Latest reviews by Angie Maske-Berka
The Virtual Criss Cross Challenge was created by the Illinois Marathon. There were various options to register for. There was the west to east route, covering 224 miles. The North to South Route, covering 435 miles. The double route, going both directions for 659 miles. There was also a team option.
Participants had months to cover the distance, beginning on November 5th. When I registered the ending date was the beginning of May, with registration closing in April. While registration has closed, the ending date has been extended through June.
While I was feeling "over" virtual races, I thought hey why not have a place to log all my miles over a period of time. I chose to participate in the 659 mile distance.
The event was very straight forward and easy to participate. Through the website and Race Roster you simply just entered the date, time of day, miles and overall time. If you wanted you could also submit a photo. This system kept track of all the miles you logged, walking or running. This system also had a leaderboard so you could see how you stacked up against the competition and a map so you could see where you were on the route.
The event also had webinars and informational live sessions on their Facebook page. This information was sent via email, so you knew when they were.
Swag was different for each challenge distance. For the double I received a pullover, a facemask, a beanie hat, a challenge token coin and a sample Nuun tablet. It shipped at the end of January.
The other highlight of the event was the very detailed guidebooks. There was one for the west to east route and one for the north to south route. These included tidbits of information about every town you would virtually run through. This guidebook was very thorough, all the history and pertinent information. It makes you actually want to go see these places in person. The state of Illinois should be proud, these guides would be great to pick up at a rest stop.
The challenge for me went by quick. I easily hammered out the west to east route in the month of November. I was doing another challenge at the time, so I was double dipping. I think I was one of the first to finish this distance on the leaderboard. (The leaderboard doesn't account for those who log more than required miles, and puts them in first.)
Then with the brutal winter that would never go away, it took me a while to finish up the rest of the challenge with the north to south route. I did finish the entire challenge on March 22nd. I did not finish first in this one, but I do believe I was in the top 100. It's nice to have the virtual competition.
This was a nice virtual challenge that honors the intentions of the Illinois Marathons. It's a great event and I am happy to take part and support them. While it would be nice for the challenge to sync to my Garmin, I could back log miles at any given time.
Now, maybe it's time to road trip to the places I virtually ran.
The 2021 event took place Saturday, July 17at 7:30 AM. It was sunny, temps in upper 70's with high humidity. The 5k and one mile event were run at the same time.
Registration: Available online with a no t-shirt option for less. Or you could register on race day. Cost was around $20, shirts were guaranteed by a certain time and available first come first serve on race day for an additional $12. The were short sleeve, unisex, cotton.
Packet pick-up: Bibs and shirts could be picked up the morning of the race. If you pre-registered they were handed out in a plastic bag with 4 advertisement papers.
Pre-race: There was parking available near the start/finish for free at the nearby rec complex. Port-o-potties were available. The were a few announcements and the National Anthem was sung.
Race /Course: A route through town
-Terrain: Paved and chip n seal
-Scenery: Rural small Iowa town.
-Course Markings: The course had each turn marked with spray paint on the ground. I don't recall mile markers.
-Spectators: A few people were out and about, lots of empty chairs as people were saving spots for a parade later that day
-Aid Station: Water on course, just before the 2 mile mark.
-Volunteers: plenty and always felt safe on the course. Law enforcement at major intersections.
-Photography: No photographers
-Elevation: While there are no mountainous climbs, I think every hill in town was on the course
Finish / post race: There was a giant clock at the finish and lots of people standing around, only because this is where the food and water was located. There were bananas and granola bars, in addition to ice cold bottles of water. A table of random prizes awarded by raffle was nearby. The timing guy provided printouts of your time.
Awards were held after the race. Prizes to overall and age groups.
Overall: The event has been a tradition of this small town celebration for years. It still keeps it small town charm while drawing a speedy crowd. Great price for your basic 5k needs.
My Race: I can't resist the small town festival race and in my area there are so many happening. I have participated in this event many times over the years and it happened to fit in my schedule this year. I had no expectations but to give it a good effort.
The start was a bit crowded, but once I found my place I tried to push as much as I could. I saw some people I know and said hi as I huffed and puffed up the next incline. The pressure was on to not get passed by them.
I had an uneventful 5k, it was tough with the humidity and the hills, but I managed to find the finish line with a time of 28:13, good enough for 173rd place. It was a super speedy field.
Grandma's Marathon. Saturday, June 19, 2021. 58ish degrees, partly cloudy.
Registration: Typically registration for this event opens in October the year before. I was offered a discount for participating virtually the year before. The cost is around $100. Included was a bib with timing chip, finisher shirt (gender specific, short sleeve) finisher beverage, and a pair of socks! You could add in training shirts and/or bib shipping to the cost. This year the race was capped at half or 4000(?) participants and it sold out quick.
There was plenty of pre-race communication via email and social media. The race didn't get a permit to host an in person event until about a couple months or less before the event. Participants were always in the know.
Expo / Packet Pick up: The expo was held in the DECC starting the Thursday before the event and going late Friday evening. The layout of the expo was different this year, they moved the vendors to the bigger space. The spaghetti dinner was moved and bib pickup was in an area all it's own. Everything was definitely spread out. There was also a specific entrance and exit to the building. Parking was available for a fee at the DECC, or you could walk from downtown.
*I paid to have my bib shipped to me. I was uncertain at the time I registered. I did take the time to walk through the expo this year. It felt spacious for sure, but also felt there might not have been as many vendors. Which is understandable as the world returns to in person events.
Pre-Race: This race is point to point, requiring transportation to the start line. There is a train that leaves early or you can take a bus. There is one central location to catch either mode of transportation at the DECC. There were also a few bus stops around Duluth and Superior that would take you to the start.
*With the scaled back participants, there were not as many bus locations as in the past.
At the starting line there were many port-o-potties in the parking lot of the nearby car dealership. There were bins to toss clothes in provided by Goodwill. This year there was no bag drop at the start, bags had to be dropped off at packet pickup the day before.
There was a rendition of the National Anthem, and then the 148th fighter wing performed a flyover (like 3 times.) Then there was a rolling start. There were no corrals, no encouragement to line up according to pace, no pacers. Once you were close to the start, there were ribbons separating people.
Race / Course:
-paved / asphalt
-roads were closed to traffic
-Spectators were they had access to the course. Some spectators with aid stations offering pancakes, orange juice, candy, pickles, Advil.
-Marathonfoto was on course, in the starting corrals and at the finish line
-There were many aid stations all of them had water in paper cups, blue Powerade in paper cups and ice in paper cups. There were water refill stations and small plastic water bottles this year too. There were a couple of stops with energy gels and fruit. Port-o-potties at the aid stations.
-Medical stations were near most aid stations. Vaseline available here.
-Relatively flat. There is Lemon Drop hill at about mile 22, but there are no steep climbs.
-Police at all major road crossings
-Every mile is marked with a balloon and spray paint.
-Views of Lake Superior
Finish / Post Race: An arch an timing mat greeted you at the finish. A volunteer handed you a medal, a beer ticket and a heat sheet. There was an option to grab a bottled water and take some photos. Then you walked through the post race food area - I was given a leftover gear check bag. I passed on the banana, but grabbed a Nature Valley granola bar, bag of Old Dutch Chips and a can of chocolate milk. There were also bagels with peanut butter and yogurt.
The post race area was a short hike to Bayfront Park - just under another mile. This is where there was a band, the post race beverage and a place to meet back up with your friends. Festivities went on until 10pm.
*The finisher shirt was handed out this year only with your bib. Usually you earn that at the finish line.
My race: My training had not been the best, I ran an endurance event as my long run and battled a shin splint. I was looking to finish and feel good.
It was good to be back at the start line of a big race again, I was worried as a slower runner and with registration capped it would feel lonely out there. However, from the start to finish, I never felt alone. The port-o-potties and corrals felt just like a normal race day, but more relaxed. I even started with my husband.
The miles passed by quickly. By mile 3 I was chatting to the guy who runs to the start from the finish line. At mile 5 I was starting in with the chews I brought with me. Maybe at mile 10 the chaffing started, I was on the look out for vaseline. At mile 13 I used a port-o-potty. At Mile 17 I was looking forward to the fruit stop, but instead was surprised to get a pickle. I was happy to see the Jolly Rancher stop at mile 18. At mile 19 I was stopping to walk through each aid station to grab a water. I carried Tailwind with me as I do not really care for Powerade. I made sure to take notivce of the troll dolls. Around mile 21 I grabbed pickle juice. Then just before mile 22 I snagged a watermelon slice. I crested Lemon Drop hill and shuffled past businesses in Duluth. There were orange slices and more water and ice stops. I really wanted a Coca Cola. The last hill after mile 25 I remember chatting with a spectator who was going to the finish line. Then it was the last few turns (the only major turns of the course and it feels like there are 65 of them.) I was in the finisher chute, I heard my friend cheering me in, then my husband. Next thing I knew I had a finisher medal around my neck.
The finisher area really kept you moving this year, no place for gathering. I wasn't too interested in the post race eats, but I did try that chocolate milk in a can, it wasn't bad.
I met my husband and friend at our traditional post race venue, Little Angie's I felt really good with my 5:22:XX finishing time and celebrated with all the salty foods (chips and french fries) Colas and of course fried ice cream.
We really lucked out with the weather, the day before it was 80+ degrees and the day after it rained all day.
I didn't make it to the official post race party until later that evening. I really like the venue for the post race, but it's really not the same so far away from the finish line.
Overall: I love this race! You get a closed course, lots of support and excellent views (on a clear day.) I will always try to run this race. I also appreciate the communication that was provided in a year filled with so much uncertainty.
This is my 8th year participating in a Grandma's event in some capacity. I have run the half and have participated virtually.
Run to Exile. Saturday, June 12, 2021. 75 ish degrees, sunny. Exile Brewery, Des Moines, IA.
Registration: Available online, until race day. The price tier was spelled out on the website, topped out at $50. Included was a short sleeve tech shirt, a post race beer, timing chip and pint glass.
Expo / Packet Pick up: There was no expo. You could pick up your packet starting the Thursday before at the local running store and then at the brewery on Friday and Saturday morning.
Pre-Race: There were 2 events taking place, and each race was at a different start time. So as each race started there were announcements and music on a loud speaker.. The 10k started at 8:45, with the 5k following at 8:56. There was a bank of port-o-potties set up. Parking was available on the street in the surrounding areas. The race encouraged parking in a specific ramp (3 blocks away) and it was free!
After an instrumental version of the National Anthem, it was time for the rolling start. A group of 10(ish) people were told to approach the starting line, encouraging the speedier participants to approach first. When that group got to the top of the hill (yes it started with a short uphill) the next group was to go. It was a combination of encouragement from an announcer and people just lining up in groups and going. It appeared to work well, no clustering. However, people do not pay attention and the 5k walkers were starting with the speedier 10k runners. When all 10k people were through, then the rolling start of 5k runners did the same.
Race / Course: Both courses started at the brewery, both being some version of a loop. The 10 split off and went around the lake. Each had some out and back sections.
-paved / asphalt
-roads were closed to traffic
-little to no spectators
-photographer at the start/finish
-one water stop for the 10k about mile 4.
-Police at all major road crossings
-don't recall mile markers
Finish / Post Race: An Arch, timing mat, clock and announcer greeted people at the finish. The post race food was splayed on a table - bananas and granola bars. There were tubs of water bottles iced down. There were trash receptacles. There were 3 beer choices, a volunteer marked your bib and gave you one of your choice.
Results were posted on a TV screen from the race timing trailer, awards only for overall finishers.
There were tables set up in the brewery parking lot in addition to the outside brewery space. Plenty of room for everyone to have their space. The brewery also had breakfast burritos for sale.
There was a stein holding contest after the race.
My race: I was looking forward to my 2nd in person race in over a year, plus there was beer at the end. I was also a week out from a marathon, I didn't have many expectations but to just enjoy the race.
During the announcements it was noted there were not many 10k runners. Many thoughts ran through my head, but I knew I just had to run my own pace.
I really had an uneventful race. I was familiar with the course as it's part of the Des Moines marathon. As the temperature warmed up I think struggling with the heat was my only problem, which was minimal as I have been training in it. There was only one water stop, and I say it all the time, should have brought my own hydration.
I came to the finish line and felt good. close to an hour and a great for me pace. Anymore that is the goal, feel good when I am done. When I checked my results, I was third in my age group.
After the race it was nice to enjoy race day atmosphere again. We watched the stein holding contest and took it all in.
Overall: I think this race was a good combination of an actual event and still following what remains of CDC guidelines. The feeling of race day was there, but more laid back. I've actually run a few events by the same organization, and I will say I might like this one the best so far.
It's really hard to write a review in this time of current events. In Iowa the guidelines were dropped so fast, yet at the same time events couldn't make the same changes. I would suggest registering early to save on the price, but it's a laid back event with a chance to still be competitive.
Trek for the Schools 5k. 8:00 AM, 70 and humid, overcast. Riverside, IA The event is part of TrekFest (yes, a festival centered around Star Trek.)
Registration: Available online, until race day, $30. Shirts were not guaranteed after a certain date.
I registered late and still received a short sleeve, unisex cotton shirt inside a drawstring bag with a slap coozie, lip balm, pancake breakfast coupon and letter opener.
Expo / Packet Pick up: There was no expo. You could pick up your bib and shirt before the race. There was plenty of parking in a nearby lot or on a side street. There was live music by Dave Zollo. The port-o-potties were located steps away from the finisher arch and pick up area.
Pre-Race: Participants were told to line up behind the spray painted starting line. There was a short description of the course including there might not be a volunteer at every intersection, but each would be spray painted with an arrow. A child said "go" and the race was on!
Race / Course:
-paved / asphalt
-roads open to traffic
-little to no spectators
-one water stop around the halfway point with plastic water bottles
-Police at major road crossings, most other intersections had volunteers
-no mile markers
Finish / Post Race: An inflatable arch signaled the finish. A volunteer was writing bib numbers down in the order people finished. There was no clock or timing chips. A volunteer was handing each finisher a bottle of water and a banana.
Results and awards were announced minutes after the last finisher. Overall winners and age group.
My race: I was one week post marathon and I can't resist a small town 5k. This one I had never ran before and it fit into my schedule. I arrive with plenty of time to get my bib, listen to the live music and get a short warm up run.
When it was time to line up for the race, I was shocked at the low number of participants. Maybe 50 people? There were at least 3 other area 5ks the same day.
This is a tough race course, while the hills are not steep, I am certain we ran every hill in Riverside! Add in the humidity and I did all I could to keep pushing the pace. At one point I had my sights on catching someone in a white cotton tank top & baggy shorts, but I just couldn't do it.
I came to the finish line and when I looked at the distance on my watch I had 3.03, so I kept running to get to 3.10. I had a decent for me time of 28:xx minutes. This was good enough to win my age group. However, I think there were only 2 of us.
Overall: This is the definition of small town racing. I like these races, you can explore these small towns on foot and get a feel for the community. Despite the course being a tad short, the price was fair and I felt like this was a great little 5k.