In Part 1 of my writeup I covered a little bit of getting to Chicago and the Marathon expo. This section covers getting to the marathon and the first 16 or so miles before everything went terribly, terribly wrong.
I woke up about a rather restless night, quickly donned my clothes and made my way to the El for the ride to the Jackson stop on the blue line. I always try to arrive well in advance of the starting time for a race as the lines of porta-potties can be atrocious. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was “Hey, it’s still dark out!”. The second thing I noticed was that you can’t see inside of a porta-potty when it is dark outside.
The marathon started and finished in Grant Park, across from Lake Michigan. This had the nice advantage of allowing me to see something that I had only seen once in the six years I lived in Chicago, sunrise over the lake. It’s a beautiful sight.
Gear check was some of the best that I’ve ever seen at a race. Very well organized system with stalls for each grouping of numbers and enough attendants so there wasn’t a huge line to check your gear (or pick it up after the race). I also felt confident that if it were raining on the day of the marathon my gear would stay dry. Fortunately, the forecast didn’t call for any rain, but it did call for temperatures in the high-70’s or lower 80’s by the end of the race.
By virtue of me running a pretty face half marathon for the Brooklyn Half in May 2011, I scored a spot in seeded corral. I felt like a total poseur being up that far. I knew I was undertrained for this race. I was relieved when I looked around and saw that contrary to the people I saw headed for corral A, most of the people in corral C looked really similar to me. Of course, most of them had probably trained better than me too.
I’m pretty certain that Chicago has one of the most beautiful starts to any marathon. Yes, Big Sur is beautiful, but the start is kinda in the woods away from the jagged shoreline. Twin Cities and it’s fall colors are beautiful, but you start next to the Metrodome. If you’re like me, when you run NYC you start looking into the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and hope that people on top don’t pee on you. You start Chicago looking at some of the beautiful skyscrapers that Chicago is known for. From my experiences, there is no comparison.
The course for Chicago begins by heading north from Grant Park into the River North area, back south into the loop, and then up toward Addison. It’s a real treat to run right through the loop as that other US based mega race member of the World Marathon Majors thinks it’s more important to run through the Bronx than down Broadway. I was keeping a pretty constant pace throughout this part of the race even though I wasn’t running with a pace team. My goal was to do 8:30-8:40 miles, which was true for the most part, although there were a few times that I dipped well into the 7’s. None the less I was feeling good
The fan support on the course was really great — no doubt augmented by the CTA running extra trains to transport marathon fans around. My wife managed to see me downtown twice and tried to see me up by Addison but must have missed me. There were also some great bands and sideshows to see — such as the Lady Gaga impersonators from FrontRunners (can I digress and say how awesome FrontRunners is? They’re a great club for running better always are a hugely positive influence regardless of whether you’re a member or not.). Aid and medical stations were simply amazing. They were huge with ample amounts of water and gatorade and probably half the doctors from the Chicagoland area. I was trying to be all manly and drink on the run. This probably was not a great idea.
By mile 11 you’re thundering back into downtown and across the Chicago River a few more times and out to UIC and the United Center. This is clearly the section of the course where the organizers said “Crap, this thing needs to be 26.2 miles, lets throw and out and back somewhere!” Rather than adding something interesting to the course such as a extending it down to Hyde Park, they have us run by the empty parking lots of the United Center. There were sections where the course was completely quiet. No fans. No support in those areas. No runners talking. It was also at one of the most difficult parts of the race, the first half of the second half of the race (around mile 15).
I finally managed to see my wife around mile 16, right by the UIC-Halsted stop on the Blue Line. I wasn’t even looking for her there because we hadn’t planned on meeting there, but I wasn’t complaining. She was a very welcome face to see at that point of the race. I was so excited that apparently I did Jazz hands, that’s something that Ali on the Run would do. I know nothing about dance.
Unfortunately, this was kinda the high point of the race. Stuff basically fell off a cliff after this point. A very sharp, very depressing cliff. But I’ll talk about that part 3 of my Chicago Marathon race report.