Latest reviews by Cass Gunderson

(2015)
"Great run, great people, great cause"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb img 4281

This was my first race of 2015 and was bound to be a cold one. (It ended up being very "balmy" with temps in the upper 20s/low 30s!). Regardless, a February race in Chicago is basically signing up for madness, so it helps if it is for a good cause.

Back on my Feet is an amazing organization that empowers people through the magic of running - a magic that most runners who are crazy enough to sign up for a February race in the midwest winter can relate to. One of my friends from college has worked with the organization for a couple of years now and I was so excited to be able to participate in this year's Mardi Gras Chaser fundraiser.

The course is just on the lakeshore path, which I usually mind running races on in the summer, but it's not a big deal in the winter as there are not many other runners out and about on the course. The race starts at Montrose Harbor and there's lots of parking. The only issue I have with races/events at Montrose Harbor is that is can be a little tricky to get to with public transportation. Either way, if you are going to commute to this race, allot yourself some time.

I think this race did a lot of things right.
+ They had plenty of time for easy and fast packet pickup (including race day)
+ Management/volunteers were attentive and cheerful
+ Easy gear check (especially as this race is relatively small. They saw me approaching and got my bag out from gear check for me before I even got to the front!)
+ Simple course, well marked
+ Different swag. They gave out a neck gaiter instead of a tshirt which I thought was awesome and appropriate with the weather (I honestly needed one too!)
+ So much post race food and Gatorade! Gotta love that. Seriously, it was a bagel free-for-all.
+ Even though the race was small in numbers, I appreciated that they still did waves. The lakeshore path can get narrow and crowded.
+ Can't beat a race for a cause you believe in and want to support

If you're looking to get back into race mode before spring time hits, this is a great race to do. I definitely recommend it.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2014)
"Bawitdabadabangdabang"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb detroit marathon

I chose Detroit as my third marathon. I accidentally ran one of these things saying I would never do it again, and, well - you know how the story goes. Previously, I ran the Chicago marathon in 2011 and 2013 and I figured if I was going to do this again I should change it up a little and run somewhere new. I chose Detroit for a few reasons: it was accessible, I could train with my friends running Chicago as they were only a week apart, it was relatively cheap (as a race and to lodge, park, etc in the city) and it was also a fast and flat course. Oh, and it goes through Canada for a while, which is pretty neat.

As a Chicago native, I've been pretty lucky to have a world class marathon race experience in my city. So heading up to Detroit to run a marathon was a little bit different - instead of 45,000 runners from all over the world running the marathon with me, it would be about 5,000 others. When I watched my friends run the Chicago marathon the week before I started to regret my decision to run Detroit (no one will come support me! I don't even know anything about Detroit! Why am I doing this?!). And the expo on Saturday didn't do much to ease my nerves about my decision - as it settled in that most of the runners present would be running the half and leaving me at mile 13.

But, man, I really loved this marathon. I loaded my playlist up the night before with some Kid Rock and Eminem jams (when in Detroit...) and by the time I was a mile in, worries about choosing Detroit for marathon #3 were gone. First of all, this race's start line was right on Cass street (who knew? seriously, it was a literal. SIGN). But more importantly, the first few miles everyone is so excited that you can't help but get swept up in it. And then at mile 3, just as the sun is rising, you cross the Ambassador bridge across Michigan to Canada. It's beautiful, it really is, and if I wasn't trying to get a PR, I would have been snapping pics left and right as I crossed that bridge. Mile 4-7 go through Canada, which is pretty cool because, well, Canada. And then from mile 7-8 is the only underwater mile in a marathon - runners take the tunnel back into the US. I will say, for the first 1/4 of this mile, it's pretty sweet. Everyone starts screaming/hollering/howling as you go downhill into this tunnel and it gave me ALL THE EXCITES. And then it becomes, "wait, it's getting sort of hot in here. Wait, there's some funky smells. HOW LONG IS THIS TUNNEL?! WHEN DOES IT END?!" and just when you think you can't take it anymore, there's an evil steep incline to get out, and BAM you get hit with fresh air and a huge cheering section and a big sign that says "WELCOME TO THE U.S.A."!

I was worried about the split off at mile 13 (as about 20,000 runners do the half by comparison to the 5,000 marathon runners) but it wasn't so bad - as the half runners turn to finish their 13.1, the full (and relay) runners continue straight and go downhill to a crowd of people cheering. (The downhill part definitely helps with the motivation to continue.) I actually enjoyed having a little more space and I never felt like the crowd of runners thinned out too much (I was worried about that). Honestly, I sort of preferred having less runners around and the first half seemed a bit too crowded by comparison.

14-19 is pretty residential, there's some people out and about, it's not so bad. And then Belle Isle happens. So, Belle Isle is this secluded little island that you get to by going over a bridge and that's where miles 20-22 happen/where motivation goes to die. Since the bridge is completely closed off (marathon and relay runners use each half to go into and back from Belle Isle), not many people go there to cheer runners on. It's just you and the wall. And some decent scenery. But you don't care. Because your whole body is dying. And you just want. To get. Off. This. Island. Already.

But you will make it out. You will. And when you do, you only have a few miles left and you're heading back towards the finish line! The last few miles are a bit of a blur. They were tough. There were some surprise inclines during mile 25. And then the course is back in the middle of downtown. You know you're getting close to the finish. There's a few turns and one particularly evil hill to get to mile 26, but you know what, it's mile 26 and you've completely destroyed your quads by that point anyways, so you run up it because you can taste the finish at this point. And you turn the corner at mile 26 and the finish line is so close, the crowds are large, people are screaming. You realize that .2 miles looks so much farther than you can ever remember it looking. But you run through it. And you hit the finish line, completely spent. Someone puts a really cool medal around your neck (featuring a car, because it's Detroit) and you give yourself a moment to let you emotions finally catch up with you (you may or may not cry at this point. I did.)

Overall, great race. Worth the trip, I recommend it to other runners looking for a new spot to run a half or full.

Things that could improve: the organization of this race is definitely not up to the caliber of a much bigger race. Bib numbers weren't assigned until a few days before. Runner tracking wasn't figured out until the day before. The website could use some work. But the experience is what matters, and the race itself was great - so I can't complain much about those little details.

Other things to note: long sleeve shirts as swag (love that), parking in Detroit is cheap! Woo!, Slowe's BBQ is amazing and a great post-race meal spot, don't drive 5 hours back to Chicago and trap yourself in a car the same day after you run a marathon.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2014)
"Bucktown 5k"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb bibrave bucktown

I've heard about the Bucktown 5k for a while now - everyone I've met that has ran it has loved it. I am now also in that category!
+ First of all, RamRacing always kills it on the race swag game. Sweatpants?! I'm sold. I didn't take them off all week. They also had awesome hats for the first 10% of finishers!
+ Loved running a race in a new area of Chicago! Most races take to the lakefront so it is a wonderful and welcomed change of scenery in such a gem of a neighborhood. Bucktown has so much to offer and a nice 5k course is among them.
+ Easy packet pick up (well, at least as a local!) and super friendly staff in the store. For events like 5ks, I like the ease of picking up my packet at a store instead of an expo.
+ From my experience, Ram Racing runs smooth events - for the neighborhood, this was a crowded race (probably 6k people?!) - but I never saw any real issues with this. I think that the streets they use are wide enough to accomodate the larger amount of racers (as opposed to the lakefront trail).
+ Nice use of the park area for pre/post race

Could improve:
- I didn't drive, but I believe the area would probably be a little difficult to drive to/park at. I'd suggest taking the blue line or a bus to this race if possible!

Overall, I loved it and will be back again! It's so refreshing to be able to run somewhere new in the city!

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2014)
"Rocking the Night"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb rock the night photo

Rock the Night 5k
This was my first race that I have ever done on a weeknight and overall I had an absolute blast! Highlights of this race include: the overall value, the post-race party and the management.

Pros:
+ This race was really well managed. The day that this event occurred happened to be the same day that the weather was having a hissy fit; there was some intense rain and storms that thankfully cleared up about 1 ½ hours right before the race. This made for a VERY humid race this year – but this weather situation made me particularly impressed with how responsive management was to ensure runners that the race was still taking place and to keep communication channels open while I’m sure they were busy dealing with setup and a million other things. I was running late out of work and I tweeted at @RamRacing, almost jokingly, “wait! I’m coming! Don’t close packet pickup!” in which they responded within 2 minutes to let me know that they had extended the packet pickup (and told me to take my time and travel safe – how kind!). Previous to 2014, I had not had many experiences with Ram Racing before. I have been nothing but impressed with how well managed their races have been.
+ This race has AWESOME value. The swag is great – it’s a really comfy technical quarter zip. It’s not really appropriate for August/early September running weather but I am sure I will wear it a lot during my runs this fall (and is much more valuable to me than a running shirt). After the race the beer you receive is Bells (your choice out of a few of their brews) – which is incredibly tasty after a humid night race! You ALSO get a pretty good assortment of food; you can choose between a hot dog, burger or veggie burger and you get sweet corn on the cob with it... served on a free frisbee! It doesn’t get much better than that. Did I mention there’s a concert as well? They had a great set up for the post-race concert (though unfortunately soggy) – plenty of well-spaced vendors and a huge stage for the headlining band. They also had a few shuttles running from the event back to the train station for runners coming from the suburbs which is an absolute excellent idea (not sure if that cost extra to use that service or not as I didn’t use it, but it is a great option to have either way). For the price you pay to run this race and for everything you get from tangible objects to the experiences, this is a really great value.
+ The route was an easy 1 1/2 miles out on the road and 1 1/2 back on the lakefront path. There isn’t much you can do in terms of route with a 5k, but I thought it was as good as it could be for the distance so no complaints there.
+ Fun “rock” theme – rock concert, beers, and some grilled food! I really enjoyed it and it was a great way to unwind after a stressful day at work.

Not so great:
- Knowing I had this race at 7pm on a week day gave me a little bit of anxiety because my job isn’t always a 9-5; I often am working late and am too early in the start of my career to have real control over my schedule. If you are like me, it’s tough to put down the money for a weeknight race that you have a 50% chance of being able to make it to. However, if you do have more control over your work schedule or work more predictable hours, this is an excellent way to unwind after work. I was skeptical of a night race at first but afterwards I realized that I was a huge fan. Having the race on a Friday night or perhaps a race start time of 7:30 might be able to draw a slightly bigger crowd.
- As previous racers mentioned, the beginning under McCormick place was a little scary - there is usually uneven ground there and it is not well lit (plus wet/slick after the rainfall)

Overall, if you are looking for a 5k race with a fun theme and are available to run on a weeknight, I highly recommend this race.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.
(2014)
"Magnificent 1st Annual Mag Mile Half"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management
Thumb mag mile

I love Fleet Feet races. I think they are usually very well done. This race is no exception.

Pros:
+ Well managed race, very simple packet pickup (including race day pickup), gear check, and communication.
+ Love the swag – it’s a very simple technical tank top. I feel like most races opt for t-shirts so it was a nice change. I also was glad to see they kept the design rather simple instead of making it extremely girly with the female & magnificent mile race theme.
+ Loved running on Michigan Avenue! I’ve ran plenty of races in Chicago and no other race gives you the opportunity to run that stretch of Michigan Avenue like this race does.
+ Fun extra perks. I didn’t end up going but a few of my friends from my run group were able to attend the shake out run event the day before and had a blast.

Not so great:
- The extensive use of the lakefront path on the course. This ended up working out well and not bothering me as much as I had originally anticipated. This race was rather small this year, about 6k of people, so there really didn’t end up being a bottleneck issue/spacing issue. I understand that it costs money to close down the streets of Chicago and Fleet Feet is running a business. Losing money or losing margins is just bad business, plain and simple. So I understand why the route changed from running on the Chicago streets a majority of the race to utilizing the lake path for a majority of the race. If you are a Chicago native, the course may have been a little disappointing. This is the same path most people run almost every weekend, so running 8 miles of a 13.1 mile race on it is sort of a let down for the price of the race. That being said, since the race was a smaller number of people than I’m sure they expected the spacing worked out well – if they kept a lot of the race on wider streets it would have been almost TOO spaced out. Also, people from the suburbs may really enjoy the lakefront path. My mom doesn’t like racing through the loop or Chicago streets because of issues with potholes and a lot of the questionable smells and GPS issues, so for her this race would have been perfect and we both plan on signing up to run it together next year.

I do recommend this race if you’re a woman looking for a fun half to do in Chicago. Fleet Feet manages great races and I’m sure this one will only get more popular in the future.

Login or sign up to leave a comment.