Latest reviews by Erin Vandenberg

(2015)
"Want a great race without all the hoopla? Then this is for you"
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Things the South Shore Half Marathon has:

1. Beautiful scenery - lake views, woods, and parks. An out-and-back course that has a few hills but is overall pretty flat.
2. A low entry fee! $15 in advance and $25 on race day. Seriously.
3. Easy, free parking
4. Indoor waiting area if it's cold
5. Free beer post-race. And good beer, too.
6. Tons of post-race snacks - pretzels, chips, and cookies
7. Chip timing

Things the South Shore Half Marathon doesn't have:

1. Shirts or medals. You get a pair of cheap, generic gloves
2. Mile markers or clocks at every mile
3. GU or other energy gel on the course
4. A big fancy expo
5. A "swag bag"
6. Tables full of bagels and bananas. All post-race snacks are set out in the big bags they came in. Pour some into the provided paper bowls and grab a seat inside.
7. Wide open streets to run on. The course is a bike path so it can get a bit crowded at times.

This race is put on by a running club so you know you're getting a race that has all the basics and none of the crazy hoopla you get from some of the corporate races. So if you want a well run event with a lovely course and a price that cannot be beat then this is the race for you.

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(2014)
"Galloping Grape did not gallop away with my heart"
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Originally I was signed up to run the Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon but ended up dropping down to the associated Galloping Grape 5K. I don't regret my decision to run the shorter distance at all.

Pros:
*Only 78 participants and only 8 in my age group meant I came in first in AG and 5th woman overall.
*Finishing almost an hour before the half marathon winner meant no lines for massages or post-race wine.
*First pick of the FREE all-you-can-drink wine and beer at the finish line

Cons:
*Cotton t-shirt only
*No medal (unless you get top three in your AG)
*No wine glass (which the half marathoners got)

So, basically, if you like swag, do the half marathon. The 5K kind of gets shafted. BUT! They still let us into the beer garden and we got to take advantage of the massages. And we didn't have to deal with all the hills on the half marathon course.

We did have to deal with the weird parking situation. They sent us a parking map but it wasn't very clear in the pre-dawn light where we were in relation to the map. We found a field with signs that said "Parking" but after that there were no directions to the start line. A group of us wandered around the small town for at least 25 minutes looking for the start line.

There were a total of just over 440 finishers in both the half and the 5K and they had 12 portapotties. Even this didn't seem like enough when you have to go really bad before the race!

I appreciated that they didn't make us wait for the half marathoners to finish before doing the 5K awards, though. That was a plus.

The course itself is an out-and-back on a rural road that is NOT fully closed to traffic. Just something to keep in mind. They have police officers making sure no one is totally oblivious to runners but it is a bit disconcerting to see a car driving towards you. However, the rural scenery is a nice change for someone who typically runs in the city of Chicago.

Overall, this is a no-frills, non-competitive 5K that I wouldn't specifically travel to. But, if you're on vacation in southwestern Michigan and want to run an easy race, this one would fit the bill perfectly.

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(2014)
"Big City Race, Small Town Quirks"
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The Cleveland Half Marathon was my 15th half marathon and I was running it to help pace a friend who was running it as her very first half marathon. I honestly had no idea what to expect from this race as I'm not from Cleveland although in 2010 I ran the 10K associated with this race and in 2011 I ran the Cleveland 10 Miler.

I arrived on Friday evening and stayed with my friend. When we went to the expo on Saturday I was surprised at how far away from downtown it was. It appeared they had shuttle buses to take people from downtown to the expo but I still thought it odd that the expo was so far removed from the actual race site. The expo turned out to be a lot of fun, though, and definitely on par with other big city race expos. The layout of the bib pick-up and shirt pick-up was a little odd, though, and we stood in the wrong shirt pick-up line for a few minutes before we realized it.

The shirts were gender-specific Nike tech tees and the swag bag was filled with actual products and not just flyers! Excellent! The expo was full of great vendors as well as I even did some shopping which isn't something I normally do at expos.

There were lots of signs saying that all participants needed to be at the race site by 6:00 AM for the 7:00 AM start which I thought was a bit early. We took the RTA from the near suburbs to downtown and arrived a little before 6:00 AM. Thankfully I was with a local otherwise I would have had no idea what to do! We waited inside Tower City to use the rest room instead of trying to find the portapotties and then headed outside to find our corral. I honestly didn't even realize we were assigned a corral as it was only in small letters on the bottom of our bib along with our name, age and shirt size.

Apparently lots of other people didn't know they had a specific corral or severely overestimated their pace because we started in corral E near the 10:45 pacer but spent the first three miles dodging slower runners, families, and groups that were walking 4+ across. It cleared up a bit after the 10K runners split off but didn't fully clear up for several more miles. Overall, I'd say there were a lot of people running this race who didn't have great race etiquette.

Aid stations were plentiful but tended to only be on one side of the street meaning you had to notice them pretty far in advance in order to get across the crowds even though they had no signage to tell you one was coming up. Aid stations on both sides of the street would have been very, very welcome. Also, large signs indicating that an aid station was ahead would have been helpful. Because the course was rather crowded it was sometimes difficult to get to the aid station in time.

The course had a nice amount of shade as we ran through neighborhoods and the residential areas had a decent amount of spectators. I have to give a shout-out to the Tremont neighborhood who did an amazing job of welcoming the runners. There were also DJs and bands every few miles which was nice (although, I think the DJ only had four songs) and portapotties at every aid station.

Because of all the weaving we had to do in the first 3 miles we added about a quarter mile to our distance which made it a bit disheartening to hear my Garmin beep for the mile marker but not actually see it for another .25 miles. Also, the last few miles have the most hills as you go up freeway ramps and bridges. You get a spectacular view of the city and the lake during mile 12 but you may be so focused on finishing that you don't even notice. Thankfully there is a downhill in the last half mile.

The finish line had some great food options (Pretzels! Chocolate milk! Popsicles!) but felt very crowded. The beer garden was already packed less than 2.5 hours after the start of the race and we didn't see any massage or stretching tents. In a larger city like Cleveland I'd like to think they could find a PT school or a massage school or SOMETHING to help participants work out the post-race kinks. Still there was a lovely park in which to relax as well as plenty of other post-race food purchasing options for anyone who wanted to buy lunch right away.

The medals are really nice, double-sided, full color, with a spinning guitar in the center! If you're someone who picks races based on the medal, this one was a winner.

If you bring a spectator to the race with you either they need to have a vehicle or they will probably only see you at the beginning and the end. Parking downtown is around $25 but I don't know if that includes in-out privileges or how close it is to the start/finish line. If you take the RTA to Tower City you will be within yards of the start line.

Overall, this race has the makings of a great big city race but still has a few small town race quirks. The race directors do a great job but could take this race to the next level by observing a race in a city like Chicago. Still, if you're looking for a spring half marathon in Cleveland, this is a good choice.

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(2014)
"The Best Spring Marathon/Half Marathon in Illinois"
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2014 was my fourth time running either the Illinois Marathon or Half Marathon. Why do I keep coming back?

This race has all the perks of a "big city" race but in a small town atmosphere. Stadium finish, great spectators, amazing aid stations (two with fruit!) and incredibly knowledgeable race management staff (they're runners and locals, too!). However, because it's in a smaller town compared to, say, Chicago, parking is plentiful, the roads are well maintained, and you get things like the unofficial bacon and beer aid station between mile 7 and 8.

They also have the unique I-Challenge where you run a 5K on Friday night and either the 10K, Half Marathon or Full Marathon on Saturday morning. There's also a kids run on Saturday afternoon. Basically, if you can run, walk or wheel there is an event for you at the Illinois Marathon.

There are some mild hills on the course but nothing you can't manage if you live in Illinois. People from hillier areas probably don't even consider them hills!

Also, the 5K tends to be quite crowded and their corral system had corral A being 27:00 and faster. That was A LOT of people!

The first few miles of the marathon/half marathon also tend to be a bit crowded as well as miles 8-9 or so when you run through Meadowbrook Park. Still, it's nothing compared to some races that are crowded the entire time.

As for swag, they have really stepped it up what with getting us Nike shirts this year and making sure we knew they were running small in advance. Also, the "golden ticket" idea for the goody bags is a fun way to make us actually look through all those fliers!

Post-race food is great and includes pizza, pasta (regular and gluten free), cookies, bananas, pretzels, and other assorted carbs. The only downside is that because the race finishes on the football field they don't allow food directly at the finish line. You have to climb stairs to get it!

Overall, though, this is a must-do race for anyone who lives in Illinois!

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(2014)
"If you like a vacation with your race, this one is for you"
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In full disclosure, I won my race entry in a contest. I did NOT win the plane fare, the hotel stay, or anything else. So, yes, I paid for my vacation on my own but didn't have to pay for the race entry to the half marathon.

I believe this is the second year for the Puerto Rico Marathon and Half Marathon but you wouldn't know it's a newer race. I felt it was very well done! The expo is tiny and the included shirt is just a unisex tech tee but I bought a hat, two pint glasses, and a tech tank at the expo and though the prices were very reasonable.

Since I won my entry I did have some logistical issues getting registered but once I got that taken care of I was good to go. I stayed at the recommended hotel where the expo was being held and was also within walking distance of the start line. I believe there were shuttle buses if you didn't stay at that particular hotel because there was no parking at the start line.

There also wasn't much in the way of signage or lighting on the walk from the hotel to the start line. Thankfully there were a lot of obvious runners all headed in one direction and I just followed them. The race starts at 5AM to try and beat the island heat so it's pitch black on the way. I even tripped over someone's left over beer on my way to the corral!

Because of the dark I recommend that you bring a headlamp. Quite a few other participants commented on what a good idea it was and many of them asked if I would point my head in the direction of their watch so they could see what they were doing! Also, because of the dark, it was impossible to find any of the alleged pace signs for the self-seeded starting area. From what I could tell there were no official corrals. Thankfully this race isn't too large with 246 marathon finishers and 999 half marathon finishers. There's also a wheelchair division that starts before the rest of the runners.

The start was delayed due to police activity on the course so we started about 20 minutes late. The course is not lit so, again I recommend a headlamp until the sun comes up. There is a hill within a 100 yards of the start line and then a hill that even the locals struggle with at mile 1.5 as you enter Old San Juan. Unfortunately, it was still pitch black as we ran through Old San Juan so what might have been one of the most unique parts of the course was shrouded in darkness. The forts and the cruise ships in port were lit up, though, so that was a fun sight.

There are speed bumps and cobble stone streets in the first 4 miles or so and, again, it's dark so wear a headlamp and pay attention! After we left Old San Juan, though, the sun started to come up and we were running on asphalt and concrete roads for the rest of the course.

The rest of the half marathon course goes through various neighborhoods, some nicer than others. And it will get warm! Aid stations are approximately every 2 miles but if you don't do well in warm weather you will want to carry your own water. They do have misters and ice along the course.

There is basically no crowd support except at aid stations so be prepared to run in quiet and not in big packs of people.

There is a nice downhill finish and tons of food for runners. There are also wading pools filled with cold water if you need to cool off and the finish line is near a beach inlet if you want to take a dip. In fact, this is possibly one of the prettiest finish areas I've ever been to. There's an old fort nearby, a huge park, and a view of the ocean.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this race as a PR or a BQ race, but it's a fun one to do if you're looking for a destination race to anchor your vacation.

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