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Race Review: Chicago Women ROCK

Capitalization theirs.

Online reviews for races aren’t that easy to come by, unless you love digging through comments sections and running forums (which I actually totally do, so let me know if you need anything from the hinterlands of the Internet!), so we thought it would be helpful to share our feedback on events. Key factors considered here are the overall race organization and management, the course itself, the sweetness of the swag, any post-race festivities, and the cost of the race versus its value. There are many 5Ks, 10Ks, and half-marathons taking place all year-round in the Chicagoland area. Is this one worth your time and effort?

Here’s Kate’s review of Team Ortho’s Chicago Women ROCK, after participating in the half-marathon on September 21, 2013.

Race Organization and Management
Garbage cans. Generally a great idea when you are putting thousands of people in one park and ensuring their hands are full of empty water bottles and banana peels, right? We were at a loss when trying to throw anything away. Here is the garbage can that was closest to the finish line, and it was nowhere near the finish line. This wasn’t at the end of the day or anything; it was right after I completed the half-marathon, at about 9:45 am.

Banana graveyard.

Banana graveyard.

Most runners awkwardly, delicately, tried to set their garbage on top of the overflowing heap while trying to look visibly guilty so that observers would know they didn’t want to contribute to the growing litter problem but had no choice. Some didn’t bother and just chucked their remaindered crap on the ground. No judgment here. Why was the garbage can so small and all alone?

The Course
“This course is so jacked,” a fellow-runner said to me, as we both tried to ascertain, without stopping, whether we were at a turnaround or whether we should keep going. It was true. We followed a trail of cones that guided us to the higher level of the lakefront path, at the north end of the course, near the Chicago River, but it soon became evident we should have ignored those and stayed on the lower level. We had shouted at standers-by for assistance (“Is this the half-marathon course?”), but no one knew and there were no volunteers to point us in the right direction.

This has an easy fix: Station one or two volunteers along that congested, multi-branched section of the trail. A more complicated problem may be the insane layout of the course. We went north, then south, then back up north, then south again, and then past the finish line, resulting in that awful false-positive feeling of thinking you’re nearly done when you’re not.

I did find the finish line, eventually.

I did find the finish line, eventually.

And there were so many turns! Particularly at the end of the race, I found it frustrating how may corners I had to round when I was trying to kick through and finish strong (while weaving through hundreds of 10K-ers finishing at the same time; another demerit).

Do bananas count as swag? Either way, I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get back to the bananas, which were, frankly, ba-na-nas. The volunteer actually apologized when handing me one. He made a half-hearted gesture of searching for a different, less squishy one, but by the expression on his face, I could tell that he had been looking for, and not finding, a decent banana all morning.

“I’m so sorry, but they’re all like this,” he said. “I just feel bad.”

Bananas don’t make or break a race. But dear god, Team Ortho; what did you do to those bananas?

Boxes are the least of your problems, Garbage Can.

Discarded bananas, tossed aside like yesterday’s news.

Now on to the real swag. Your race fee gets you a long-sleeved, full-zip jacket, which is typical of Team Ortho events and a pretty sweet takeaway. Their jackets are oddly brandless, with no indication of being manufactured by a big name like Brooks or Saucony; two busted zippers later on two older Team Ortho jackets, my theory is that this is reflected in the quality, but maybe my Women ROCK jacket will hold up for decades, who knows. At any rate, the jacket is cute, flattering, and true to size. While the detailing is hot pink, the jacket itself is black, a color with universal appeal that’s good to sweat in.

We also received a champagne flute filled with sparkling wine and a sterling silver pendant, both bearing the stylized “W” that is the Women ROCK logo. The glass is a fun memento, but I’m a little bitter about getting a necklace instead of a medal. (I could have purchased one at the race for $20, but gimme a break.) I would be curious, however, to hear if other runners loved their necklace and find jewelry more practical than a participant’s medal, given that you can wear it every day without garnering major eye-rolls from other members of your household.

Here's me celebrating a PR with my pendant, which is much harder than a medal to hold up triumphantly.

Here’s me celebrating a PR with my pendant, which is much harder than a medal to hold up triumphantly.

And… that’s it for swag. No samples of new gels or coupons for other races. I love getting free Gu, so this was sad for me. Oh wait! There was Muscle Milk available at the end, but I don’t drink that stuff. Because it’s called Muscle Milk. So gross.

Post-Race Party
Weak. The line to get in to the party area, where our free flutes of sparkling wine awaited, was about 20 minutes long. There were only four or so volunteers in the booze tent, trying to pour individual glasses that weren’t 100% bubbles, and so it took forEVER to get one.

So many thirsty ladies, winding through so many lanes and lines.

So many thirsty ladies waiting in line.

What’s more, my husband, who had spent his entire Saturday morning supporting me and cheering on the runners, needed to purchase a $15 spectator ticket in order to join me in the fancy gated post-race party area. I’ve never been to a race that charged spectators for hanging around afterward. Seemed pretty chintzy.

Lola Granola: not happy about being banned from the post-race party.

Lola enjoying her prime spectating spot, unaware that the post-race party will set her back 15 big ones.

The total cost of this race, including processing fees, was $86.19. While some kinks, such as the twisty course, may be worked out in future years, I would not make this a first-choice recommendation for runners. While the vibe was great, and I have a soft spot for women-only races, it’s expensive in comparison with other half-marathons, and the organizers seemed more concern with making an extra buck than with committing themselves fully to a smooth, runner-focused race day.

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Lively Athletics


24 Sep, 2013

Race Review


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