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Chicago Marathon race report, finally

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.

Amenities include:
• 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
• snacks
• water
• Gatorade
• 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 ½ 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"

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    This was really inspiring! I can sure see why you want to do it again... it makes me want to go there!

    All the best as you prepare for your next adventure.
    877 days ago
    A great report hope you were pleased with your race.

    I would consider Chicago but will try to stumble my way through NY in a few first!

    885 days ago
    CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You run so well, you leave that mascara of yours in the dust :) But seriously...what an amazing ACHIEVEMENT! Well done :) !
    893 days ago
    CONGRATULATIONS! It sounds like a great experience. emoticon emoticon
    1251 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    Since I was just in Chicago a week ago, this blog brought back happy memories of many places that I have seen and visited! Congrats on finishing the marathon. That is beyond awesome. That is not even on my bucket list. I admire you so much that you were able to run the whole thing. WOW! Thanks for sharing the beauty of the race and the excitement, I felt like I was there cheering you on!
    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog as well about my area that I run/walk. I appreciate your support.
    Keep up the excellent work!
    1378 days ago
  • SUNSHINE20113
    Congratulations!! And you've described it all so wonderfully!! What an achievement!!
    1588 days ago
    Chicago, in all its glory, does have a magnificent mile, and a beautiful lake front, great neighborhoods, and an inspiring art world. After 50 years, you are truly a "homey" for lack of a better term. Your experience is very powerful. Congratulations on your grand finish! Thanks for posting.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1599 days ago
  • LEWILL1982
    Congratulations! I had some friends from here (FL) run Chicago and had great experiences! I have finally decided to put a marathon as a 4 year goal for me (before I turn 35!). Loved your descriptions of the neighborhoods and the break down of the mileage!
    1600 days ago
    My mascara runs faster than you do

    I love it !!

    Congratulations on running and completing the Chicago Marathon. That's fantastic.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon

    emoticon emoticon
    1601 days ago
    I loved your race report! Just recently running my first 1/2 marathon I found myself reliving my race. It was very small, but a good one for my first. I could "see" for myself the race you ran. (As of right now I have no desire for a full 26.2, but I said that about a 1/2 marathon when I started running six months ago.)

    emoticon and emoticon job!
    1601 days ago
    Awesome blog! You are such an inspiration!
    1604 days ago
    I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this, in fact I read the whole thing to my husband who's only interest in running has been as my number one cheerleader or the occasional stint as a race volunteer since he was stuck waiting around for me anyway. What we enjoyed the most was your lovely Chicago travelogue. Since we lived and worked in the rail yard off of Roosevelt Rd for so many years in our retirement job, we are so familiar with the course you describe and I could almost taste my favorites at Santorini's or Tuscany on Taylor or OMG Dim Sum.....oh, I digress. Thank you for a great race report and congrats on a wonderful run. Proof that it's never to late to become an athlete!
    1604 days ago
    Great blog....felt like I was there due to your description!
    1604 days ago
    emoticon Great blog! Love the sign too. Truly regret letting my move deter my marathon training. I should of been there, hopefully can make in 2014!!
    1605 days ago
    Oh wow, congratulations! I had no idea you were in this area. I was too late for Chicago, so I ran the Prairie State Marathon in Libertyville the day before. It was nice and scenic and not crowded at all, very low key and nice, but I sure missed the excellent crowd support that a big marathon like Chicago provides. Since you're already there with your training, you should join me in doing the Chicago Lakefront 50K on Nov. 2!
    1608 days ago
  • _MOBII_
    I LOVED this blog! I didn't know when the marathon was until a few days before (I'm slow with this stuff, lol), and my niece's baby shower was the same day so I missed the marathon. (Had a wonderful time at the baby shower tho, haha)

    I am so inspired by your blog and wish I could have been there to cheer you on! I'm not sure where you are at, but I am in Streamwood and have taken the train to Union station a few times, I am not too familiar with all the other public transportation yet since I haven't been in the area long, but am just happy to see someone relatively close to me!

    Thank you for sharing your run with us!
    1608 days ago
    Great blog! I could feel the energy emanating through my computer screen!

    Congratulations!!!! Another great achievement!
    1609 days ago
  • PDQ1203
    1609 days ago
    Absolutely inspiring ride on your virtual shoulder! LOVE it! Congratulations on your finish, and I can feel the pride of accomplishment from down here in Nebraska!

    As I read I reflected on the masses of people. The biggest marathon event I run in where I can see the runners in front is of course my home town Lincoln Marathon which I have run three times now as a half... and we cap at 10,000 runners. The hill (such as it is) at mile 10 is where one can observe... and as far back as *I* run, we're stretched out by then. I got goose bumps reading your account.

    Spark on, and again emoticon that's emoticon !
    1609 days ago
    This is great! You took me all thru Chicago! Loved the details and it sounds like you had a great run! emoticon
    1609 days ago
    Great blog! I wasn't familiar with the neighbourhoods so was glad to read your description of them. The crowds were very amazing. Enjoyed reading this.
    1609 days ago
    Thanks for the blog..... you did great! My first is in May and local ....perhaps I should put Chicago on my bucket list. Sounds like a great course.
    1609 days ago
  • MAGGIE805
    Congratulations!!! This one race I would like to run someday. emoticon emoticon
    1609 days ago
    Awesome job and description. Congrats!
    1609 days ago
    Your enthusiasm is palpable in this report! Great blog. Great race. Congrats, my friend.
    1609 days ago
    Love the excitement of the race!!! (The flush toilets are the best!)
    1609 days ago
    You make me feel like I was there. What a great race description. Are you fully recovered a week out?
    1609 days ago
    What a great read.

    I've lived my whole life in the Chicago burbs and love visiting the city every now and again. Your blog was a great to read. I'm happy with with my 5 and 10Ks. I bow down to the half and full marathon runners.

    Congratulations on a great accomplishment and thank you for sharing your experience!

    1609 days ago
    Thanks so much for this great detailed race report. CONGRATS on finishing the Chicago marathon. Very impressive! Doubt that I'll ever do a full; halves are just right for me. But I am very, very impressed with people as fit and determined as you!!!
    1609 days ago
    Congratulations on finishing the Chicago Marathon. Your race report is much appreciated. Sounds like you had a great time.
    1609 days ago
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