Race Review: Volition America Half Marathon (National Anthem of Running)

Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Volition America Run as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!

The Volition Half Marathon brought a couple of firsts for me.  It was my first time running a Volition American race (really the first time I had heard about it) and the first time I had ever ran a race in Chicago dispite living less than 2 hours away. 

When given the opportunity to run this race, I jumped on it for a couple of reasons. 

  1. It’s relatively close to home for me
  2. It benefits Folds of Honor
  3. It was held on September 11, 2016, the 15th anniversary of the awful terror attacks.  I couldn’t think of a better way to remember those we lost that day and those we lost since in the war on terror. 

What is Folds of Honor?

Folds of Honor provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of those killed or disabled in service to America. I encourage you to check out This link for more information on Folds of Honor as well as videos on how the foundation has benefitted families of those who have lost a member during war or are disabled through war. 

Created by Major Dan Rooney, USAFR F-16 Fighter Pilot and founder of the Folds of Honor Foundation, Volition America raises funds to help military families pursue their passions through education. The half marathon and 5k series of running events help support families of America’s fallen and wounded soldiers. Over the past 7.5 years, Folds of Honor have awarded 10,000 scholarships acrossed all 50 states. 
I could say so much more, but the Volition America website says it so much better. Please check it out. 

My Race Day

With living an hour and 40 minutes away from Chicago, I decided to not get a hotel for Saturday night (save some money) and drive to the race on race day.  The advantage is that I gain an hour by crossing into Central time zone from the Eastern Time Zone.  This is, however, only a benefit, if you factor it in correctly. With the race time starting at 7:00CST and packet pickup starting at 6:00CST, I planned on leaving around 5:00EST.  For whatever reason, I set my alarm for 5:00 and didn’t realize I was already running behind until 5:30.  There goes my number 1 rule or race day, which is to arrive at least an hour early.  That was not happening and I still had the task of parking which I was unsure about. So it was a stressful drive to Chicago.  I won’t disclose how fast I was driving on the Indiana Toll Road. As I arrived to Chicago, I was putting on my compression calf sleeves, socks, and shoes at every stoplight I came to, trying to save time. 

Anyways, I made it to Chicago and found a place to park at a parking garage, handed my keys to the valet, grabbed all the gear I needed and did my warmup to Grant Patk where the race started and finished.  I left my car at about 6:15. Plenty of time but still needed to get my packet, it the bathrooms and get into the corral.  Luckily, packet pick up was a breeze, just had to look up my number on the table, make my way over to the packet pickup tent and they handed me a my drawstring bag with shirt inside and bag.  My bib number was 1195. The younger girl said that’s was a good number because she was born in 1995 and her birth month is November (11).  Thank you for making me feel old…

I didn’t have time to look at my shirt to make sure it fit, I just made my way over to the port o potties, where there was a line but it seemed to be moving fast.  While in line, I am hanging into my BibRave Orange singlet and pinning on my number and yet still carrying all my gear.  After the line, I headed over to check in my gear.

Before entering the corral I was about to send fellow BibRave Pro, Heather, a text telling her that I was there when I received a message saying she was in line where I just was at.  I went back to the line to say hi and wish her luck, and headed back to the corral to line up. 

The pre race ceremonies began 10-15 prior to the start of the race. Major Dan addressed the runners, telling everyone about the mission of Folds of Honor and how it came to be and their mission. Major Dan standing above the starting line. 

After Major Dan announced the mission behind the Volition Run and Folds of Honor, a couple of quick announcements were made about the course.  It was not a closed course, but it was all on the paths , no roads. We were warned that there would be runners, walkers, and bikers out on the course.  There was actually another race along the lake shore going on that we were warned about. 

After these announcements, there was the playing of Taps, Amazing Grace played on bagpipes (I love hearing Amaxing Grace on bagpipes), the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem leading up to the start of the race. 

  https://youtu.be/JvvbyF4vtXE

Video is from Athens 2015 Volition Run but it gives you an idea of what it was like at the start this year. 

And with the sound of the air horn, we were off and running. The first mile was a loop around a section of Grant Park.  It offered a wider path than the rest of the course for the crowded start.  This allowed us to get spread out before the path became more narrow.  It worked well for the race.  We came back around the starting line at about the mile mark.  My goal in this race was to start off at a 6:20 pace for the first half and then pick it up.  The first mile was about perfect with a 6:19 mile. 

Mile 2 I got a little too excited on and I think this happened for a couple of reasons. 1. It has been a month since I last races. 2. I was passing a few runners. 3. I was coming up to the Blue Mile. It was here that Wear Blue To Remember was lining the course holding American Flags and there were signs with the names and pictures of those who gave their lives for our country.  Each soldiers name and picture was a family member or friend to someone in the race.  It was quiet the site to see and it got me going. And it probably got me going a little too much.  Mile 2 was in 6:12. 

Mile 3 started the long stretch of running alone without much crowd support other than the aid stations (which were great) and once in a while s walker or runner, out doing their own workout, giving a little encouragement. I purposely slowed down this mile hoping to recover a little from mile 2 and ran it in 6:28. 

Mile 4 was a little faster in 6:25, mile 5 in 6:23 and mile 6 in 6:25.  Still off my pace, but was also counting the runners coming back as we approached the turn around. As I got closer to the turn around, I honestly couldn’t believe it, I was in 5th place.  I was aiming for top 10 so I was feeling good. 

At the turn around, you could see the skyline of Chicago ahead, that meant for the next 7 miles, you would see it.  It seemed so close…

Mile 7 I was able to get back closer to goal pace by running a 6:21, followed by 6:22 but I could tell someone was closing in because I could hear the cheats from other runners as I was on my way back to Grant Park and the cheers/screams were not for me.  The screams were coming from all the ladies because the women’s leader was catching me.  I don’t believe in anyway they were screaming because she was catching me, rather because she was the first women and she was flying.  I tried to go with her as she came around me but it wasn’t happening, I just needed to run my race and let her go.  Between miles 7 and 9 I did have two encouraging moments.  The first came when I heard another runner yell “Hey Daddy!” This came from Chicago area runner Nick Hawkins (follow him on Twitter at @ChicagoUltra50). Next came when Heather and I crossed paths.  We high fived one another as we continued on our own races. 

Photo courteousy of Heather Conry

Mile 9, it started to slip away some more with a mile split of 6:30. Mile 10 got worse with a 6:37.  Those early miles were starting to catch up, but lucky for me, no other runner was catching me. Mile 11 continued along the lake front along the Shedd Aquarium. Mile 11 was completed in 6:35. 

Mile 12 got a little rough as the sidewalk seemed to deteriorate.  Had to be very cautious of where you stepped. Mile12 was completed in 6:39 Mile 13 was just awful.  Miles 12 and 13 was an out and back and so I had a good idea of how far of a lead I had on the next runner and it was a comfortable distance. So I backed off.  Probably shouldn’t have, but just decided to not kill myself.  After all I have a marathon in 3 weeks.  Mile 13 was over in my slowest mile of 6:54.  

I approached the finish line which was lined with American Flags and the announcer calling out all finishers names, even saying my last name correctly, which is rare. I crossed the finishline in 1:25:20. Not what I was aiming for but I feel it was a good indication of where I am for my upcoming marathon.  I finished 6th overall, 5th male, and 2nd in the 30-39 division.

After finishing, I was able to get some water, eat a banana, eat some pretzels, get my finishers medal, and take a few pictures. 

After a few minutes of recovery I decided to walk back on the course and continue until I found Heather and run with her to the finish.  

At about the 10th mile I found Heather and we completed the last 3 miles.  I give Hearher a lot of credit for her weekend.  She ran the Mag Mile Half Marathon the day before, had some struggles, but came back in Sunday and pushed through and did very well on Sunday at the Volition Run.  Great job Heather! 

Following Heathers finish, we caught up with Nick and got a picture.  Nick will be running a full marathon in Sydney, Australia this weekend.  Good luck Nick! 


After the race, I picked up my age group awards. A nice medalion was given to top 3 in each age division. 

After picking up my award, I did a few touristy things before making the drive home.  I am sure I looked odd to a lot of people carrying around my running gear, wearing my Oofos flip flops and compression. Sleeves.  

Buckingham Fountain. 
The Bean in Millennium Park 

Chicago Art Institute 

Race Review

Pros 

-Easy registration process 

-2 packet pick up locations to choose from. One on Friday, the other on Saturday before the race. The race was on Sunday and there was race day packet pickup available which was great for runners like me who traveled to Chicago the day of the race from a couple hours away 

real short lines for packet pickup on race day. Just look up your number on a sepreate table and make your way over to the check in table to get your bib and swag 

-swag included a nice drawstring bag with the Volition America logo on it and a zipper pocket on the front. Also was a nice short sleeve tech shirt. This shirt may be my new favorite race shirt. Love this shirt. 

– about 15-20 portable toilets lined up for runners. Lines seemed long before the race but lined moved fairly quickly

– no corrals for this race but there were pacers lined up to give you a good idea of where you should start from. 

-before the race, Major Dan addressed the runners about how the race and foundation began which is a truly great story. We said the pledge of allegiance, Taps was played, and played the national anthem. After the national anthem, with the sound of an air horn, the race started. 

– it was a great course. First mile was a loop around part of Grant Park before coming back near the start line and then headed out south along the paths by the lake shore. Runners ran by Shedd Aquarium, before some great views of Lake Michigan. The paths were flat for the most part but were a few hills and underpasses going under the road. 

-Mile 2 was awesome. It was the Blue Mile where the race honored soldiers that have been lost. Runners were able to submit names and pictures of family and friends who sacrificed their life for our country. Along with that were volunteers holding American Flags lining the course and supporting the runners. Pretty cool scene. 

-turnaround was around mile 6. After that you stared running back north with a view of skyline ahead. Another great view. 

-very well marked course. 

-aid stations had water and Gatoraid. Aid stations were about every 1.5 miles. Service men and women served at the last 2 aid stations. 

-the finish line was lined with American flag and announcer calling out every runners name as they finished. Even pronounced my last name right. 

-after you finished you can get some water, fruit, pretzels and other goodies. A volunteer also put a medal on you. 

-the medal is pretty sweet with the race logo on it. After you did all that, you could step over and have a post race photo taken with your well earned medal. 

-post race there were free samples to taste from some sponsors. You could also purchase a few other race items. Also there was a DJ playing music. 

-awards were announced for the top 3 make and female overall winners. Awards were also given for top 3 in each age group. 

-course was a nice location, close to tourist spots such as the Shedd Aquarium, Buckingham Fountain, the Bean in Millenium Park, and the Art Institute.
Cons

These are really out of the races hands. 

-this is the first time I had ran a race in Chicago, but the course is not closed to other runners, walkers, and bikers. With a 7:00 start, it wasn’t too bad early but as the race went on, it became more crowded. There was even another race going on. Not much the race can do about it and it really wasn’t that bad. I don’t see any way that the city could control this even if they wanted to. 

parking. As a guy from a small town, I hate paying for parking for any event, but this is Chicago. No avoiding it. Parking wasn’t too far away, it made for a good warmup. 

-parts of the course, especially mile 12, the pavement was rough and really had to watch your step. Once again, this is an issue for Chicago to work on.

I loved this race and I will be on the lookout for the race date for next year!
There was also some local news stations there.  Feel free to Check out these links for their stories. 

http://cbsloc.al/2cQOkyH
http://cbsloc.al/2cjGonC

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