Chicago Monster Dash 5K Review

Do you know what I love even more than running?  Holidays!  Any holiday really, especially if its a fun one like Halloween, New Years, Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day.  I mean, holidays that include gifts are pretty awesome too, but any holiday that gives me an excuse to dress up like I’m a kid again, includes dancing – or food – or candy, and involves Guinness and the sound of bagpipes playing is way up there on my list of favorites.  Imagine my excitement when I came across an event that combined my love for running with my love for one holiday in particular, Halloween!

I heard about a little race (its actually a good sized race) called the Monster Dash a few years ago, and have a few friends who have run it in the past, but I have never run it since it always seems to fall on the same day as another local race.  When given a choice, I prefer to support the smaller local races over larger races downtown, especially when they benefit the community I live in.  The Monster Dash typically falls on the same day as the Frank Lloyd Wright races, which is organized by the Park District of Oak Park, and runs practically right by house.  I ran the 10K last year and absolutely loved it.

Anyway, back in January I ran a 5K, the Polar Dash, (organized by the same group as the Monster Dash, the Get Lucky race and the Women Rock races) and the lead bike turned around too early, causing the 5K runners to miss the 5K mark by almost a mile.  The 5K race wasn’t timed (they typically time only the longer distances, usually a 10K and/or half marathon option), but some of the runners put up a stink, and the company was kind enough to offer discounted registration to another event, to make up for their oops.  At the time I was already registered for the Get Lucky 7K, so I decided to register for the Monster Dash, thinking it would be fun to dress up in costume for a fun 5K.  After the discount, and various fees I paid only $27.64 for the race.

Fast forward 9 months and there I was, exactly one week post marathon, thanking my lucky stars that the race wasn’t going to be timed, so I wouldn’t feel pressured into trying to set a PR.  I was really looking forward to participating in a nice, fun, organized recovery run.  Here is my review.  Brace yourselves, this is going to be another long one.  If you don’t want to read the novel, feel free to scroll to the bottom for the brief overview.

About a week before the race I received an email with an update on the race, including packet pick-up times and locations.  I was surprised to see that they were offering two locations for packet pick-up, since they hadn’t for the two other races I have run with them.  Packet pick-up was to be held in Andersonville on Wednesday and Thursday; and downtown at the Congress Hotel on Saturday.  Knowing I wouldn’t make it all they way to Andersonville in time, I opted to pick-up my packet on Saturday.  Not wanting to fight traffic and pay a million dollars to park my car for five minutes, I chose to take the Green Line.  The Congress Hotel is only a few blocks from the Adams/Wabash stop, so it was pretty convenient to get there and back.

Super comfy hoodie!

Super comfy hoodie!

Packet pick-up was a breeze.  When I arrived around 4:45pm there were no lines at all.  I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.  I picked-up my bib and super comfy finisher hoodie and was on my way.  I have to say, Team Ortho races have awesome swag.  The race organizers even provide an opportunity to register or pick-up your packet and swag for their upcoming races as well.  This time, they were offering pick-up for the Polar Dash.  The convenience was an added bonus in my book!

Moving on to race day, I awoke to a brisk 30 something degree morning and was thankful that I could wear leggings and a black compression jacket under my costume without ruining it.  As an aside – can we can a conversation about women’s costume options?  OK, not everyone wants to dress up like a sexy this or a sexy that…come on, we need more modest options please!  Anyway, not wanting to show off my assets, I chose a simple Jack O’Lantern costume that left a bit to the imagination.  Black leggings and a black compression jacket worked perfectly under the costume and kept me warm as I waited for the L with my run club friend who was also running.



Once we got downtown we found the start line area quickly and checked out the medals for the different races.  My friend was registered for the half but wasn’t sure if she should do it or drop down to the 10K, as she was nursing a slight injury and has an important race coming up soon.  After checking out the medals, she decided to drop down to the 10K.  The registration table representative was very kind and made the swap quickly and painlessly.  We then headed over to gear check and were surprised that they were making everyone place their bags in a clear plastic bag.  I had a few problems with this.  1)  I get that you are trying to make things safer for everyone, but putting a backpack into a plastic bag without checking the backpack first is not going to make anything safer.  2)  Perhaps sending an email letting us know that we would be required to use your clear plastic bag ahead of time would have been a good idea.  Or heck, maybe give us the bag and/or say something to us at packet pick-up!

Anywho…on to the race.  From what I could tell, all three of the races went off on time.  The half marathon was first, followed by the 10K and then the 5K.  I lined up for the 5K about 10 minutes prior to the start and was surprised to see people with strollers and dogs in front of me when I was standing at the 9:30 min/mile pace flag.  I knew immediately that this was not going to be an event to “race”.  I crossed the start line and immediately started dodging walkers, strollers, little dogs in costumes and small children.  I know it was supposed to be a fun event, but it was still a fun “run”, not a fun “let’s walk six people across the Lakefront path with our dog and umbrella stroller”.  I know I probably sound like a crab @$$ but I really wanted to run, even if it was slow.  That being said, after the first mile things opened up a bit and I was able to run, though still weaving around people.  Obviously, this is not the race organizer’s fault though, so I don’t hold it against them at all!

The course itself was mediocre at best.  The first quarter mile or so was on the broken sidewalk around Avery Field and then merged onto a nice well maintained path.  Just after the 2 mile marker, we turned onto the lower part of the Lakefront path…the part that is right next to the water and consistently has broken or uneven pavement and potholes from the beating it takes from Lake Michigan every time the wind picks up a bit.  Great.  Needless to say, there was some careful stepping and leaping going on for fear that I would roll an ankle or trip.  The last quarter mile was back on the nice path and was full of spectators cheering participants in to the finish where their medals were placed around their necks.  Outside of the course itself, I have to admit that the “aid stations” were fun.  At just about every mile marker there were volunteers with big bowls handing out candy to the participants…AWESOME!  There was also one aid station distributing water.

The 5K medal!

The 5K medal!

By the time I finished this run, my knees and ankles were screaming again.  There was a short flight of steps leading to the gear check area and I winced as soon as I stepped down on the first step.  I felt like I had just run another marathon.  I met my friend at the gear check area so we could collect our belongings and head home.  The race offered a free PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and finisher party, but for me, it was just too early and too cold to drink beer.  The gear check volunteers found my bag immediately, but minutes later, they were still searching for my friends.  Afraid that they had given her bag to another participant, the volunteers were just about ready to give up when after about 15 minutes of walking up and down the aisles of bags, her bag was finally located.  What a relief!

Overall the race was pretty fun, but I think I’d rather stick to the Frank Lloyd Wright races and run another fun Halloween race that is timed instead.

As promised, here is the shorter version of my overall opinion of this race:

The Good:

  • Fun event with a variety of distance options.
  • Longer distances have a nicer course along the Lakefront path.
  • Candy aid stations!
  • Sweet swag…a super comfy sweatshirt and a medal for everyone.
  • Awesome participant costumes.  My favorite was a group of dogs and their owners.  One dog was dressed as a “Rufferee” (complete with a yellow flag in a pocket), two wore shirts that said “Wide Retriever”, two more were dressed as cheerleaders, and their humans were dressed in Chicago Bear’s jerseys.
  • Packet pick-up was a breeze.
  • The free beer was a nice touch.  If it was warmer, I probably would have taken them up on it.

The Bad:

  • The 5K course…broken and uneven pavement is just asking for problems.  I know there are logistical challenges that accompany a three distance race, but perhaps a new start/finish location is in order?
  • Gear check…lack of communication with participants, nonsensical “security” measures and misplacing my friend’s bag left me unimpressed and nervous to leave my bag at gear check ever again.

4 thoughts on “Chicago Monster Dash 5K Review

  1. Funny that they made people put their bags in clear plastic bags. Makes no sense, except that the “clear plastic bag” thing at races gives people the illusion that the race has the security thing in hand.

    • It’s a great idea, as long as it’s communicated ahead of time so people know to leave other bags at home and they are consistent about checking EVERY bag to ensure items in the clear plastic bag are safe.

  2. I have seen a LOT of races start to require clear plastic bags for gear check but then let people just put their backpack in the clear bag… utterly baffles me. It makes NO SENSE!!!

    When I checked my bag at this race (I did the 10K) they asked me to empty my backpack before putting my backpack in the bag which makes more sense… but only a little bit.

    Also totally agree that she should communicate the bag check thing ahead of time

    • At least they asked you to empty your backpack! Hopefully they (and other races) have learned that communication and consistency is the only way to truly ensure everyone’s safety. I hope you had a great race!

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