Latest reviews by Lisa Dretske

(2019)
"Perfect kickoff to Memorial Day Weekend"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I went into this race with low expectations for myself, since I was still recovering from my 50 miler and it was expected to be warm out. I was a little nervous that the race was going to be canceled due to thunderstorms, but was very happy with the race communication. RAM Racing posted consistently on twitter and facebook with all updates and race alerts.

The morning of the race was very relaxed. We were given free parking under Soldier Field, which is unheard of in most Chicago races. This made the start of the race very accessible. I had my packet mailed to me for convenience, which only cost an extra $15. In side I got a very nice technical top and my race bib. When we arrived at Soldier Field there was a lot of space to walk around, explore the post-race party area, use the restrooms, and even get some free samples of nuun. They had a very convenient area for gear check as well, but I ended up not using it since we parked so close.

To start the race, each bib color and letter correlates with which area you are placed inside Soldier Field. This was organized very well. You could tell all the volunteers knew what they were doing and where we needed to go. Before we started the race, there was a very nice memorial service in honor of fallen soldiers. This was a great touch to honor what the weekend was all about. Each corral was spaced out well so there was room to move around.

The race course is a straight down and back on the Lakefront of Chicago. There is not a ton of shade along the route, but the views of the city were breathtaking on this particular day. The water stations are spaced out about every 2 miles. I would have preferred more on such a hot day, but they were consistent and well organized. They offered Clif gels at mile 7, which is a nice touch for such a sort run. Some marathons don't even do this! The finish was amazing. You start to wind your way back towards Soldier Field and you finish right inside on the field. This is also a great race for spectators since they can come sit in the stands.

Post race was really great! As soon as you finished you received your medal and water bottles. There were real bathrooms, not just port-o-potties, that you could use once you exited the field. Walking further, there was tons of nuun for you to enjoy and they handed you a goodie bag that had all the post-race treats already packed in. This was nice not having to fumble to hold everything. Once I got outside they also had an area giving everyone bags or ice or a cold wash cloth. The post race party had a lively band that played tons of hit tunes. There was a huge open field so you could sprawl out and enjoy the sun and the music. There were tons of vendors handing out free stuff. And I got my free Revolution Brewing beer. I soaked up the sun a bit and enjoyed the party before heading back to the car, which was only a short walk away. I will also note that they instantly emailed me with my results and free photos from along the course!

Overall, this was a great race and I would definitely do this one again!

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(2018)
"Definitely Hot and Hilly"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
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Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Hot Hilly Hairy race is multiple races all in one. It's the perfect race for friends or family who want to spend a day on the trails but don't necessarily agree on what distance to run. My group of friends chose to do the 85k relay. This race is held at the UW-Parkside National XC course 5k loop. The scenery is beautiful and the trails are not difficult. In fact, you can wear road shoes on this course.

The whole event is very relaxed. The start of the race begins when the Star Spangled Banner ends. The transition areas are set up in the open space near the start line. Each team is given a chunk of space to set up their own "tailgate" or what I like to call "trailgate". Each team is expected to bring their own food and water, though water and scratch is also provided at 2 points along the 5k loop. We also brought a pop up tent, chairs, change of clothes and so much food.

Some of the people on our team only wanted to run 2 loops, while some of us wanted to run 20+ miles that day for training. We ended up running multiple loops as a group, which is a fun time. The race director did not mind as long as only 1 person was wearing the chip/bib at each time (for timing mat reasons).

The race supplies free photos taken throughout the race, and asks you to share your own facebook photos as well. There is no medal for the relay teams, but the individual/solo runners all receive some extra swag.

Overall, this is a super chill race. Your enjoyment is 100% dependent on what you make of it. The course is beautiful and perfect for first time trail runners or those who really want to get some fast trail miles in. Overall, I'd recommend this race, especially to fun-loving trail groups.

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(2017)
"Flat, Fast, and Perks Galore! "
Overall
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Race Management

The Bellin Women's Half marathon is held in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The expo is the day before the race at the KI convention center. It was a little difficult getting to the expo in time, but I made it work. I wished I could have experienced the pre-race dinner and talk, but I heard great things! At the expo there were quite a few vendors selling shoes, apparel, and all sorts of running goodies. When I picked up my packet, I received a pretty green long sleeve and a fun drawstring bag.

The race morning was nice and relaxing. Parking was a breeze. I parked 1 block from the start line. There were plenty of port-o-potties and indoor bathrooms in the conference center. There were about 1000 people running the race, mainly women, and a handful of men. The race was one long loop. We headed straight down a city road for around 6 miles, then ran through a little "uptown" area before running over the bridge. The last 6 miles were straight back down the Fox River trail, next to the river. This was the best part of the run. It was the most scenic and had the most spectators. The course had plenty of aid stations, and very consistent. I also liked that they offered Vaseline and Hammer Gels throughout the course. The course was very flat, making this an ideal route for a PR.

The best part of the race was the finish area. They had photographers taking FREE pictures for you, saving your friends and family the trouble. They announce everyone's name when you cross the finish. Right upon finishing they put a the heat capturing blanket over your shoulders, and handed me a finishers necklace. Then there is a line of at least 10 different vendors offering free goodies to eat and drink. There was yogurt with fruit and granola, chocolate milk, iced tea, strawberry shortcake, brownies, non-alcoholic champaign, dark chocolate bars, and I'm definitely forgetting some stuff. You will not leave hungry. Then there is a post-party area with a DJ and they give you a free beer of your choice! There's also a separate area where you can get a free massage. The post-race perks are the best I've ever seen and you don't have to be a VIP to get them.

I would highly recommend this race to anyone that wants to PR. This would be an ideal race for a women's group who is looking for a fun, fitness weekend away. You won't be disappointed!

Just to recap:
Positives:
+Post-race perks!
+Free photos
+Easy Parking
+Spectator friendly
+Flat, Fast course

Negative:
-No race day packet pickup

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(2017)
"Midwest Elevation Challenge"
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T-Shirts/SWAG
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Elevation Difficulty
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Race Management

This race has quite the reputation. Spots fill up for this race right when the registration opens. I originally was going to run the 50 miler, but work got in the way of training. Luckily the race director let me transfer without charging me a transfer fee. The race offers packet pickup the day before the race or the morning of the race. I didn't arrive in Marquette until 11pm Friday night,so I opted for the morning pick up.
Before the start of the race, the race director gave a pre-race talk, explaining the conditions of the course and explaining what the different flag colors mean. After the talk, everyone lined up, the 50k and 50 milers together. The start of the race was at 5am, so we have about an hour and a half of darkness for the first loop.
The first loop was 11 miles and sadly you couldn't see the scenery because it was dark for the majority of it. It was neat to see all the lights and headlamps going through the switchbacks throughout the race. The entire first loop was single track with 1 aid station about 6 miles in. After the first aid station the path was very rooty and rocky. This section really slowed me down from the faster pace of the first 6 miles. The first loop brought us back to the start/finish area, where there was an aid station and drop bag.
The second loop is where the true elevation kicked in. There were several significant peaks to climb in the last 21 miles of the race. In between the peaks were some real nice straightaways to pick up speed. On top of each peak there were some "race officials" and sometimes a timing mat. The race officials were cheering everyone on and took people's pictures if they had their camera phones.
The hardest peak was definitely the last one, Hogback. This peak took some climbing, not just running or hiking. The peaks had to be taken at a much slower pace. This is definitely not a PR course. But if you want some of the most scenic and breathtaking views you can find in the mid-west, then this is the course for you.
The finish line was lined with spectators and a ton of people cheering as runners came in. They had a full spread of food-buritos, chips, water and soda. They also had computers set up to give you your race results right as you finished. They gave you a print out and then you showed it to the awards people. Instead of normal medals they had awards such as Bottle openers with the race logo and utility tools, and other such things for awards.

In the end, this was a great, well organized, and scenic race. This is definitely one of the most challenging ultra in the Midwest,because of the elevation and course conditions. I would definitely recommend this race to ultra runners looking for a good challenge.

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(2017)
"Who's Ready to Rock!?!?!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The race experience really starts the day before the race. Every registrant is required to pick up their packet themselves. This is slightly inconvenient since I live a bit away from the race and parking can be expensive. I drove down Saturday afternoon to the expo and decided to take advantage of the $10 parking at Lot C at McCormick Place. Construction did not make it easy to find this specific lot, but I eventually found it after driving around for a while.
The expo was very well organized a definitely worth going to. I got to try out tons of different products and there were some super cute race apparel available for purchase. I walked around for about an hour before heading back home for the night.
Rock 'n' Roll series suggested using ParkWhiz to reserve parking on race day. I've used them before, so I purchased a spot with them again. This turned into a bad situation because the parking garage over sold their spots and I was forced to find a new lot very last minute. I ended up having to pay $38 for parking. ParkWhiz did refund me and gave me a $5 credit to my next purchase. Their customer service was very responsive as well, so I will not fault them for this one bad experience.
I found parking and ran to the start area. I was in Corral 5, so my start time was a little after 6:30am. The route was 5 miles of winding around downtown before heading south for a few miles and then back north to finish in Grant Park. Each mile there's another band whether it be a full rock band or a drumline. There were also aid stations at pretty much every mile as well. We lucked out with the heat this year, but with the humidity the water and Gatorade were much needed.
The post-race was really spectacular. First I got a wicked looking medal which was a mini-bean. They also handed me an ice cold towel, which felt great. The finish chute offered a variety of post-race snacks. I got a water bottle, Gatorade bottle, chocolate milk, granola bar, banana, and peanut butter crackers. So much food! I would highly recommend bags for all this next year. After the finish area, I walked to the party area. There were more vendors set up and then a biergarten right next to a stage which had different live bands playing for several hours. This was a great party atmosphere to meet up with friends after the race.

This was a very fun half marathon to participate in. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a full weekend experience in Chicago.

Here is a quick rundown:
Positives:
+Party route with live bands
+Fully stocked aid stations
+great expo
+post-race party was fun!

Negatives:
-paying for parking twice in Chicago
-friends couldn't pick up packet

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