Latest reviews by Tom

(2014)
"Inaugural Englewood 5K"
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Englewood is a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago that has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous, violent neighborhoods in the city.... So it's probably not the first place that comes to mind when people think about where they would want to run a 5K.... but when a friend of mine told me that the inaugural Englewood 5K was going to be held on November 2nd, I jumped at the chance to sign up for it.

There are a number of reasons for this:

Nothing is ever as bad as it's portrayed by the media. Englewood does have its share of problems, but so do a lot of other places, and pretending like the area between 75th Street and Garfield on the south side is some type of hotbed of criminal activity that must always be avoided at all costs lest something terrible happens to you does a big disservice to the thousands of good hard working people who live there and are doing their best to make an honest living.
I can't claim to have the same experiences as some of the residents in Englewood, but I did grow up on the south side and I spent a fair bit of my childhood living in poverty or near poverty. My mom was a single parent who spent a number of sleepless nights trying to figure out how she would make ends meet for us financially, and when I was in high school, I knew a lot of people who went off to join gangs and sell drugs. I learned a lot from those experiences and even though my life is a lot different now than it was then (thanks to a combination of hard work and luck), I'll still always be more than happy to do what I can to help inspire residents of any south side community to live healthier lifestyles and take pride in their neighborhoods.
When races or other events like this do well, it shows the residents of neighborhoods like Englewood that people from around the city and surrounding areas care about them and their neighborhood and want to do their part to be supportive. Being proud of where you live and knowing that you're part of a bigger community with friends everywhere who care about you and will come out of the woodwork to support you will help you to feel empowered to improve not only your own life but the lives of others around you as well.
Now onto the race itself. The Englewood 5K was organized by Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC which is an organization that embraces nutrition and fitness, while educating individuals on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The theme of this year's race was "Ditch the Weight & Guns" and its purpose is to promote nutrition, fitness, and nonviolence throughout Chicago (with a specific focus on the Greater Englewood community). The idea being that poor health choices throughout a community ultimately contribute to social disorganization and that through events like this one, community members can learn about the benefits of making healthier choices and be inspired to live healthier lifestyles, which will ultimately improve the community as a whole. It makes a lot of sense.

Like I said, this was the inaugural year for the Englewood 5K..... but you wouldn't know that from the way the race was organized. The course, along with the pre and post race activities, volunteers, goodie bags, etc... were all really well thought out.

The course started and ended at Ogden Park, which is a nice open area with wooded edges that's centrally located in Englewood. Packet pickup was available on race day only but it started at 8am and the race itself didn't start until 10 so there was plenty of time for everyone to arrive and get their packets. It was a little after 9 when I got there and the race organizers had just run out of t-shirts, but I was able to write down my contact information and within two days I exchanged a couple emails with Ariana Taylor from Forever Fitness who let me know that she would be mailing my shirt to me. Believe it or not but the fact that the race organizers ran out of t-shirts is actually good news. Close to 1000 people came out for the race which was a lot bigger of a turnout than I think anyone expected.

There was a fun atmosphere leading up to the start of the race and about 20 minutes before it started, there were a few announcements and a prayer, and then at a couple minutes before 10, all of the runners made their way over to the start line.

The course was flat and fast and for the most part was shaped like a giant rectangle - it headed south down Racine, for about a mile, before heading west for a few blocks and then north on Loomis past the other side of Ogden Park... Then it turned east onto 64th street and headed down another half mile or so before turning south again and heading back towards the the Ogden Park entrance at 65th and Racine. There was a small water tables at the one mile marker and a bigger one at the two mile marker and both had plenty of volunteers on hand to make sure that all of the runners were taken care of.... There was also plenty of crowd support - cheerleaders and football players from the local high schools along with some volunteers were standing at various points along the course cheering the runners on and offering high fives and there were also plenty of local residents who stood along the course or looked out their front windows to say good morning and wave to the runners. I heard more than a few people who were watching the race make comments about how they wanted to come out and run it next year.

A big crowd of volunteers and runners stood at the finish line congratulating people and welcoming them. There were also medals for the first 350 finishers (which was pretty cool since finishers medals are not always common in neighborhood 5Ks) and goody bags handed out at the finish line that contained sports drinks, Kind bars, ads for some of the local businesses.

To give a good understanding of how important this race was, not just to Englewood but to the city of Chicago as a whole, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago also came out to run it. Before the race, he said hello to all of the participants and volunteers and took pictures with anyone who wanted one and then after he crossed the finish line, he hung out and gave high fives to everyone who finished after he did.

Overall, I thought this was a great race. I'm not sure if Forever Fitness plans to make this an annual event or not but I'm hoping that they do because I would love to come out and run it again next year.

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(2014)
"Beautiful Location, Beautiful Race"
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2014 was an amazing year for me race-wise. From November of 2013 through March of 2014, I went through my longest stretch without doing a race in at least the last 5 years, but I was able to use that time to focus on strength training and speed work so that once I was ready to start racing again, I had built up a nice foundation for myself and I felt really strong while I was running throughout the entire rest of the year. And I did some awesome races throughout the year too: I got to run past monuments and historical sites in Washington, DC and Philadelphia, past the Oklahoma City Memorial (a trip which also included a visit to Fort Worth Texas and a crazy drive southbound on I-35 to make it back to the airport on time), through the Alaskan Wilderness, and along the oceanfront at Virginia Beach, along with several races throughout the various neighborhoods in Chicago mixed in.... So while I had been looking forward to the Outer Banks Half Marathon in North Carolina for several months, I was fully expecting the experience to be bittersweet since it was also the last race I had planned for the year....

For anyone that's never been to the Outer Banks before, here's a little background on the area: There's no one city or town called "The Outer Banks", the term is actually used to describe a series of barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. To the East of the islands is the Atlantic Ocean and to the West are a set of sounds (Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, and Pamlico). And then to the West of the sounds is mainland North Carolina. There are a number of towns on these islands like Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and Manteo and in a lot of places, the islands are so narrow that a walking from the ocean on one side to the sound on the other side would only take a matter of minutes.

The Outer Banks are also full of beautiful beaches along with a number of lighthouses, spots to camp or stop and look at wildlife and a host of other maritime related attractions (not to mention some amazing seafood). The town of Kitty Hawk is also known for being where the Wright Brothers took their first flight (the specific spot where it happened is now known as Kill Devil Hills, but at the time it was part of Kitty Hawk) and there's a memorial at the spot where they took off from. There's a lot to see and do here, particularly in the summer, so if you're thinking about doing this race and you don't live in the area, make sure you plan to stay for a few days.

Another reason that you'll probably need to plan for a slightly longer trip is that if you're planning on flying in, there really aren't any direct flights into any of the Outer Banks towns. There's a small airport near the Wright Brothers memorial in Kill Devil Hills but the only planes that fly in and out of it are propeller planes that make local trips to the surrounding areas, so your best bet is probably to fly into Norfolk, VA, rent a car and drive about 2 hours or so down the coast. I've done a few races where I've flown in on Saturday morning, picked up my race number in the afternoon, done the race on Sunday morning and then flown back home right after the race. Because of where the Outer Banks are located, it would be a stretch to be able to do something like this, but honestly there's so much to see and do there that you really wouldn't want to do something like that anyway.

The other piece of advice that I'll give anyone that's planning on doing this race is this: before you book a hotel, check out some of the houses in the area that are available to rent for the weekend. I paid about $300 to stay at a hotel on the beach (which wasn't bad for four days especially considering that I could literally walk out the back door of the hotel and be standing on the sand - no complaints there at all), but while I was there, I also met some people who said that they rented a house with six bedrooms and a hot tub for the same length of time for $400 and it was less than 5 minutes away from where I was staying. Houses like that are a lot more expensive during the summer months but since the race is in November during the off season, everything is ridiculously cheap.

So onto the race itself - the Outer Banks Marathon is part of a series of athletic events that are held throughout the year at different locations around the islands. This particular event offers a marathon, a half marathon, and a 6 mile run on Sunday morning and also a 5K, a 10K, and a family fun run on Saturday. I did the half marathon and I was a little bit bummed that I didn't realize that there were races on Saturday too or I probably would have signed up for one of them (especially since I got in Friday evening), but after I did find out about the Saturday races, I looked through some of my old emails and at the race website and noticed that they were mentioned all over the place, so I'll have to blame myself for not paying closer attention.... I'm planning on going back and doing this one again at some point (or maybe doing the Flying Pirate Marathon that's held in May) so next time I'll know better.

The race was pretty well organized - there was a fitness expo that was a little bit bigger than I was expecting for a race this size (about 2500 participants for the half marathon) and runners got goody bags that contained t-shirts, OBX Marathon Cups and a few other things (sunblock, etc..). I should also mention that the race organizers really went out of the way to make sure that they had everyone's transportation needs covered too. Most of the point-to-point races I've done in the past have always required runners to either park near the start line and take a shuttle bus back after finishing the race or park near the finish line at the beginning and take a shuttle to the start, and it's usually one or the other, not both.... but this race had shuttles going back and forth all morning, so you could pretty much park anywhere that was convenient and hop on the next available shuttle to get to wherever you needed to go from there. There were also special shuttle buses for spectators who wanted to watch their friends and family at both the start and finish lines. So the process of getting to where you needed to go on race day was definitely one of the easiest I've ever seen.

The half marathon course was beautiful. It was point-to-point and started in Nags Head and went up along the coast and finished in Manteo. The full marathon course was similar and it just started further back in Kitty Hawk, and the 6 mile course started closer to the finish line. The course offered some really nice views of the coastline, sand dunes, and the sounds and it also seemed to have the perfect mixture of hills and flats along with one huge hill around mile 10 where the course crosses over the Washington Baum Bridge to get to Roanoke Island. I think that the last time I ran up an incline that steep to cross over a bridge during a race was when I ran across the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco marathon... honestly though, it wasn't as bad as it sounds and it was totally worth it because the view of Roanoke Island and Roanoke Sound from the top of the bridge is breathtaking. There were volunteers on either side of the bridge - at the beginning, people were welcoming runners to it and on the other side there was a water table.... and there was also a photographer at the top taking peoples' pictures once they made it all the way up. It made for a great experience. After crossing over the bridge, the rest of the course goes pretty fast - the last couple miles are nice and flat and the finish line is in Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo.

The race medals are really nice - this year's medal had a picture of the Bodie Island Lighthouse on it... and the post race party was good too: great food, beer (of course) and some really good music. The setting for the post race party on downtown Roanoke Island was perfect too. The only real complaint that I had about this race (and this is pretty minor) is that some of the mile markers were off..... not all of them, but the ones that were off were off by almost half a mile in some cases (like for example, when I passed the marker for mile 11, my GPS said 10.6.... but the marker for mile 12 was exactly where it was supposed to be so anyone who ran the race without a GPS probably thought that mile 11 was the longest mile they ever ran in their lives). So hopefully that will get straightened out at some point but like I said, this is a small detail compared to how great everything else was with this race so the only thing I'll really say about it is that if you ever run this one, pay closer attention to what your GPS says than what the mile markers say since it's probably more accurate.

In the end, finishing the race was somewhat of a bittersweet experience like I was expecting because other than a few local 5Ks, I don't have any other big races planned until next March, but I also don't think I could have picked a better race to be my the grand finale for an amazing 2014.

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(2014)
"Nice Local Duathlon in Kankakee State Park"
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A while back, I had a conversation with a runner friend who mentioned that he was getting tired of races becoming so gimmicky. I really don't agree with that statement myself, but I can see where he was coming from with it -

When I started doing races about 11 years ago, there were some big Marathons and Half Marathons... but a lot of the runners I knew tended to sign up for local 5Ks and 10Ks where they would pay about 25 bucks to run through some neighborhoods with a bunch of other people, and then get a t-shirt and a beer at the end of the race. Proceeds typically went towards a local running club or charity. Nowadays, there are color runs, glow stick runs, dress up runs, music runs, foam runs.... you name it. I even did a race a couple years ago where everyone ran in their underwear. The atmosphere at a lot of pre and post race parties has become more carnival like in recent years too with headlining bands and a variety of different restaurants serving various types of food, gourmet chocolate, craft beers, wine, etc....

Personally, I think this is all great. Big races with different themes not only attract new people to the sport, but they also create opportunities for other related businesses by allowing them to participate as well and get exposure for their products or services to people who might genuinely be interested in them. Plus the newer, bigger races also tend to support charities and because of their size are able to raise more money for them.

That being said though, I get it that there are some people who would rather ignore all of that stuff and just go out and run.... and one of the other downsides to all the extra race day celebrations is price - registration for most 5Ks used to be about $20 or $25 but these days it's not uncommon to see prices in the $50 range. Marathons and half marathons are even more expensive - I've seen registration costs ranging from $65 to over $200..... So even for someone who likes all of the race day festivities, I do have to admit that every now and then, paying a few bucks to run a local race with some friends without all the hoopla can still be a lot of fun. And honestly plenty of those races do still exist (do a search for 5Ks in your area on active.com and you'll be surprised at how many you find) - they just don't get mentioned as often as some of the bigger ones because they tend to have a more local focus and attract smaller crowds.

If you're looking for such a race though, and you're interested in doing something a little different from a traditional Road Race, I would suggest checking out the Tri the Du Duathlon that's held during the last weekend of September every year about 45 minutes south of Chicago in Kankakee River State Park.

First, let's make sure we're on the same page about what a duathlon actually is since there seems to be a lot of confusion whenever I mention them, even among runners: imagine taking a triathlon (swim-bike-run) and replacing the swim leg with another run leg (so it's run-bike-run). The second run leg makes all the difference - a duathlon is never just run-bike or bike-run... and it also shouldn't be confused with a biathlon which is an Olympic sport that involves simultaneous skiing and skeet shooting (still not sure how that works exactly). Also just like triathlons, there are different types of duathlons with different distances for the legs. In the case of Tri the Du, the legs are: 5K run - 14 mile bike - 5K run.

Like I mentioned earlier, this is a stripped down local race sponsored by the Tri K Triathlon Club in Kankakee. Most of the participants are local to the south side of Chicago (or the south suburbs) and there are typically only around 100 - 200 participants total. There's no race expo, no goody bag (although you do get a pretty nice t-shirt) and no finishers medal unless you're one of the top three finishers in your age group (although truthfully with such a small number of participants, the odds of getting a medal actually are in your favor). What you do get though is the chance to run through part of Kankakee River State Park on wooded packed limestone trails (twice) and bike through several of the local country roads without constantly being surrounded by huge crowds of other athletes. The weather at the end of September is usually perfect for a race like this too.

There are two options for doing this race: you can either sign up as an individual and do the entire thing yourself or as a two person relay team with one person doing the two run legs and the other person doing the bike leg. The transition point is the same for everyone though - just like a triathlon, there are racks where athletes hang up their bikes and any other gear (helmets, bike shoes, etc...) so they can change really quickly between legs.

The 5K legs are both exactly the same route - they start in front of the transition area and head out and back on a wooded, packed limestone trail which runs alongside the Kankakee river and is mildly hilly (and even though it runs alongside the river, the trees are pretty thick so you won't actually see the water but you will be provided with plenty of shade). Just past the 1 1/2 mile marker there's a turnaround and a water table where runners can get a drink and head back towards the start / finish line / transition area. If you haven't done a duathlon before, I'll say that the second run leg is a killer on your quads and calf muscles. After running one leg and then biking for several miles, getting off of your bike and running again can be pretty rough so make sure to keep that in mind during your training so you can prepare yourself for it.

The bike leg is pretty flat for the most part. The only thing that makes the bike leg a bit of a challenge in this particular race is that since it's on country roads, the only thing around you most of the time is corn and soybean fields which means that there's nothing to block the wind.... so if it happens to be even a little bit windy on race day, you can find yourself battling through some pretty rough headwinds. This seems to be pretty hit or miss though. This was my third time doing this race and 2012 and 2014 were both fine. 2013, however, was pretty brutal.

With such a small number of participants (including a lot of people who know each other and belong to the same running or triathlon clubs), the group can be pretty competitive as far as finishing times go, but everyone is also really supportive of each other on the course, which makes for a pleasant experience. At the end of the race, there's a small awards ceremony where medals and other prizes are handed out to the top finishers and all participants and their friends and family members get food and drinks (there are no food tickets - just a big tent that anyone can stop in and eat). The only downside is that there's no beer at the finish line since alcohol isn't allowed in the State Park.

So, again, there really is nothing fancy about this race but it's still a lot of fun and for being such a small race, it's surprisingly well organized too. You also can't beat the price - I registered late and still only paid $40. I also mostly do road races so getting a race like this in every once in a while to mix things up a little bit is pretty nice too.

I don't know that I would necessarily travel out of my way for this race. I happen to live about 25 minutes away from the State Park so it's convenient. Most of the other participants live in the area as well (although I did hear that someone drove in from Minnesota to do it this year). If you do happen to live in the Chicago area, particularly in the south suburbs, and you're looking to change up your routine a little bit by doing a different type of race which also happens to be pretty small and isn't gimmicky, I would definitely suggest giving this one a look.

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(2014)
"Great Tribute to a Local Runner"
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Cory Blanchette was a teacher and coach at Manteno High School in Manteno, Illinois. He was hit by a car and killed while he was out running in 2011 and he left behind a wife and four kids and countless other people who lived in the area or attended Manteno High School who loved him dearly. So dearly in fact, that in 2012 the town decided start hosting an annual 5K in his honor with proceeds from the race going to his family. This past Sunday was the third year for the race and my second time doing it, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.

Manteno is a village in the far south suburbs of Chicago (off of I-57 just south of the Will / Kankakee County line), and while a lot of people who live closer to downtown Chicago may not have heard of Manteno yet, it's actually one of the fastest growing towns in Kankakee County. Over the last several years it's seen a steady increase in residents while at the same time building up a pretty impressive downtown area with a nice mix of shopping and places to eat, while still maintaining the charm of a small town. Residents who live there, both new and old, seem to truly care about one another (which is one of the reasons this race was put together).

The race itself is also one of the better local 5Ks that I've run. It's not a big race - there are maybe a couple hundred runners total and most of the participants are local to the area (either from Manteno or surrounding towns like Peotone, Bourbonnais, Bradley, etc...) but it's organized almost just as well as some of the bigger races that I've done.

In addition to the 5K, there's also a one mile fun walk and a kids dash. You can either register online or on race day at the high school. Packet pickup is on race morning for everyone, regardless of how you registered (there's plenty of time to register or pick up your packet on race day since registration opens at 8am the race doesn't start until 9). Participants get race t-shirts and a goody bag that contains information about other local races, an outdoor guide to Kankakee County, and coupons for some local businesses and restaurants.

The course starts in front of Manteno High School and heads northeast. Runners go down Westshore Blvd, which borders Lake Manteno (nice houses with the lake visible in the background at some points) before heading west and then north through Legacy Park (nice scenic open area on the northwest side of Manteno). There's a water table in the park at around 1.5 miles into the course (the only one, but being a 5K, that's all it needs, and there are also a couple residents at various points along the course who stand at the end of their driveways and hand out water to the runners as well).

After leaving Legacy Park, the course goes through a couple other neighborhoods in Manteno before heading back to the high school and finishing with a lap around the high school track. Runners are provided with fresh fruit and water after crossing the finish line.

The course is nice and flat with just the right combination of different types of scenery, curves, and straight roads to keep things interesting and it also has plenty of volunteers directing runners and helping out at the start and finish lines. Since a lot of the runners are Manteno residents, there's also a decent amount of crowd support in the various neighborhoods for a race of this size.

This race is a touching memorial to a coach and teacher who was so well loved, not just by his students but also by the entire town of Manteno. My biggest memory of this year's race wasn't actually the race itself though - it was something that happened before the race started when people were still picking up their race packets. Outside of the high school, there was a big banner with a picture of Cory Blanchette on it and some text that said "In Honor Of Coach Blanchette". After I picked up my packet and was on my way out to my car to drop it off, I noticed a family that was getting ready to take a picture in front of the banner.... and a little girl who looked to be a few years younger than my daughter Sara said "I want to stand by daddy" and went and stood next to the picture..... I had a hard time holding it together after that. So the other thing about this race is that it should also serve as a reminder to runners that if you run on open roads, make sure to always be aware of your surroundings, wear reflective clothing, especially at night, and make sure your headphones are set at a volume where you can still listen for oncoming traffic.

Overall, the Cory Blanchette Memorial 5K is a fun race to run in a nice town during a time of year that typically also has really nice weather. The location happens to be convenient for me since I live in a neighboring town that's only about a 10 minute drive from Manteno, but even if I were to move a little bit further away, I would probably still come back to run this one. If you're looking for a nice laid back fall 5K to run and you live on the south side of Chicago or in the south suburbs, you should definitely give this one a look.

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(2014)
"One of my new favorite races"
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"I can't remember the last time I felt this strong this far into a race.... This is awesome!" was my exact thought when I saw the 8 mile marker of the Rock n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Maybe it was because the course was nice and flat.... maybe it was because the weather was nice (slightly humid, but nothing like the Rock n Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon had been a few weeks earlier, and it was also slightly overcast the entire time which kept the sun from beating down on everyone during the race).... maybe it was because I knew that I was running in the same race as some of the best runners in the world.... maybe it was because the course was amazingly scenic and went through one of the most beautiful, historic cities in the United States... maybe I was inspired by all of my friends that I got to see at the start line that morning.... or maybe it was a little bit of all of those things, but whatever it was, this was the best half marathon I've done in a very, very long time.

I think I mentioned in another review that I spent a few years dealing with some personal issues that caused some of my finishing times to slip when I stopped eating and training the right way for a while and how the second half of this year has been a bit of a comeback for me, starting with the Rock n Roll Chicago Half in July, but in another year or so, when I'm ready to look back and pinpoint a specific time when I really started to feel good about running again, it's going to be this race. I felt great right from the beginning - the race organizers could not have picked a better location to start this race - crossing the start line and running up Ben Franklin Parkway towards the Philadelphia City Hall while looking up at the flags of the countries in the United Nations that line both sides of the street is an amazing experience. About 3/4 of a mile into the race, the course turns and heads into downtown Philadelphia and right around the time I was getting ready to take that first turn, I saw the elite runners coming the other way (a group that included Kara Goucher and Deena Kastor), and watching everyone cheer for them inspired me to push myself even harder than I already was. By the time I got to the first mile marker, I actually had to slow down a little bit because I knew that I wasn't going to be able to maintain the pace I was running at for another 12.1 miles without running out of gas. I still felt great though so I only eased up a little bit and continued to enjoy the rest of the course. The second and third miles go past various historical sites in Philadelphia (the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc...) and then around mile 4, the course heads back down Ben Franklin Parkway and towards the Schuylkill River Trail.

Mile 5 goes past boathouse row, which is another scenic, historical area along the river and by the time I got to mile 6, I remembered something that I hadn't thought about in a long time- there used to be a time when one of my goals in a half marathon was to see the sixth mile marker within the first 50 minutes of the race, and my reasoning for that was because I knew that if I could run almost the first half of the race in 50 minutes or less, it meant that as long as I could maintain that pace (or at least fairly close to it) for the second half, I would finish in under 2 hours. I hadn't had that goal for myself in so long that I had completely forgotten about it. I hit mile 6 at just over an hour this time so I knew that a sub 2 hour half wasn't going to happen for me.... but that's fine because it was still the fastest six miles I had run in at least four years and I didn't feel like I needed to slow down at all.... Of course this made me want to push myself even harder, which lead to the whole realization around mile 8 that I couldn't remember the last time I felt as good as I did eight miles into a race.

Right at the end of mile 8, the course goes across a bridge over the river and heads back towards downtown Philadelphia. This area is slightly more hilly than the rest of the course, but the hills are still barely noticeable. I think Philly might even be flatter than Chicago. The part of the course that runs along the river from about mile 6 through mile 11 is also surrounded by trees which would have provided a lot of shade if the sun had come out - it made for a nice pleasant run.

One of the things that made the last mile and a half nice was the fact that I had also done a 5K the day before. I wrote a separate review of the 5K, but basically the two races were part of a series of weekend long running festivals that Competitor Group has been hosting in a select number of cities this year that involve a shorter race on Saturday followed by a longer run on Sunday (and an extra bonus medal for doing both of them... also known as a Remix Challenge). Both races started and ended in roughly the same place and the last mile and a half of the half marathon was identical to the 5K. So like I mentioned in my other post, when I hit mile 11.5, I knew exactly what to expect for the remainder of the race because I had just finished running in exactly the same spot the day before. This part of the course heads back up the river, around the back of the Art Museum and up one final steep hill (the steepest hill in the entire course but it also isn't very long and as soon as you get to the top, the finish line is right there).

The finish line is right next to the "Rocky Steps", which were made famous in the legendary movie. Anyone who wants to run up these steps after the race to do a re-enactment of the scene from the movie can do that, but I saw a lot more people doing it after the 5K the day before than after the half marathon (for obvious reasons).

Competitor Group always provides good entertainment along the course (there were some really good local bands playing at various spots) and they also tend to put together some really good post race concerts and this one was no different. Rusted Root played for runners who wanted to stick around after the race for a bit to reunite with their friends and families, have a beer and pick up their Heavy Medals (the "bonus" medals that are given out to people who do multiple races. I got one for doing both the half and the 5K and another one for doing half marathons in both Virginia Beach and Philadelphia within about a month of each other).

I only have one small complaint about this course - when I crossed the finish line, my GPS said that I had run 13.58 miles.... and normally I would just shrug this off because GPS devices aren't always accurate and they also don't account for some of the back and forth weaving that runners do in the beginning of a race when everyone is settling into their pace groups..... but this time several other people with different types of GPS devices said the same thing - the course appeared to be almost a half mile longer than it should have been and based on the number of people who seemed to have noticed this, it was a little bit too much to be just an anomaly. I honestly didn't care myself because I enjoyed the race so much that I didn't mind stretching it out a little further... but I also know that there were people who might have missed PRs because of the extra distance so I'm hoping that at some point the race organizers will double check the course and make any adjustments to be sure that it really is 13.1 miles and not 13.5. Other than that though, I really can't complain. I had a great time running this race and a great time in Philadelphia too. My next half marathon is in Outer Banks, North Carolina in November. I'm hoping it'll be just as good as this one.....

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