My Profile

@Otter

Chicago, IL Raving since 2014 http://idrankformiles.com/ active 3 years, 2 months ago

About Me

  • Running club(s):
  • Rave race:

    Chicago Marathon

  • Race that's calling my name:

    Ice Age 50 Mile

  • I run because:

My races

Organize, track & review your races and personal bests here.

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Half Marathon

Marathon

Ultramarathon

(Marathon &/or Ultra) + Half

Marathon + Ultra

Other

Personal Bests (12)

Race Distance Location Date Result
Olympic/International Chicago, IL Aug 30, 2015 2:56:34
12 hr Lisle, IL Jul 17, 2015 52.542 mi
50 Miler Manistee, MI Aug 24, 2013 11:40:12
50K Eagle, WI Sep 14, 2013 5:48:45
Marathon Two Harbors, MN 2013 3:33:26
25K Grand Rapids, MI 2012 2:14:56
Half Marathon Lake Mills, WI Nov 7, 2015 1:36:45
10 Miler Chicago, IL 2013 1:10:25
15K Peoria, IL Jun 14, 2014 1:13:27
10K Chicago, IL Jul 25, 2015 48:15
4 Miler Peoria, IL 2013 26:17
5K Chicago, IL Jul 9, 2015 19:59

Future Races (0)

Race Distance Location Date Paid

Past Races (60)

Race Distance Location Date Result My Raves My Performance
5K Houston, TX Jan 15, 2017
Marathon Houston, TX Jan 15, 2017
Marathon Berlin, Germany Sep 25, 2016
Half Marathon Aspen, CO Aug 13, 2016
50 Miler Whitewater, WI May 14, 2016
10K Lisle, IL Apr 24, 2016
8K Chicago, IL Apr 3, 2016
50K Palos, IL Mar 26, 2016
Marathon New Orleans, LA Feb 28, 2016
Marathon Houston, TX Jan 17, 2016
50 Miler Boonsboro, MD Nov 21, 2015
Half Marathon Lake Mills, WI Nov 7, 2015 1:36:45
Marathon Chicago, IL Oct 11, 2015
Half Marathon Snowmass Village, CO Sep 26, 2015 2:38:46
50K Cudahy, WI Sep 6, 2015
Olympic/International Chicago, IL Aug 30, 2015 2:56:34
10K Chicago, IL Jul 25, 2015 48:15
12 hr Lisle, IL Jul 17, 2015 52.542 mi
5K Chicago, IL Jul 9, 2015 19:59
Marathon Paris, France Apr 12, 2015 3:59:24
Marathon Houston, TX Jan 18, 2015 4:14:13
50K Albion, IN Dec 20, 2014 6:36:26
Half Marathon Kissimmee, FL Nov 7, 2014 1:45:44
Marathon Staten Island, NY Nov 2, 2014 3:59:31
Marathon Berlin, Germany Sep 28, 2014 3:56:42
Olympic/International Chicago, IL Aug 23, 2014 3:17:11
12 hr Lisle, IL Jul 18, 2014 40.88 mi
50K Dayton, WY Jun 20, 2014 7:36:22
15K Peoria, IL Jun 14, 2014 1:13:27
50K Whitewater, WI Jun 7, 2014 6:49:11
Marathon Big Sur, CA 2014 4:14:37
50K Eagle, WI Sep 14, 2013 5:48:45
50 Miler Manistee, MI Aug 24, 2013 11:40:12
50K La Grange, WI 2013
Half Marathon Kissimmee, FL 2013 2:29:44
Marathon Portland, OR 2013 4:56:14
10 Miler Chicago, IL 2013 1:10:25
Half Marathon Chicago, IL 2013 1:37:35
Marathon Two Harbors, MN 2013 3:33:26
50K La Grange, WI 2013 6:10:38
25K Willow Springs, IL 2013 2:34:02
Marathon Leavenworth, WA 2013 3:56:55
Marathon Dearborn, MI 2013 3:49:00
4 Miler Peoria, IL 2013 26:17
Half Marathon Kissimmee, FL 2012 2:18:48
15K Peoria, IL 2012 1:18:09
Half Marathon Geneva, IL 2012
Marathon Little Rock, AR 2012 4:32:01
Marathon Chicago, IL 2012 3:41:34
25K Grand Rapids, MI 2012 2:14:56
Marathon Tulsa, OK 2012 5:28:52
Marathon Alta, WY 2012 7:21:23
Marathon Traverse City, MI 2012 3:55:20
Marathon Traverse City, MI 2011 4:34:54
Marathon Chicago, IL 2011 4:26:04
Marathon Arlington, VA 2011 4:22:25
Marathon Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 2011 4:48:32
15K Peoria, IL 2011 1:23:00
Marathon Traverse City, MI 2008 4:46:53
Marathon Traverse City, MI 2007 5:42:59

My Raves

Tyranena Beer Run

Tyranena Beer Run

This is a really fun and well-done race that starts and finishes at the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills, WI. The course is mostly flat, but *there are some hills* … MORE

This is a really fun and well-done race that starts and finishes at the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills, WI. The course is mostly flat, but *there are some hills* — I had about 400′ of elevation gain on my watch by the time I crossed the finish line. The course itself runs through Lake Mills and around Rock Lake, with 1 or 2 official-but-not-*officially*-official-if-you-know-what-I-mean beer stops out on the course (featuring Tyranena fare, of course), and it ends at the brewery. Your modest registration fee will come with 2 tickets for good/strong Tyranena brews at the finish (I believe my stout and IPA selections clocked in at 10% & 9% ABVs, respectively), along with a hearty post-race meal. My only suggestion is to arrive early, as parking spaces are limited near the start/finish in an area where you won’t be blocked in by the race!

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
3
SWAG
5

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Chicago Triathlon

Chicago Triathlon

I'm not what you'd call an experienced triathlete, but with that disclaimer now out of the way, here are some things I really liked about the Chicago Triathlon: ORGANIZATION/PRODUCTION: --Packet … MORE

I’m not what you’d call an experienced triathlete, but with that disclaimer now out of the way, here are some things I really liked about the Chicago Triathlon:

ORGANIZATION/PRODUCTION:
–Packet pickup and the expo conveniently took place at a downtown hotel that was near a number of ‘L’ stops, rather than way out at McCormick Place or Navy Pier
–Triathletes were allowed to rack their bikes in the transition area the day before the race (a fenced-off area under 24-hour surveillance), meaning I didn’t have to ride my bike down in the morning or take it down with me on the train at 4:30am. This was GREAT.

THE SWIM:
–The swim took place in Monroe Harbor, where athletes swim south and then north without ever straying too far from the wall. It would be easy for spectators to walk along the (paved) shoreline and follow their athlete, and there were plenty of boats out on the swim course for athletes to hang off of it they needed a breather. Past a certain point, athletes could hang off of the wall if needed.
–My only complaint about the swim is that upon exiting, there’s somewhere between a 0.25-0.5 mile run to the transition area

THE BIKE:
–The bike course goes north and then south along Lake Shore Drive for about 15 miles before descending into Lower Wacker, and then descending *again* to the Lower Randolph Busway, which is described by organizers as “Chicago’s most secretive and unobstructed expressway.” The bike course used to be 2 loops of LSD, but this setup doesn’t require any loops or circuits. I liked it.

THE RUN:
–The 10K run goes south and then north along the lakefront path, running through the rather fetching museum campus, before turning onto Columbus for a big finish. There was plenty of aid along the run course, I had no complaints.

POST-RACE PARTY:
–All finishers received a big plate of food from Goose Island catering, as well as 1 complimentary beer. There was a band playing at the post-race party, and there were trolleys to shuttle runners from the finish area to the transition area to reclaim gear and bikes (though the transition area was only about a mile away, easily walkable).
–The medals were LARGE and very well-done; I greatly preferred the 2015 version to the medal I received from the same race in 2014.

This race mostly takes the guesswork out of competing in a triathlon, so I would say it’s an ideal race for beginners all the way through pros.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4

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BTN Big 10K

BTN Big 10K

I would normally scoff at paying $52 (after fees) to run an out-and-back 10K along the Chicago lakefront, but an argument could be made that this is one of the … MORE

I would normally scoff at paying $52 (after fees) to run an out-and-back 10K along the Chicago lakefront, but an argument could be made that this is one of the better bang-for-your-buck races in Chicago. If you just want to run a timed 10K, there are absolutely cheaper options out there, but this race derives its value from its swag and the after-party.

As far as the course goes, it’s pretty vanilla — you’ll run south through/under McCormick Place and onto S/B Lake Shore Drive, before coming back north along the lakefront path (and under McCormick Place again) before finishing at the Big 10K Fan Fest near Soldier Field. There’s an actual slip-n-slide out on the course as well, which I did not make use of myself, but it looked pretty refreshing on a hot day.

There are plenty of elite runners and former Big Ten athletes that come out for this, but the real reason to run this race is for the swag and the race-day experience. Consider that all runners receive the following:

–A gender-specific running shirt from your Big Ten school of choice, in that school’s colors (or a generic race shirt if you don’t want to rep a specific school)
–Various swag from your school of choice. Past years have featured trucker hats in your school colors, and this year included some (attractive) school sunglasses along with pens, bottle openers, magnets, and whatever else your school is handing out at their tent.
–A full, satisfying breakfast featuring Amylou chicken sausages and some other delights.
–BASICALLY UNLIMITED GOOSE ISLAND BEER. Your race bib will come with an attached ticket for 1 beer, but if you play your cards right, you can get in line again and again. I’ve never found myself wanting in the beer department, and they’ve never run out of beer.

The aforementioned Big 10K Fan Fest also has plenty of sets of bags/cornhole to make use of, as well as a timed 40-yard dash area and other tailgate games. Taking into account all of the swag you get, along with all of the food & beer you can consume at the post-race party (which legitimately rages for several hours), and you’ll more than get your money’s worth out of this race

DIFFICULTY
1
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
2
SWAG
5

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Christmas in July Races 6h, 12h & 24h

Christmas in July Races 6h, 12h & 24h

PROS: --Impressively organized, I found myself wanting for nothing --Plenty of space near the Start/Finish area for runners to set up chairs, coolers, etc. under the cover of canopies --With … MORE

PROS:
–Impressively organized, I found myself wanting for nothing
–Plenty of space near the Start/Finish area for runners to set up chairs, coolers, etc. under the cover of canopies
–With a USATF-certified loop length of juuuust under 1 mile, you’ll never be more than 1 mile away from aid; it’s easy to change out shoes/clothing on the run, and you don’t need to carry a bottle or aid if you don’t want to
–The 1-mile loop has enough variety that you won’t be losing your mind. There are left turns, right turns, ups, downs, and you run over a bridge at one point. During the night, the course is lit up with Christmas lights.
–Excellent selection/variety of food/drinks to choose from
–All races start in the evening, meaning the 6-hour and 12-hour runners won’t be exposed to the hot sun for too long (sorry, 24-hour runners, you’re pretty well screwed here)
–Very runner-friendly setup for anyone looking to try their first ultra….just start and stop as you’d like! Take your time, take a nap in the car, you’ll never be too far from where you started
–Really impressive SWAG — us 12-hour runners got a short-sleeve tech shirt, long-sleeve tech shirt, and a race-branded winter hat. Age group winners received some pretty great nutcracker trophies

CONS:
–It’s a 1-mile looped course that you run over and over and over….it’s not so bad when you’re running at night and everything looks the same, but when the sun comes up, it can drive you a little loopy (pun intended)
–The entire course is paved. That’s nice because you can wear road shoes for the entire race, but my legs were a lot more beat up than they are after a trail 50-miler
–With the race being held in July, don’t be surprised to see race temps climb into the 80s & 90s during the day.
–The 12-hour race starts at 11pm, which I liked (I slept for 6-7 hours during the day prior to the race), but I passed some runners who were VERY sleepy around 3-4am

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
3
SWAG
5

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Bastille Day Run

Bastille Day Run

Quick, how do you take one of Chicago's most beloved summertime 5K/8K races, benefiting one of the most worthy charities in the city, and transform it into an expensive, sub-par, … MORE

Quick, how do you take one of Chicago’s most beloved summertime 5K/8K races, benefiting one of the most worthy charities in the city, and transform it into an expensive, sub-par, also-ran race in the span of just 1 year? Total participation in the combined 5K & 8K events dropped from 1,571 runners in 2014 to just 603 runners in 2015, a stunning decrease considering the overall upward trend of the current national running boom. In no particular order, here are some areas where the Bastille Day organizers dropped the ball:

ORGANIZATION
–As best I can tell, registration for the 2015 Bastille Day run didn’t open until about 1 month before the race, or *maybe* 2; I know that when I searched for the race some time back in May, I couldn’t find information for the 2015 edition *anywhere*, to the point where I had assumed it was canceled. It was only in June that a friend asked if I was going to sign up, and that’s when I saw that the website had been resuscitated.
–THE WEBSITE: No course map was ever posted on the website. Even on the afternoon of the race, we still didn’t know where we were supposed to be running, we just had to trust that the course markings were correct.
–PRICING: If I’m paying $45 for a 5K or $50 for an 8K before fees (which was the confounding pricing structure), then the race better be running through the heart of downtown Chicago, closing city streets and the like. Nope. I paid $49.47 after fees for a 5K that ran on city paths that weren’t even closed to other bikes or pedestrians. To put that race fee in perspective, the 2015 Chicago Shamrock Shuffle 8K cost $50 *total*, and that’s one of the premier road races in the world, effectively shutting down Grant Park and lots of prominent streets downtown. I hold out a deep, fervent hope that the majority of the Bastille Day race fees went to the charity beneficiary, because otherwise this cost structure makes no sense.

PRODUCTION
–Past editions of the Bastille Day 5K/8K have been a celebration of French culture, where the post-race party would feature French music, mimes, performers on stilts, baguettes, croissants, and the whole works. The 2015 Bastille Day even was French in name only…the only nod to France was that every finisher was given a small French flag. That’s it, that was the extent of French theme. Other than that, it was a generic 5k/8k race.

THE COURSE
–Both the 5k & 8k races ran along a course in Lincoln Park familiar to any jogger in Chicago. Each race started and ended on dirt paths (which were rather bogged down thanks to recent rain), and then ran along the lakefront path for a period of time. No part of the course was closed off to non-racers, so we all jostled to share space with bikers and recreational runners, leading to a cramped environment (even with fewer than half of the runners that participated in 2014).

SWAG
–Past editions of the Bastille Day races have featured some rather fetching tech running shirts that featured the French flag or the Eiffel Tower on the front. This year, runners were given a baggy gray Gildan cotten t-shirt. Mine will be donated immediately.
–All runners received a beer ticket for 1 Lagunitas IPA at the finish, so that part was actually nice.
–Food options were limited to a banana and a chocolate milk at the end. No fancy post-race spread this year.

Overall…gosh, I just don’t know what happened. This had always been a great race, it’s been run for 30+ years in Chicago, and up until the 2015 race I’d loved it every time that I ran. But this year the organizers waited until the last minutes to open registration (I’m assuming there had to have been a permit issue, because otherwise this means they just straight-up forgot about it), they jacked up the price, they downgraded the SWAG, and they stripped out all of the French culture that this race once celebrated.

If you read my past reviews here on RaceRaves, you’ll see that I’m not a difficult person to please…but all things considered, I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed in a race.

DIFFICULTY
1
PRODUCTION
1
SCENERY
3
SWAG
1

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Paris Marathon

Paris Marathon

What an amazing marathon! It turns out that Paris in the springtime is pretty damn great, and our friends across the pond know how to put on a good race. … MORE

What an amazing marathon! It turns out that Paris in the springtime is pretty damn great, and our friends across the pond know how to put on a good race. The race weekend itself was a blast, from the expo to the Saturday morning Breakfast Run (more on that below) to the race itself. Here are some thoughts in no particular order:

THE GOOD:
–Race expo was laid out quite sensibly– it was easy for me to get in and out quickly, but I could have spent quite a while there. Bonus points for the expo being very easily accessible by metro/public transit.
–The course itself was incredible, starting on the Champs-Elysses (in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe) and heading east through the heart of Paris before reaching Vincennes and coming back west. Running along the banks of the River Seine, looking up at the Notre Dame cathedral across the shore, was among the most peaceful moments in marathon racing that I’ve ever had. The course was a great mixture of city streets, neighborhoods, and green parks.
–The swag was pretty good! All registrants got a drawstring backpack that included a SPIbelt-type waist belt and a poncho for race morning (nice touch), and finishers received an Asics finisher’s shirt at the end of the race along with a medal. If you wanted to spring 7ish euros for a beer at the end, you also received a cool-looking marathon pint glass (plastic, but good quality). There was plenty of very reasonably-priced merchandise available at the expo, and I picked up another race tech shirt, which I almost never do.
–There was a pretty good selection of food for finishers, and if you wanted some hot food, there was a huge selection of reasonably-priced food vendors just outside of the area where you pick up your bag from gear check.
–It was definitely a party atmosphere at the end of the race
–The crowd support was excellent, significantly better than what I found at the Berlin Marathon. Many chants of “Allez, allez!” along the way
–THE BREAKFAST RUN WAS SO GREAT. The morning before the marathon, the Paris Marathon holds a 5K “breakfast run” that a little starts west of the Arc de Triumph and ends right by the Eiffel Tower. You have to pre-register for this, but for only *7 EUROS*, you get a tech shirt, a small flag from your home country to carry, a leisurely/untimed jog through closed city streets, and a continental-style breakfast at the end of the run. It was really well-done, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone running this race.

THE “MEH”
–The Paris Marathon’s gear check is located at the finish line, so that they don’t have to transport any gear during the race. It works well that you can get your gear shortly after you finish, but it’s a good mile from the starting line, so be prepared for a non-insignificant walk before you run a marathon.

THE BAD:
–Aid stations were located only every 5K, which is a departure from the frequency of aid stations at American races, and the only beverage available was bottled water. There was no sports drink at any of the aid stations. This isn’t even close to a dealbreaker, and I knew this coming in, but you’ll want to make sure that you have GUs / salt tabs / electrolyte tabs on your person. It got quite warm on race day, with temperatures reaching the 70s, and I wilted a bit at the end. Extra aid stations in the 2nd half of the race would have been very welcome.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: This race was incredible, maybe my favorite behind Chicago and New York. I’d put Paris in the same tier as Big Sur and ahead of Berlin, this race deserves a spot on anyone’s running bucket list.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
5
SWAG
5

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Chevron Houston Marathon & Aramco Houston Half Marathon

Chevron Houston Marathon & Aramco Houston Half Marathon

The race production here was top-notch, which more than made up for some sometimes-meh scenery during the middle miles. The majority of the race takes place west of downtown, and … MORE

The race production here was top-notch, which more than made up for some sometimes-meh scenery during the middle miles. The majority of the race takes place west of downtown, and with only a few exceptions, this course is flat and fast. In no particular order, here are some thoughts:

–THE AID STATIONS: my god, what glorious wonder. Aside from Chicago & New York, Houston has the longest aid stations of any race I’ve run. If you somehow miss your chance to get water or Gatorade, I’m sorry, but that’s on you.
–The spectators were lovably insane. There weren’t as many people on the streets as a WMM event (duh), but those who were out were vociferous and really gave a lift.
–I’ve never seen as much beer offered during a race as what I saw during the Houston Marathon, including what appeared to be an OFFICIAL beer stop at Mile 21, complete with a Bud Light truck parked on the grass and a Michelob Ultra arch spanning the road.
–PLAN YOUR PARKING. This was really the only negative….there are plenty of surface lots near the Start/Finish, but they charge an average of $25-$30 for “special event parking.” Plan ahead and save your money
–The SWAG was good….marathon runners can expect a casual cotton event shirt, plus a tech race shirt (presented at the finish), plus a pint glass, plus an event magnet. The finisher’s medals are nicely-done, colorful, and event-specific for the marathon & half marathon.

Overall, I was pretty impressed — I’ve already registered for 2016

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
2
SWAG
4

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The HUFF 50K

The HUFF 50K

This was my first time running The HUFF 50K, and I was very impressed with both the course as well as the event's overall organization. Aid stations were plentiful, and … MORE

This was my first time running The HUFF 50K, and I was very impressed with both the course as well as the event’s overall organization. Aid stations were plentiful, and the large heated tent at the Start/Finish area made for an enjoyable pre- and post-race experience. In no particular order, here are what runners can expect from the event:

THE COURSE;
–I’d estimate that between 75-80% of the course is “runnable,” but with enough hills to satisfy ultramarathon diehards out there. The course is around 85-90% trail, with a few short stretches of paved & dirt road mixed in, and the entire course is double-wide trail at minimum. There is no single-track, which makes it ideal for running with a companion.
–The 50K course consisted of 2 loops, each loop roughly 15-16 miles in length. Aid stations were no more than 4 miles apart, and with the cool race-day temperatures, I didn’t even need to run with a water bottle.
–The course difficulty would be somewhere between a 2-3 out of 5. For comparison, this course was tougher and with more hills than the Palos trail network that’s southwest of Chicago, but it was easier than the Ice Age 50K course that takes place in Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin. Obviously, the HUFF’s terrain won’t compare with any of the mountainous ultramarathons out west, but it has a fair number of hills during the latter 1/3 of each loop.
–Chain O’ Lakes State Park is BEAUTIFUL, even in winter, and I can only imagine what the course would look like in the summer. By my count, the course took us past 9 or 10 different lakes, and ran virtually the entire length and width of the park. This race was a great showcase for the area.
–There weren’t any “wet feet areas” to speak of in the 2014 running of the HUFF; it sounds like past events may have run through a river or two, but the race organizers helped fund the building of a footbridge for the 2014 race.

ORGANIZATION:
–The Start/Finish area features a very large, HEATED tent in which runners can loiter before and after the race, or even during the middle of the race after coming in from first loop. Gear check was located inside the heated tent, with an area for drop bags for 50K runners.
–LOTS OF SWAG: As a 50K runner I received a shirt, a plastic HUFF mug, a HUFF glass, a HUFF running hat made of tech fabric, and a HUFF santa hat also made of technical fabric. All 50K runners received belt buckles, rather than medals.
–Aid stations came roughly every 4 miles, with lots of water, Gatorade, Coke, and salty foods on offer. The aid station that came at Mile 8 of each loop had plenty of broth/noodles, and that station even had cheeseburgers on the 2nd loop.
–There were plenty of radio personnel visible out on the course, in case any runner was having medical difficulties.
–The post-race spread featured a variety of “world famous” soups, and I can vouch for the chili in particular (my friend Betty also raved about the vegan tomato soup). There were at least 4 different kegs of beer from local Indiana breweries to drink from, too. The heated tent for the post-race party was a godsend.

All in all, great race — I plan on being back in 2015

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5
My Media

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New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon

Be prepared to wake up at an ungodly early hour to catch the Staten Island ferry, followed by a lot of standing/sitting around in often-chilly temps waiting for the race … MORE

Be prepared to wake up at an ungodly early hour to catch the Staten Island ferry, followed by a lot of standing/sitting around in often-chilly temps waiting for the race to start, but them’s the breaks when you’re running the largest and most famous marathon in the world. It’s not uncommon to board the Staten Island ferry 4 hours before your actual start time, but this race is a true tour of the city — Staten Island (briefly), Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx (briefly), and Manhattan again. A lot of races will SAY they offer a “tour of the city,” but the NYC Marathon actually delivers — the crowd support was unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and I’ve run both Chicago and Berlin. Be prepared to grind through some lengthy-but-necessary queues at both the start and the finish of this race, but those blissful 26.2 miles in the middle make it all worthwhile

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4

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Christmas in July Races 6h, 12h & 24h

Christmas in July Races 6h, 12h & 24h

Taking place in the middle of summer, this USATF-certified 0.9732971994-mile looped course starts in the evening to allow the 6-hr, 12-hr, and 24-hr runners the opportunity to run in cooler … MORE

Taking place in the middle of summer, this USATF-certified 0.9732971994-mile looped course starts in the evening to allow the 6-hr, 12-hr, and 24-hr runners the opportunity to run in cooler temps. The course winds up, down, and around the Lisle Park District, mixing in mild hills with long stretches of flatland. The 2014 course loop featured plenty of both left and right turns, and the course was illuminated by stretches of Christmas lights in addition to a staggering amount of luminaries to keep runners on the correct path. The 1-mile loop is about as varied as you could hope for, for a race that takes place in the middle of a suburban park. Giant inflatable Christmas decorations out on the course also added to the holiday flavor, and there was an aid station every mile at the Start/Finish area, which also included canopy tents and an area for runners to set up chairs & drop bags. There wasn’t much shade on the course, but as I “only” ran the 12-hour event, that only applied to about 3-4 hours of my race.

This may be the best-organized race that I’ve ever run, of any distance; this is a race for FOR ultrarunners, BY ultrarunners. The RDs for the 2014 CIJ race were all seasoned ultramarathoners, and their attention-to-detail showed. The 29-page digital course guide covered details both vague (An entire page was devoted to answering the question, “What is an ultramarathon?”) and specific (parking directions, road closures, aid station offerings, etc.). The aid station tables located at the Start/Finish area were well-stocked with all the usual ultra fare: PB&J sandwiches, M&Ms, pretzels, potatoes (and salt!), chips, granola bars, Skittles, Gatorade, water, flat Mountain Dew, flat Coke, flat ginger ale, and a bevy of other options. Hot pizza made an appearance a few hours before dawn, and the volunteers started cooking up bacon shortly after the sun came up.

Race Swag consisted of t-shirts and sweatshirts for the 6/12/24-hr runners, and there were t-shirts and hats for the 5/10K runners. Runners of all distances received a finisher’s medal (with the distance/event noted on the ribbon), and any runners who ran in excess of 100 miles received a belt buckle.

At the end of the day, I understand that this race isn’t for everyone: it’s a 1-mile looped course, taking place at night, in July. It’s not the most interesting or exciting course in the world, but since there aren’t all that many ultramarathons within a short drive of Chicago, this race fills a specific niche. There are bigger races out West, scenic races that transport runners to a different world and really capture the imagination, but this race is a 5-star event for what it tries to be.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4

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Bighorn Trail Run

Bighorn Trail Run

I can't speak for what I'm told are the excellent 50-mile and 100-mile vintages of the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail run, but I ran the 50K in 2014 … MORE

I can’t speak for what I’m told are the excellent 50-mile and 100-mile vintages of the Bighorn Mountain Wild and Scenic Trail run, but I ran the 50K in 2014 and it beat me up pretty good. This was the first race I ran that ended at a significantly lower elevation than where it started (7500′ elevation at the start vs 3500′ elevation at the finish), and my quads were barking by the end of the race.

The course is breathtaking, running up and down mountains, through hills and fields and forests, and finishing with a long stretch of mileage run alongside a roaring river. The uphill power climbs were truly grueling, and the long stretches of downhill running were positively quad-busting. It was an incredible experience, on a course that I’d like to tackle again some day in the future. Aid stations came every 4-8 miles, and I would definitely recommend running with a hydration pack.

The post-race spread featured LOTS of hot food, located at a park that was conveniently situated next to the aforementioned river, which felt positively heavenly when I waded in for a post-race dip. I was a bit disappointed that there was no finisher’s medal for the 50K, but all finishers were given long-sleeved finisher’s t-shirts that were race-specific to each distance, so it was kind of like a wearable medal. This was in addition to the fetching Salomon race shirts that we’d already received, along with a Salomon insulated lunch bag and reusable ice pack. Finally, race registration included a complimentary breakfast the following morning, which was most welcome on our way out of town.

God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’d like to come back in the future to take another stab at this course, maybe the 50-miler.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
5
SWAG
5

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Big Sur International Marathon

Big Sur International Marathon

Aside from the Chicago Marathon, this may be my favorite road race that I've ever run. Beautiful views of the rugged Pacific coastline and a just-challenging-enough elevation profile are among … MORE

Aside from the Chicago Marathon, this may be my favorite road race that I’ve ever run. Beautiful views of the rugged Pacific coastline and a just-challenging-enough elevation profile are among the highlights of this race.

Anyone running Big Sur should brace themselves for an early wake-up: runners are bused to the starting line of this point-to-point marathon ahead of the 6:45am start, which means that you’ll be boarding a bus shortly after 4am local time. It’s vital to bring along a throw-away layer to stay warm at the start, as it’s not unusual for the pre-dawn temperatures to hover in the 30s & 40s.

Once the sun comes up, though, this race is heaven. A rather droll-but-pleasant first few miles soon give way to some of the most breathtaking scenery that I’ve had the pleasure of feasting my eyes upon during my 20+ career marathons. Soaring bluffs and cliffs mesh with lush, green hillsides reminiscent of the Irish coast, occasionally broken up my man-made wonders such as the iconic Bixby Bridge. What other marathon can boast of a tuxedo-and-glove-clad piano player at the halfway point of the race?

The handcrafted ceramic medals are beautiful, the long-sleeve participant tech shirts are classy, and they don’t care how many free beers you drink at the finisher’s party. This race should be on every marathoner’s bucket list

DIFFICULTY
3
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
5
SWAG
4

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North Country Trail Run

North Country Trail Run

This was my first 50-miler, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an inaugural 50. Don't let the late-August date scare you away with concerns about the heat … MORE

This was my first 50-miler, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an inaugural 50. Don’t let the late-August date scare you away with concerns about the heat — Manistee is far north enough that even the summer weather is pleasant, and the woods offer plentiful shade. With extremely well-stocked aid stations every 3-5 miles, you won’t need to run with a pack if you don’t want to — just carry 1 bottle and some salt tabs, and the volunteers will take care of the rest!

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
4
SWAG
5

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Grandma’s Marathon & Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon

Grandma’s Marathon & Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon

If you like running in a mostly-straight line alongside massive freshwater lakes, then have I got a race for you! Grandma's Marathon is a late-June race in northern Minnesota that … MORE

If you like running in a mostly-straight line alongside massive freshwater lakes, then have I got a race for you! Grandma’s Marathon is a late-June race in northern Minnesota that (usually) features typical fall race conditions, thanks to Duluth’s relatively high latitude.

Runners are bused to the start line from a few different drop-off points, where a packed & crowded start line gradually spreads out over the opening miles. If you’re a runner that thrives off of crowd support, then this may not be the race for you; aside from aid station volunteers, you won’t see much of anyone until you reach the college about 20 miles into the race, where early-rising students will be more than happy to hand you a full beer for enhanced carbohydrate replenishment.

I can only remember 1 or 2 hills of note, as most of the course is flat and/or very gently rolling. The final few miles of the race travel insidiously over cobblestone streets (WHY?!), and the final 3/4-mile of the race features no fewer than 2,000 turns. The post-race party rocked under the big tent, and I’m certain that I was overserved in the end.

Overall, Grandma’s is a biggish marathon with a nice small-town charm, and one that I’d recommend.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4

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Ice Age Trail 50

Ice Age Trail 50

I ran the Ice Age 50K in 2013 as my first ultra, then came back in 2014 to run the half-marathon, and I'm registered for the 50-miler in 2015 -- … MORE

I ran the Ice Age 50K in 2013 as my first ultra, then came back in 2014 to run the half-marathon, and I’m registered for the 50-miler in 2015 — I keep coming back for a reason, this is a great race. Here are some things to know about the course and the organization

THE COURSE
–All distances start and finish at the Nordic Trail Head in Kettle Moraine State Forest near La Grane, WI, which is also the start/finish for the Kettle Moraine 100 races held each June. The Ice Age races are always held in May, when the forest really comes into bloom. The scenery is gorgeous
–The course is popularly described as “death by 1,000 knife cuts” — it’s definitely a runnable course, but there are some steep rollers during the out-and-back to Horseriders as well as the Nordic Loop, where the majority of runners will be forced to do a fair bit of power-hiking.
–As in most Midwest ultramarathons, the aid stations are relatively plentiful, coming every 3-5 miles….you can definitely get away with running with just a water bottle. The specific food offerings vary at east aid station (I remember one aid station grilling up bratwurst!), but at minimum each aid station will have a bunch of salty & starchy foods like chips, pretzels, potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, as well as sweets like gummy bears & M&Ms. Lots of beverage choices to choose from as well, ranging from ice water to Coke, gatorade, ginger ale, or Mountain Dew.
–Most of the course offers good shade, but there are stretches of open field as well; you’ll want to be wearing some sort of sun protection
–There is space for drop bags at the Start/Finish, which the 50k course loops through twice during the course of the race. For those running the 50K, the furthest you’ll have to run before coming through the start/finish is 13 miles.
–The course is 99% trails, with the exception of a few road crossings that are manned by police or volunteers. Some of the course is single track, while some of it is double-wide jeep trails….it’s a pretty good mix.
–Overall, the course is challenging, but accessible. The sharp uphills are steep but short, and the majority of the course is runnable

ORGANIZATION:
–There is a registration cap for each race, and it usually reaches capacity the day that registration opens. If you want to run this race, you best be ready to sign up early!
–Race-day packet pickup on the morning of the race is a breeze, and only takes a second or two. There’s no need to race to Eagle, WI to pick up your packet the night before.
–There’s ample parking, but the race is large enough that if you don’t arrive early, you’ll have to park somewhat far away. I’d recommend showing up early, and carpool if you can!

POST-RACE FESTIVITIES:
–In true Wisconsin fashion, there is a generous post-race spread for all runners. You’ll have your pick of burgers, brats, potato salad, hot dogs, cookies, etc. to choose from. Non-runners can purchase a meal ticket, since the closest restaurants are a bit of a drive away.
–There is essentially unlimited free beer after the race; each year, the RDs arrange for at least a few kegs of Lakefront Brewery beer to be trucked in.
–Overall, it’s a very fun, festive party atmosphere, where a LOT of people hang around until at least 6pm to see the last of the 50-mile finishers cross the line….I’d definitely recommend hanging around.

SWAG;
–Very nice long-sleeve tech tshirts for all participants, unique for each distance
–Half-marathon and 50K finishers received keychains in 2013 & 2014, rather than medals. 50-mile finishers receive belt buckles each year.

FINAL THOUGHTS — if you can register early enough, run this race!

DIFFICULTY
4
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
3
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Half Madness 13.1

Half Madness 13.1

I ran this race in 2012 -- its timing makes it a very convenient tune-up race for some of the bigger fall marathons out there. I'll get right down to … MORE

I ran this race in 2012 — its timing makes it a very convenient tune-up race for some of the bigger fall marathons out there.

I’ll get right down to it, I drank a 6-pack of beer *during* this race en route to a sub-2 hour finish, and so my experience is bound to be very different from that of others. I remember aid stations coming every 2 miles or so, enthusiastic volunteers, and a mostly flat course that runs through various neighborhoods in suburban Batavia. The last long section of the course ran on some shaded, hard-pack trails, and that was a very nice way to end the race.

The post-race spread in 2012 featured lots of Domino’s pizza and as much Sam Adams as you could drink, and the cool medal doubles as a bottle opener. This is a race that I’d like to run again down the road.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
3
SWAG
4

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Grand Teton Races

Grand Teton Races

Once upon a time, this race had 10K, Marathon, 50K, and 50-mile distances to choose from; due to permitting, though, they've had to reduce the number of distances that they … MORE

Once upon a time, this race had 10K, Marathon, 50K, and 50-mile distances to choose from; due to permitting, though, they’ve had to reduce the number of distances that they currently offer. That said, I ran the trail marathon in 2012. As a native flatlander, this race remains the hardest that I’ve ever run as (of January 2015) — the course starts at around 7500′, and the marathon quickly rose to about 9700′ within the first 2 miles.

The course starts and ends at a ski resort, and it’s arranged in a cloverleaf formation that allows you to comes through the start/finish area a number of times during the race. In addition to the gorgeous scenery that includes an unobstructed view of The Grand, I will say that this was the most impeccably-marked course I’ve ever run; at one point, I was running by myself for THREE HOURS without having seen another runner traveling in my direction, but never once did I think that I might be lost or off-course.

The race wasn’t held in 2014, but it’s my understanding that it will come back in 2015 — I really hope that it’s held again in the future, this is one of my favorite races that I’ve had the privilege of running.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
3

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Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I've run New York, Berlin, Big Sur, Marine Corps, Grandmas, and a number of other marathons, and Chicago is still THE BEST. In no particular order, here are some of … MORE

I’ve run New York, Berlin, Big Sur, Marine Corps, Grandmas, and a number of other marathons, and Chicago is still THE BEST. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why:
–The location is perfect. Of any big race that I’ve run, the Chicago Marathon is by far the easiest to get to on race morning, just a short walk from the red line subway. Grant Park is very spacious, and its capacity for runners & spectators makes gear check a total breeze.
–The course is F-L-A-T, and along with London & Berlin, it’s one of the only courses in the world where there’s a legitimate chance for a world record to be set during every running.
–The race takes you on a true tour of the city, through neighborhoods that all of their very own, distinct vibe. Downtown, Lincoln Park, raucous Boystown, Old Town, River North, West Loop, Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown…you’re going to see the entire city, man, and the crowd support is perhaps second only to NYC
–For spectators, it is SHOCKINGLY EASY to use Chicago’s public transportation to follow your runner around and see them in 3, 4, or even 5 different places on the course. It’s very easy for spectators to be actively engaged.
–The aid stations are huge, long, well-stock, and plentiful.
–Seriously, the crowd support is unbelievable.
–Swag is nice: there’s always a cool medal every year, and the Nike running shirt is a top-of-the-line lightweight tech shirt that’s suitable for racing. It’s of a much better quality than the typical low-end, wearable polyester sheets that you get from most races.
–Plenty of beer at the finish, typically Goose Island; you’re only supposed to take 1, but they never care how many times you come back.
–Grant Park is a wonderfully relaxing place to chill, stretch, and hang out after the race; it’s the complete opposite of the Central Park experience after the NYC Marathon, where you embark on an unending march without having any time to stop.
–As far as the scenery goes, it’s one of the loveliest big-city marathons you could run….very cool architecture, and each neighborhood has its own character. And the only hill to speak of comes at Mile 26!

DIFFICULTY
1
PRODUCTION
5
My Report
SCENERY
5
SWAG
4

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