Latest reviews by Kristen

(2014)
"Not sweet enough"
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Since I moved to Chicago, I've always noticed the weekend of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K- brunch that day always has incredibly long waits and nearly every person you see walking the streets is wearing their Hot Chocolate themed swag proudly. It seems all you need for a good turnout is a cool sweatshirt and the promise of chocolate at the end!

This was my first year doing the race. The race communication was on point, and I think participants got a good number of emails detailing everything about race weekend. I was irritated that the expo was all the way down at McCormick- seems like a far way to travel for a packet pickup, and I'd much rather just go to Fleet Feet or somewhere in the city. At the very least I wish they had a shuttle or something from the Roosevelt El stop to make it an easier pickup. Once I was in the expo, however, things moved really quickly and I even got some complimentary (delicious) hot chocolate for a taste of what was to come!

I also got to try on this year's hoodie at the expo. I ordered a Women's Small, my normal size, and tried mine on only to find it too large (especially in the sleeves). Since I opened my plastic packaging, I wasn't technically supposed to be able to exchange it; however, a really nice volunteer helped me get an XS instead. Hoodie is comfortable and a good weight- I just wish it had thumbholes!

Race day, however, was nothing short of chaotic. There were so many runners and everyone had a difficult time getting into the corrals. Friends of mine reported being pushed by course marshalls and one compared it to World War Z with the amount of pushing, fence jumping, etc. I have to wonder if race management was equipped for the amount of runners- it seemed like a safety issue. Waves also started incredibly late; friends of mine who were supposed to start in Wave 2 at 7:45 were still crossing the start just before 9am. Unacceptable.

The course itself was fine and a nice mix between downtown and lakefront, and the aid stations were good and you got to grab candy along the way, which is nice. And of course, the chocolate fondue afterwards is delicious, but personally, it wasn't worth dealing with the insanity of the start. I don't think I'll do this race again- I'll use the money I save to buy my own fondue fountain.

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(2014)
"A can't-miss marathon"
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The Chicago Marathon is a major marathon for a reason. Walking up to the start line, it's impossible not to feel like you're a part of something bigger than yourself. With over 40,000 runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators, the city really shines in this race. The course takes you through downtown, up north (with glimpses of the lake and memorable stints through Boystown), back south to downtown, out west to Pilsen and Chinatown, back east and further south, and then finally north on Michigan Avenue for the last stretch before the dreaded 'hill" on Roosevelt.

Things I loved about this marathon- the crowd support (so many cheer stations!) and the community among runners can't be overstated. The course takes you on a tour of Chicago, the volunteers are engaged throughout the entire race (love that they hand out Vaseline at certain stations), the aid stations are incredibly well-stocked and consistent, and it's easy to get to the race using public transit. Chicago knows what its doing! The expo is also amazing and huge- I would recommend going on Friday so that you can walk around without worrying about tiring your legs out before race day.

Things I didn't love- so disappointed in the technical t-shirt for this race. It's the same style shirt you get for running a neighborhood 5K, and it's dark grey with just the Bank of America logo on it. I mean, considering I paid $185 for this race, surely they could come up with a little cooler of a design, right? I might not even keep this shirt.

This was my first marathon and while I'm hooked, I'm also a little sad knowing that my next marathon probably won't be anywhere near as amazing as this one was. Definitely a great race for first-time marathoners and a must-do for any race junkie!

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(2014)
"Great bling and a fun course"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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The Nike Women's Race Series has a reputation as the end-all and be-all for female runners, and for good reasons. Nike puts on a show from start to finish, and the end result is a fun, girl-centric weekend that makes this the perfect run-cation with friends.

What I Loved:
-You can't review a Nike Women's race without talking about the Tiffany's necklace. This year's design was a vertical bar with a San Francisco-inspired pattern engraved on it, on a long chain. Beautiful.
-The course. Despite being a Chicagoan with little hill experience, I think this course was definitely manageable, even for a beginner runner. The first hill at mile two was long but most people were able to run up it. The monster hill at mile 10 was TOUGH, but I loved the way Nike used signage to alert you that the hill was coming and to motivate you to get over it. The cheering section at the top of mile 10 (especially the November Project SF group) was amazing as well!
-The course support for the race was few and far between, but Nike did have cheering stations set up regularly featuring gospel choirs, local cheer squads, drum groups, a "chocolate mile" at mile 11, and more. Crowd from mile 11 on was good.
-The goody bags were stuffed with snacks, and the finisher's tank top is a great quality technical tank.
-The expo has amazing sponsors and activations. Whole Foods, Spotify, Paul Mitchell, Neutrogena, Nuun, and more.
-Finisher's chute was awesome, with chocolate milk, banana, a Whole Foods bag filled with snacks, and of course, the necklace.
-Post-race festival is nice and spread out, with a huge finisher's boutique and large stretching area.
-I've heard that in years past, the finisher's chute was really backed up due to the Tiffany's pick up, but that wasn't the case this year, since the handsome men in tuxes weren't the ones handing out the boxes (volunteers did)
-I was lucky enough to have access to the VIP tent postrace and it was amazing, with a full bar, HUGE breakfast buffet (including donuts and breakfast burritos), lounge areas with couches, and massages. Definitely worth the splurge.

What I Didn't Love So Much:
-As many people have mentioned, the Expo will have lines no matter what time you go. I went on Friday around 11 and didn't do half the things there because the line was so long.
-The start line was a mess. I was in the 8-8:59 corral, and my first three miles were very slow due to having to pass walkers. I realize that this is a race geared towards first time half marathoners, which I love, but walkers should have been at least in the next corral back.
-The VIP area before the race didn't have separate bathrooms, which I thought would have been a given, or bananas as a pre-race breakfast option, another typical given.
-Around mile 2, there was quite a bit of confusion as the runners turned to go right and follow the course and volunteers started yelling at us to go straight. I and several other runners stopped in confusion, eventually turning right to follow the original path. I realized later that they were splitting us up to thin out foot traffic (they did it again later in the race as well), but it was poorly executed and a little stressful.
-I found the aid stations a little lacking. The first aid station I ran through showed that it was passing out water, which I took. I then went back for a second cup and was surprised to taste not water, but Nuun. Not what I was expecting and not really what I wanted. There were a ton of food options later on in the course- Cliff shot blocks, Lunabars, which I found to be somewhat unnecessary but a nice option for some runners. Also, tons of trash cans for people to toss water cups- a very San Fran touch.
-One of the biggest calling cards of these race series is that in years past, a fireman in a tux or something has handed you your Tiffany's necklace. They didn't do that this year, to cut down on lines, which was great with me; however, instead, the fireman were just awkwardly standing in the middle of the post-race festival waiting for girls to ask for pictures. I think it would have made a lot more sense for Nike to place the handsome guys by the photo opportunity tents, where they had four different backdrops you could take your picture with, instead of just in the middle of a field.

Overall, I think this is a great "splurge" race worth doing at least once in your running career!

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(2014)
"Fun First Time Race"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
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This was the inaugural Urban Hoedown, and though the crowd was small (maybe 600-700 runners), the race management and runners were enthusiastic, with some runners choosing to run the 5K course in jeans shorts and plaid shirts!

What I Liked:
-The course didn't go into McCormick- I hate the darkness of that part of a route- but on the flip side, the Lakefront Trail was also a lot more crowded since the crowd couldn't thin out on a straight out-and-back route. Win some, lose some!
-Water stations set up around the one and two mile markers, with Gatorade first and water second.
-Since it was such a small race, no lines throughout the festival!
-Fun souvenirs such as a cowboy hat and a bolo tie medal (pictured)
-It felt like a small, hometown 5K fun run, not a big city race. You chose your own corral based on what time you expected to run (honor system!). Everyone was very friendly and accomodating!

What I Didn't Like:
-The tech t-shirts we got were pretty plain- plain white, short sleeved, and just with the Urban Hoedown logo on them.
-Not really any vegetarian options at the food festival

After the race, you could enjoy a complimentary beer (312 sponsored) at the festival, complete with country music and other booths such as a NovaCare booth where PTs would roll you out. This race has a fun theme and an easygoing attitude and hopefully will continue to grow over the next couple of years!

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(2014)
"Great beer, good food, and DRONES"
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I'm not typically a 5K runner, and I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I ran such a race. Luckily, the Rock the Night 5K (formerly known as Terrapin 5K) exceeded my expectations and made me excited for my next race!

Things I Loved-
-The quarter-zip gray tech top- really high quality for a 5K race, and it's almost enough to make me excited for cooler weather so I can bust it out!
-Location near Soldier Field- pretty easy to get to using the CTA
-The fact that people were having their free beer BEFORE the race even started- everyone was out to have a good time!
-The way RAM Racing handled the poor weather and very real chance that we would get struck by lightning- they used their Twitter account to make sure everyone knew the race was still on and the festival set up still looked awesome despite the weather!
-The post-race food and drink- It's pretty standard for a race to give you a free beer afterwards, but instead of going for a cheap domestic, Rock the Night had Bell's on as a sponsor, meaning I got to enjoy my favorite Bell's Oberon after my race! Also, I was SHOCKED (in a good way!) at the post race food- grilled corn on the cob in the husk and your choice of hot dog/hamburger/veggie burger! As a vegetarian I was THRILLED, plus wow, that's an awesome value for a free meal!
-National anthem was done on electric guitar- cool touch!
-The race directors had drones videoing the start/course/finish- I thought that was absolutely hilarious and awesome.

Things that I didn't love:
-As is pretty standard for races around this area, the course went under McCormick place- however, this part of the course is rarely well lit, and this race was no exception. It was dark, and this was especially nerve-wracking because of the recent storms and puddles everywhere. I was pretty nervous about stepping in a puddle or slipping on a slick spot.
-I wish there had been more tables to stand around in the festival area. Because of the rain, Cassie and I didn't want to sit on the grass, so we stuck to the concrete sidewalk pretty far away from the stage.

My complaints are pretty nitpicky- overall, I thought this was a great race and I would definitely recommend it as a fun 5K to do with friends in Chicago!

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