pretty darn cool and colorful and I heard a ton of people saying the same. There were also some ads in the bag for future races.

Pre-race:
I woke up for the race around 5:30am and headed in anticipating that I would hydrate and meet some fellow BibRavePros before the race began. It was a pleasure to meet up with Heather (We met at the 2014 Chicago Marathon), Lisa, and Mark. What a great bunch of enthusiastic BibRavers! We met around 6:30ish near the start line to chat and take some pre-race photos. I love hearing what the other runner’s goals are and live vicariously through them. As for the whole pre-race ambience, it just cannot be beat seeing all of the excited faces and outfits that some of the racers brought. The weather was about 65 degrees and overcast at that time with a bit of humidity in the air. I don’t mind running in that weather but you’ll read more about that later. The corrals are well organized and having pacers in this race was a huge help to people. They were so motivating and friendly! Everything began with the Star Spangled Banner and you’re off!

Race Course:
Being from and working in this town still makes me appreciate the beauty that the north shore of Chicago exudes. As I’ve said before, I have run this race a few times and still look forward to running through parts with breathtaking views. The first few miles run through downtown Highland Park heading south towards Ravinia and the small town feel. It tends to get quiet through this part as you head towards Lake Cook Road and always challenges the mind in the beginning of a half marathon. Once you head north for miles 3-7, you run through some beautiful neighborhoods and some very supportive residents with signs and highfives. Then, you hit that infamous Park Avenue hill! Going down is no problem as I like descents but that hill going up just takes its toll on the quads. Once you survive that obstacle, the course runs north towards Fort Sheridan and all of the historic buildings. This is where the crowds seemed bigger and got you more excited for the rest of the course. You pass by a few views of Lake Michigan and then hit the Leonardwood North and South loop through the old parade grounds and some scenic views. Then you head back south towards the last couple of miles and that spectacular finish line. I always seem to find the last bit of energy I can muster on that last mile along St John’s Avenue with the huge supportive crowds. I can’t say enough about the extremely supportive and active volunteer along the course route at the aid stations. They were so excited and all gave some sort of encouragement by saying “Great job!” or “Push yourself!”

Post-race:
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the sight of the finish line gets me every time. The North Shore Classic and Ram Racing gets it right. The intersection of St. John’s and Elm Place is about as nice as it gets for a smaller race. The crowds gather on each side with their inspirational signs and loud cheers. Ram Racing also announces the finishers by name and city as they cross the line and I’m sure it’s not an easy job! Once you cross, you are greeted by the volunteers with your medal and an awesome cold towel. You’re then greeted by the volunteers handing out water and finally you are greeted by the volunteers handing out the goodie bags. You get the usual assortment of chocolate milk (perfect!), banana, pretzels, and bagel.

Ram Racing and Fleet Feet have partnered up for another great event and obviously well organized. I will continue to participate in this race as long as my body holds up!

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(2016)
"Cinco de Miler"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
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The Cinco de Miler is a must-do race for the whole ambience and fun race atmosphere. This was my first time running this race but I've always been a huge fan of the RAM Racing series and now that Fleet Feet has partnered with them, it can only get better! This was a 5 mile race (if you didn't translate!) and I overheard a few people saying that they thought it was a 5k. Surprise - two more miles for you! Every time I run one of the races downtown with such a beautiful backdrop I swear I'm moving here. This was such a well run race and the crowds seemed to have a great time even though the weather took a turn for the worse.

When I arrived, the weather was sunny and mid 60's and I thought "Perfect running weather!" As we looked north above the skyline, we saw dark clouds making a quick entrance and a few lightning strikes took center stage. The race organizers took immediate action and guided everyone to take some shelter under the Waldron Deck. Everyone herded across the street and waited out the quick storm. We were probably under shelter for about 10-15 minutes before if passed over us. As we made our entry back over to the starting area, the winds had changed and it was definitely a little cooler out. No one seemed to be bothered as everyone made the best of it and still enjoy a fun race.

The Packet Pickup/Swag - I love when there are multiple dates and locations for the packet pickups and since the Deerfield location was closest to me, I opted to pick up here. I was pretty darn early for my pickup and that didn't even matter. They were well prepared and already handing out the race bags for a super quick process. The RAM Racing bag came with the bib and pins and a super colorful shirt.

The Starting Line - The starting corrals were well labeled with big signs until the heavy winds knocked them down. They were big enough for the groups and each corral was let out every 3 minutes. Before heading out on the course, we were greeted with the anthems from Mexico and the Star Spangled Banner. The announcer really got everyone excited to be out there. He was followed up by some grateful words by the Fleet Feet Owner David Zimmer. After that, the CEO of the 100 Club also thanked everyone for begin out there and a little about the charity.

The Course - After running off the starting gun, you head out south under the McCormick tunnel through a bit of darkness and then south for about 2.5 miles before turning around and heading north along the lakefront. How can you go wrong with the Chicago skyline and running along Lake Michigan? The volunteers did a great job with the water/Nuun stations and seeing all of the excited kids handing out the drinks was pretty cool. I like the mile markers with digital clocks to give me an idea of how I was doing without having to look at my watch.

The Finish Line - To be honest, I've never seen a bad finish line! You don't see it until the last 1/4 mile and once it comes into sight, that last bit of energy kicks in and the crowds lined up a few hundred feet before the end. It's always nice to hear the announcer saying your name as you finish and congratulate you!

The Post Race Area - After you get your medal (Cool pinata!) and you round the corner, you are greeted by more beverages before you go back to the starting area for the post race goodies. This year, the food included a warm tamale, Tostitos and salsa, and Coronas! You get one free beer with your bib ticket but can purchase more tickets nearby. I didn't get a chance to ride the mechanical bull but it sure did look fun.

When all was said and done, I was happy with this race aside from the imperfect weather. Everyone seemed to have a great time. They truly did a great job with the course and entertainment.

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(2016)
"Lincoln Presidntial Half Marathon Awesomeness"
Overall
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So this is my first race running for BibRave and I couldn't have picked a better one! This is a must-do race for anyone looking for a fun-filled scenic and historic 1/2 marathon. I always heard great things about the race and had it on my to-do list. I;m glad I had the opportunity to participate in a race that goes all out to ensure the runners have a memorable experience.

Expo - The expo was held at the Double Tree Hilton in the Ballroom and while I didn't stay at this hotel, it seemed to be well organized. I stayed across the street and walked over around 5pm and was greeted by the friendly volunteers who guided you to the lines (alphabetically). The volunteers handing out the packets couldn't have been more polite and enthusiastic. After receiving my goodies and bib, I walked around to see everything else around the expo. The first thing that caught my eye was the pacer boards. I've never seen a posterboard of bios on those that will lead you through the coarse. It showed how many times they've run the Lincoln Half as well as how many marathons they completed. It was nice to see what their goal was for pacing (Neutral splits, start off slow, etc). The rest of the expo had some vendors selling miscellaneous tshirts, socks, GU, and other running items). The last spot I stopped in at was for the Rolling Meadows beer samples. I tried the Abe's Ale and the Lincoln's Lager and well, loved them both. They were small cute shot sized samples just to tempt your senses.

Prerace - I always love the excitement of everyone walking to the start line and scoping out the competition. This start line at 6th and Washington was such a perfect spot in front of the Old State Capitol with plenty of spots for prerace photos. I of course with fellow BibRave Pros, opted to get in some photos with the Abe Lincoln impersonator. This guy is a treasure for this race. They picked the perfect guy to play Lincoln. He was genuinely attired and played that role to a tee with a little humor added in.

Race/Scenery - The start line pacers began to assemble in the area and I picked my pacing group in anticipation of getting a realistic PR. Before we began, the Race Director gave out a few encouraging words and handed the microphone over the Abe himself for a great funny speech before the sounds of firing muskets starting us running. I loved that part of the race that gives you chills to the roaring crowds! The race takes you through some extremely beautiful areas through cobblestone and brick streets in some areas. Running past some historic buildings with actors dressing the part and encouraging you as the runners went by. There was so much support along the coarse from residents cheering from their home as well as police officers and volunteers offering their support. Running through the cemetery and along the scenic river were two of my favorite spots to run around. But, nothing beats the finish line. Before you round the corner, you can hear the roars of the crowd and once you see the finish line itself, you get that last bit of adrenalin to push on.

Postrace - Thank you to those volunteers handing you the medals. They were so friendly and congratulating everyone with a medal and some hugs. Right after that, you get enticed with the usual postrace needs like water and gatorade. On the lawn of the Old State Capitol, you can already smell the goodness that is beer and donuts! They also had orange slices, banana slices, and trail bars but of course the postrace beer and Krispy Kreme donuts were the popular choices. The band that played on the stage by the Capitol was just awesome! I'm a fan of any band that has a banjo in it!

All-in-all - This was such a fun race and I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for such an interactive historic race. The Race Director does an incredible job to ensure that everyone has a great time. The Abe Lincoln impersonator is icing on the cake. You can tell that every detail was thought about throughout the entire experience from registration to finish line.

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(2015)
"Galena Lead Rush 1/2 Marathon"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
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I knew that signing up for this race would get me to train a little harder because this elevation was brutal! This was my first race that had such intense elevation changes. I trained hard for it but I probably should have done some more hillwork!

Registration - The staff was extremely friendly and encouraging and there was absolutely no wait for me. The price was hard to beat too!

Course - I was just floored at the layout of this course. It was some of most beautiful scenery you could ever ask for in a race. The first few miles were pretty acceptable and leg friendly with some minor hills but once you hit mile 6...OUCH! Those hills were just painful. I didn't see many people running the big hill but if they did - Bravo to those machines! I'm a big fan of the downhills on the backside and I've heard many people saying that they hate the downhills. I get it but after those substantial uphills, cruising down was right up my alley. The rest of the course was just breathtaking through the windy course leading up to a picture perfect finish line at the base of the ski hill!

Swag - I really feel bad having any complaints at all as the shirt was awesome! This was my first long sleeve shirt from a race and it is absolutely perfect. The only thing I was a little disappointed in was the finishers medal. It was much smaller than I was expecting after seeing a few of the years past medals. I understand that the race was very cost friendly and that may have had an effect on the medals but maybe something a little bigger next year? Maybe some color in it?

Race staff - I don't think you could find a more friendly and supportive group of volunteers along a course. They braved the cold temps and wind to be there for the runners and I can't thank them enough.

Post race party - The finish line at the bottom of the ski hill was just about as perfect as it gets. The finish line cheers were just awesome and everything seemed flawless. Everything you could ask for at the end of a race was there and easily accessible (fruits, drinks, medals, silver blankets!) Plus, the ski lift back to the top was pretty interesting. It was a little windy and cold but after that hilly race, I wasn't about to walk up the hill!

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