Saturday, October 19, 2013
My day started at 3:30AM. I had gone to bed reasonably early the night before and was able to get seven hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep. I had my usual protein shake and a banana for breakfast and after a quick check of the weather I started dressing appropriately for the days predicted conditions. I had done some preparations the night before, pinning on my race bib, filling my water bottles and stuffing gel packs in my hydration belt. With everything safely tucked into my backpack, I was out the door by 5:00AM.
I drove the 8 miles from my house to the Rosemont CTA stop to take the Blue Line into the city. For those of you, most of you I suspect, who are not familiar with Chicago, the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) uses a color system to identify the different train/subway routes throughout the city. The Blue Line is the train that runs from O’hare Airport to downtown Chicago. The Blue Line starts at O’hare and Rosemont is the next stop as you head into the city. It is about 16 miles from Rosemont to downtown. The train is above ground for most of the way, changing to subway on the near north side as it goes below the Chicago River and into downtown.
The race vibe started as soon as I stepped onto the train platform. Everyone there was a runner heading for the race. Everyone. There were already 30 or 40 people waiting, and I could clearly see more making their way from the parking lot.
Because of the events in Boston, heightened security regulations had been implemented for the Chicago Marathon. The only bags being allowed in to Grant Park and the race area were large clear plastic bags issued to every runner during packet pickup at the Expo. It seemed that everyone on the platform had that big plastic bag hanging from their shoulder. If you hadn’t picked out the runners by their colorful shoes, the plastic bag was a sure indicator. You could just feel the energy and anticipation, people taking pictures, talking excitedly, checking their gear, pacing nervously, eating that last minute bagel or banana.
The train arrived and we were on our way. As we headed in to the city, every stop saw more and more people getting on, most of them runners with their clear plastic bags. This was fun already.
I got off at the Jackson Street subway stop and walked east and south to the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. The Hilton is across the street from Grant Park and just south of the race staging area. One of the perks of the marathon training program that I was a part of was a VIP race day package. I’ll simply copy and paste the details here.
As a participant in CARA's Summer Marathon Training, you receive an amazing race day perk -- VIP treatment.
Join us at the CARA VIP Marathon Experience on Sunday, October 13! What is this VIP Experience, you ask... It is an exclusive, indoors area ONLY for CARA training program participants, members, charity runners and out-of-town guests.
• private gear check (one bag per person, but bring any bag!)
• temperature-controlled, indoor space for pre and post-race
• flushing toilets
• private bank of porta-potties near the starting line
• Lagunitas Brewing Runner's High-P-A (post-race)
• and more!
It all takes place in Steven Salon A of the Chicago Hilton (720 S. Michigan). The VIP Marathon Experience opens at 5:30 a.m. and will close at 3:00 p.m. You will need your shoe tag AND race bib for entry!
I’m not sure what the “and more” was, but this was pretty cool. It WAS chilly race morning, so just being able to stay inside somewhere until the last possible minute was a big deal.
There were other groups that had similar arrangements and the Hilton is one of the more popular Hotels for out of town marathoners, so needless to say, the place was a complete madhouse of runners. It was just plain awesome.
Because it was a bit chilly, I waited as long as I could before heading out to the race start. I was in wave 2, Corral G. For security reasons there were only four access points to the race corrals and we had until 7:45 to be in the corral. Once the access points were closed, if you were not in your designated corral, you had to start at the end of the last corral M. With over 40,000 runners I was wondering how much trouble it was going to be to get to my corral, but the entire process was amazingly efficient and trouble free. I made one last stop at the porta potties and made it to my corral with plenty of time to spare.
The sun was shining, the temperatures were perfect for running and downtown Chicago is pretty cool. And, Wow, 40,000 runners, filling the street from curb to curb for several city blocks, getting ready to run 26.2 miles. You could FEEL the energy. You could SEE the energy. It was just……amazing!!
The first wave of runners started at 7:30. This included the elite runners and corrals A to E, about 20,000 runners total. Wave 2 started at 8:00 and included everyone in corral F to M, another 20,000. Once wave 2 started moving, it was 11 minutes before I actually crossed the start line. (factoid: the elite runners had already done 10k before we even started moving, 29:20).
We were on our way!! We headed north out of Grant Park into the New East Side and crossed the Chicago River into Streeterville and the north Michigan Avenue area, turned west on Grand Avenue and, wow, mile marker 1!! Already?!! Neat. A few more blocks and we turned south on State street and back across the river into the Loop. (We would cross the river 6 times during the course of the marathon). The first aid station was right in the loop on State Street at about the 1.5 mile mark. It seemed to go on forever. I’ve had runs that were shorter than this aid station. Since I was carrying my own water, I ran right on through.
The 2 mile mark was at Jackson where we turned west for a few blocks and then north into the financial district on LaSalle Street. Because of the tall, closely placed buildings, LaSalle Street is cavernous, and doesn’t get sunlight until later in the day so it was COLD. But we were soon out of this section and once we crossed the river once again, LaSalle opens up into a wide, wonderful, sunlit boulevard.
I’m not a native to Chicago but I’ve lived here for almost 50 years, mostly in the city itself. I love this city, and have lived in several places throughout, from Hyde Park on the south side to Sheridan Road on the north side and places in between. I know this city well, and am familiar with the neighborhoods that are a part of the marathon course though most of them I had not seen for many years. So it was a special treat for me to revisit these places, particularly from this different perspective and decidedly slower rate of speed from the usual drive by.
And the people, good grief, look at all these people, cheering and clapping and waving and holding signs and blowing horns and ringing bells and just obviously having a wonderful time, mile after mile after mile. I read later that the final crowd estimate was over 2 million!! It was a 26 mile long cheer zone.
The stretch up LaSalle is about 2 ˝ miles, crossing the 3 and 4 mile markers, before entering Lincoln Park at North Avenue. Lincoln Park itself is a true gem of the City. Starting at North Avenue, it continues for several miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. There is the Lincoln Park Zoo, a golf course, bird sanctuaries, a rowing basin, a lagoon, several marinas feeding into the lake, museums, a conservatory, and miles and miles of walking and bicycle paths. Our route took us past the zoo and the lagoon and included the 5 and 6 mile markers. We left the park at Diversey and continued north on Sheridan Road for another mile, turning at Addison, the northernmost point of the race.
I could hardly believe we were at Addison already. From the Loop. I just ran from the Loop to Addison. Sometimes I amaze myself .
Wrigley field, home of the Chicago Cubs is a few blocks west on Addison, but we turned south and headed into the Lakeview area. There were a LOT of people along this section, and they were noisy. And a lot of spectators seemed to have chosen this area to watch for their running friends, because over and over there were squeals of delight and hugs and cheers as runners met up with their personal cheering sections.
We continued south into the Park West, Lincoln Park and Old Town neighborhoods, crossing the 9, 10, 11 and 12 mile marks. Lincoln Park is a very nice section of the city with a mix of new construction and old Chicago buildings, some predating the Chicago fire. The streets are narrower here, and cozier, with lots of trees lining the parkway. It is also quite expensive, with building prices well into the million dollar range. Old Town is home to a large artist community and one of my favorite sections of the city. This was a nice stretch of the run for me, being more familiar with this area than some of the others. And always the mile after mile of spectators. Just so cool.
Just after mile 12 we crossed the river yet again, back into downtown Chicago. After about 6 blocks, we turned west, across the river AGAIN, and into the west side. And still more people!! One of the advantages of the Chicago Marathon is that it is relatively flat. But being flat, there are few opportunities to catch a glimpse of the mass of runners that you are a part of. At just past the half way point of the race, the route goes over one of the major expressways in the city, where the street has just enough elevation to see a few blocks ahead, perhaps a half mile or so. What a sight. From curb to curb, thousands and thousands of runners as far as you could see. It was enough to quicken my pace and renew my energy, and at such an opportune time, half way to the finish.
This section of the race goes through Greektown, an area well known for all of the Greek eating establishments, the West Loop and the Near West Side, all the way to Damen Avenue and the 15 mile mark. Here we turn south for a couple of blocks and then east and back through Greektown, turning south on Halsted, over the Eisenhower Expressway, down to Taylor Street and Little Italy, the old Italian section of Chicago. West on Taylor to Ashland, south on Ashland and the University Village neighborhood and the Illinois Medical District. We run south on Ashland and turn east onto 18th Street and the 19 mile mark, into Pilsen, a largely Hispanic neighborhood, very lively and colorful, with noisy, enthusiastic crowds and lots of music, a real street party atmosphere.
Another turn south from 18th Street, past the 20 mile mark and the last pass over the river. This was probably the section with the fewest spectators, but even here there were handfuls of people waving and cheering and calling out support. A turn to the northeast and after a few blocks we were heading into Chinatown. People get a good view of Chinatown because a lot of people are walking by this point. We pass the 21 mile mark going into Chinatown and the 22 mile mark soon after leaving. We are at a mile long section that runs along the Dan Ryan Expressway, not very pretty, and in the distance, you can see runners on the overpass that crosses the expressway going east. It seems like a LONG WAY OFF.
Just after mile 23, we turn south, down to 35th street, the southernmost point of the race. A short run on 35th, and then a turn north onto South Michigan Avenue and the long final stretch to the finish. This part is about 3 miles, a long 3 miles, and the point in the race when you just want it to be over. Still a lot of spectators. And a great blues band. I wanted to stop here just to listen for awhile. We passed the 24 and 25 mile markers. At Roosevelt Road, we turned east and the 26 mile mark, then one more turn north to the FINISH LINE!!! Done!! Did it!! Woohoo!!
A race volunteer quickly wrapped a mylar warming sheet around my shoulders and verified that I was still conscious and in no danger of collapsing or tossing my cookies. A few steps further on, another volunteer draped my finishers medal around my neck and gave me a hearty and sincere congratulations. In the finishers area, I quickly found the beer and downed one in no time at all. I grabbed a banana, whatever else looked edible or drinkable and then just stood there and savored the moment.
I was exhausted. I hurt all over. I could barely walk. And I felt terrific!! What a wonderful day. A record 39,115 runners completed the Chicago Marathon this year. I was one of them. Chicago Marathon ROCKS!!!
I hope you enjoyed reading this. I would write more, but I'm running out of steam and I'll never get this posted if I add any more. I hope you were able to get at least SOME idea of what this race was like. And if you are thinking about doing your first marathon, or have already done one and are looking for another, you would not be disappointed if you chose Chicago.
Oh, my favorite sign:
"My mascara runs faster than you do"