Latest reviews by Kristen

(2014)
"Fun, fast, and a great value for a race!"
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The Chicago Spring Half Marathon is a small race (around 2,000 for the half and 5,000 for the 10K) in May. The race started along the lake at Southwater (near the park at Lakeshore East), and it was a flat, fast out and back course. When I say fast, I mean it- the course is perfect for people looking to PR, and the results from this year were way speedier than other bigger half marathons.

Best things about this race:
-I loved the post-race festival! For a cheap half (I think I paid around $65 when I signed up in January), there was a LOT to do. You could arrange and plant flowers (random, but so pretty!), get a post-race massage (the lines were LONG but that's understandable!), and best of all, Goose Island catered a fabulous breakfast buffet that was free for race participants. Eggs, potatoes, pancakes, and watermelon- amazing, and definitely what I needed after 13.1!
-The swag: Nice looking light green tech t-shirt with the Chicago skyline running sideways down the back.
-The medal: I'm not big on medals, but this one had a Chicago-light blue ribbon and the medal had the Chicago star emblem. Nice, heavy weight to it too!
-The weather: Okay, so the race directors had nothing to do with this, but it was a perfect day for running!
-Fast lines: There were lines for gear check before and after the race, and at the results tent, but they moved quickly.
-End of the course: We ran right on the water and there was way more room to spread out!

Things that weren't so awesome:
-Lakefront trail crowding: The parts of the lakefront trail where it's only a two mile lane got very crowded at the beginning of the race and near the turnaround point. Also, early on in the race, a rollerblader was rollerblading against the tide of runners down the path- could have been really dangerous.
-Food immediately after finish: There were 3-4 kinds of bars to choose from, plus water and gatorade- I would have preferred 1-2 bar options and then a banana or bagel for some real food.
-Tricky dropoff: My friend and I took an Uber to the race, and we had a hard time figuring out where to get dropped off and where to go once the cab did let us off.

I really think this race is a great value for a half marathon- a great race to kick off summer in Chicago!

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(2014)
"Fiesta Atmosphere for a Fun Five Miles!"
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The Cinco De Miler is a fun, casual run where everyone can enjoy themselves! One important thing to note right away is that THIS IS NOT A 5K- it's a 5 mile race. I think a lot of people misunderstand that!

Packet Pickup: I picked up my packet at RAM Racing Store in Lincoln Park the Friday before the race. I was in and out in less than five minutes- can't beat that!

Getting to the Race: I used the CTA to get to the race, and that worked pretty well. From bus drop-off to the festival area near Montrose Beach was about a 15 minute walk, so make sure to give yourself enough time! I'm not sure how parking was, but I'm assuming it's pretty limited- this would be a great race to bike or Divvy to.

Gear Check and Corrals: I walked up to the race at 9:18 (starting gun was at 9:30), and I was able to check my bag and use the port-a-potty before getting to my corral for the national anthem. Awesome!

Race Course: It definitely kept me on my toes! We started off going through parking lots and it was actually at an incline (very unusual for Chicago!) There was a mariachi band at the first mile marker, which I loved. Right after that, the path narrowed dramatically to the two lane Lakefront Trail- one mile was close to enough time to let the field narrow, but it was still fairly congested at this point and hard to pass people. The path opened back up around mile three. Throughout the race course, we ran on asphalt, gravel, and even packed sand, which was a (short-lived) challenge!

I think one thing the race directors could improve on next year is marking the inner part of the course- they did a great job of putting orange cones near holes or areas where runners could trip, as well as the outer boundaries of the course, but the path allowed many runners to cut corners pretty drastically if they wanted. Luckily I wasn't running to win, but I would have been upset about that if I had. Also, I'm not sure how accurate the mile markers are- my time from 2-3 was a seven minute mile (!) whereas from 3-4 it was around nine minutes, and my phone said I stayed pretty even around 8:15 minute miles throughout.

Post-race: The post-race festival area was pretty large! I'm not sure how many participants ended up competing- maybe around 6,000?- but I think there was plenty of room for everyone. The bottom portion of your bib tore off for free food (chips and salsa AND churros and chocolate!) and a free beer, which I think is an amazing value! (Of course, in the finish chute you only got water or gatorade, so I'm guessing they cut corners there to give more free food during the festival).

Also, I absolutely loved that they had a piñata area! Too cute and a great touch.

SWAG: Loved it! The technical t-shirts are vibrant and fun, and the drawstring bags are neon and fun as well (boys got blue, girls got pink)- I'll definitely be using mine!

Overall, I'd recommend this race as a great alternative to anyone who perhaps wants the distance of the Shamrock Shuffle without the crowds or the chance of cold weather. Everyone at the race was in the mood to party (some volunteers wore sombreros and shook maracas on the course, and many people dressed up!), and it was a great time!

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(2014)
"Consistently the Best Race in Chicago!"
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This is my favorite race in Chicago. Held on Memorial Day weekend, the race is 10 miles (one of my favorite distances-long enough to be a challenge but short enough to not wreck your body!) and finishes on the fifty-yard line of Solider Field. Here's my breakdown:

Things I love:
-Well-organized and efficient. The Fleet Feet team knows what they're doing with this race, and they're exceptional at race day execution and packet pickup organization before the race.
-Getting a reusable bag at the end with my race food in it. Great for packing lunches!
-A WIDE running path. The first 4 miles or so of the race is run on a very wide road- plenty of room for everyone to spread out! The race officials also do a great job of staggering the start.
-Finishing on the 50 yard line. After running through the concourse, you emerge onto the grass and sprint to the finish while your friends and family sit in the stands and watch you on the jumbotron.
-Medal is high quality.
-Posing with soldiers in front of the memorial after the race. Great touch and a great way to shake hands with and thank some soldiers personally.
-While you always know traffic will be bad for pickup/dropoff, I was impressed that the Fleet Feet people had a designated Uber drop off area and noted that address in the participant race guide. By giving my driver that address, I was dropped off about as close as I could get to the race without sitting in traffic for 20 extra minutes and was able to walk to the corrals in about 10-12 minutes. I was picked up right outside the back entrance of the Field Museum about two minutes after I requested my Uber. Awesome!
-Good value for a race with great swag and such an iconic finish.

Things I wasn't crazy about:
Honestly- nothing comes to mind! The shirt could have been a little flashier, but it's a solid navy blue, technical running shirt with a classy SF10 logo in light blue/white- I'll wear it a lot. I didn't check any gear so no comments on that. The only thing I wish it that more Chicago Bears came out to run it! It's on their turf after all :)

This is Chicago's best race, and if you don't do it, you're missing out! Can't recommend it enough. Check out my post "10 Things I Learned from the Soldier Field 10 Miler" on Fab Fit Chicago: http://fabfitchicago.com/2014/05/26/10-things-i-learned-from-the-soldier-field-10-miler/.

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(2014)
"Everyone Loves to Shuffle"
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When I told people I was running the Shamrock Shuffle for the first time this year, I was greeted with a lot of "Ha!"s and "Oof, good luck"s. Apparently, the Shamrock's reputation for being one of the most popular, accessible races in Chicago turns off a lot of runners because of the crowds- usually over 40,000! However, I'm happy to say I didn't experience any hassle as a result of the race being over crowded. I was in Corral C, so closer to the start, but I think the race officials did a great job of spreading everyone out and keeping the corrals moving along. The race location is excellent for access if you take public transit (although the busses after the race are typically delayed), and there are aid stations often throughout the course, despite it being such a short race.

The race course is unique among Chicago races because it doesn't rely on the lakefront path for the majority of the miles; instead, you go through downtown, spending some time on State Street and the West Loop before ending with the biggest hill in Chicago going up Roosevelt immediately before the finish.

While I didn't stay for the after party (too cold!), I know it's popular to celebrate with a beer (although I don't think they do green beer any more, unfortunately). My only complaint is that the shirt this year is pretty boring; it's a nice technical shirt, but plain white and with the Bank of America logo on it. Not too exciting.

I would probably do this race again next year, if I liked the shirts more. It's a fast, fun run, and everyone in Chicago seems to show up for it!

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(2013)
"Decent Race for Summer"
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The Rock N Roll Half was my first half marathon, and I signed up for this one specifically because it seemed like such a cool concept to have bands at every mile. In reality, you pass the bands for just a few seconds and barely get to enjoy the live music- I found myself jealous of the spectators!

I think one of the biggest things that the Rock N Roll series has going for it is that by this point in its existence, the races are well-oiled machines, run by people who know what they're doing. The expo was down at the McCormick Center, which I found difficult to get to, but it was easy to navigate and get in/get out. The aid stations were well-manned, and I even found a fellow Kentuckian at the last one, which helped push me through! I also was really impressed by the post race snacks- bananas, protein bars, bagels, and more- and the technical shirt we received as swag (gray, with light blue and orange lettering).

Like the Shamrock Shuffle, the R&R Half course gets to go through downtown Chicago a lot, so you aren't stuck doing an out-and-back on the lakefront course. The course, like most of Chicago, is pretty flat with one "hill" near the end. And since the race is in the middle of July, the start time was before 7am, which I thought was a great touch to make sure everyone finishes before they start getting fried! I did not stay for the after party- I was ready to shower!- but from what I hear, the post-race festival is one of the best things about the R&R Half Marathon. Live music and beer is enough to satisfy most runners in Chicago!

Don't get me wrong, this race was really solid; I just wish I'd realized that I wasn't going to really be able to enjoy/hear the music that is this series' calling card. But on the whole, it's a very well-run race, and I would definitely recommend it to a friend, provided that you're willing to spend a decent amount on a half marathon!

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