This race recap is long overdue, but I’m not even sure where to begin! I suppose I’ll cover the entire weekend from the beginning…
I went to Chicago for the Chicago Marathon the Friday before the race with my friend and fellow runner, Ashlee, and her (super fun) parents. We arrived in Chicago around noon and checked into the Westin on Michigan Ave. before Ashlee and I promptly went to the expo to get our race bibs and check out the expo vendors.
The Chicago Marathon organizers had set up free shuttles to take people to and from the expo which made transportation REALLY easy. Once we arrived at the expo we were able to get our bibs and shirts (which are simple in design and super cute) without waiting in any lines – amazingness!! There were a ton of vendors with samples and freebies – a major plus in my book – and with Nike as the official partner, there were plenty of activities and special features hosted by the company. A great expo experience!
After Ashlee and I had had enough walking around at the expo we went back to our hotel and met up with Ashlee’s parents for dinner. We considered a few restaurants until deciding on the Weber Grill Restaurant which we all thought was delicious and had a really great atmosphere. I’d easily go back there again! After dinner we walked back to the hotel to get some sleep.
We had all day Saturday to explore Chicago, so after a quick 2 mile shakeout run with Ashlee we met up with her parents for breakfast and then went on a boat tour exploring Chicago’s architecture. The key here was that the tour allowed us to sit the entire time (major plus before race day!), in addition the tour itself was really interesting and our tour guide was knowledgeable AND funny, we all had such a great time! The only problem was that we kept having to use the one bathroom on the boat because we were drinking water at any and every opportunity (hydration, y’all!). After our architecture tour we explored the Bean, which is a Chicago photo-op “must” if you ask me.
A quick hotel room rest break and it was time for our pre-race day dinner. We got our carb-loading on at Volare where the service was fantastic and the food was sooo good! I ordered the spaghetti Bolognese which I loved, and Ashlee and her parents enjoyed the pasta dishes they ordered as well. Side note- you know it’s a pre-race dinner hotspot when the Italian restaurant is completely packed at 5:00pm, it was almost surreal to see! Us runners are so predictable. After dinner we wandered back to our hotel but not before making a last-minute stop at Walgreens because I desperately needed a throw-away sweatshirt for the start line in the morning. Back at the hotel Ashlee and I went over our race morning plans with Ashlee’s parents as well as where we’d look for them along the route. We got our race day outfits and gear together, and then it was lights out before it was time for the CHICAGO MARATHON!!
Ashlee and I woke up at 5:00am (I have to say I slept incredibly well, to my own surprise) and our breakfasts were promptly delivered to our room by room service – bagels, peanut butter, and coffee. We ate and got ready while watching the local news which was covering the race all morning. Once we were ready to go we caught a city bus from our hotel to Millennium Park where the race would start and finish. The buses were running frequently and it was such a breeze to get to the park where many others were also arriving. The weather was perfect – cool and clear. Ashlee and I got through security with ease, made a trip to the porta-potties, took a pre-race photo and gave each other our final pep talks before it was time to head to the corrals!
The race began and we were off! Chicago is great because it is super flat and travels through many of its unique neighbors, all with people lining the streets yelling and cheering on the 45,000 registered runners. I felt really good as the race began and wanted to feel out my pace while keeping an eye on things with my Garmin. I was after a sub 4-hour time and knew that I’d have to monitor my pace from the beginning to “run a smart race” which is a mantra of sorts I ended up using that day. I saw Ashlee’s parents between miles 3 and 4 before heading further north of the city and then coming back towards the heart of the city and going more west. At some point I ran through a neighborhood which had cross-dressers on stages singing and performing for the runners which was so fantastic and fun and energizing!
By mile 7 I decided to take my first Gu (salted caramel for the win) with water. As I kept going I continued to feel good and was really happy with my pace, again I wanted to reach my goal but wanted to race smart while doing it – assertive but conscious of my limits. Running a marathon without my own music was something I had never done before and I was so glad that I made the decision to forgo headphones for Chicago. I was instead able to hear the crowds and performers and music that were everywhere along the course. It’s so funny to say but the miles actually go by pretty quickly. At mile 10 we ran through the Old Town neighborhood which I thought was one of the cutest and most picturesque neighborhoods. Before I knew it I was at mile 13, I then set my sights on mile 20 where I planned to take my second and final Gu (I had one shot blok in-between miles 7 and 20). I also enjoyed reaching the 10k markers, because I knew each time I reached those markers I was updating all of the people who were tracking my race – extra motivation to get to each marker!
Between miles 18 and 23 the course took runners through the Little Italy and Chinatown. The cultures of each were so apparent and so much fun! There were people playing music and handing out snacks unique to their culture (many runners stopped but I opted to not try any food along the course). Once we were through Chinatown I knew the finish line was only a few miles away. By this time I had done the math and knew, barring any unforeseen issues, that I could totally finish in less than 4 hours and that motivated me to keep moving at my pace. At this point my hips were tight, and muscles were very sore, but it was soreness and pain that I knew was normal given the circumstances, manageable, and something I just needed to acknowledge and keep pushing through.
What’s nice about the course is that miles 23-26 are a straight shot along one road with the cityscape directly ahead. It was great to be able to see the city get closer and closer and also know that I didn’t have any turns, just keep moving forward. At mile 26 runners take a right turn up a small hill (which feels a lot like a mountain at this point), I knew to expect it and while I was tired and sore, I could see the finish line and hear people’s names being announced as they finished and I just could NOT wait to get there! I powered up the hill as best I could, and made a slight left turn with the finish line in front of me. Crossing that line felt amazing and seeing 3:55 on my watch made me happier than words can express. It’s funny, I teared up for a split second at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon last year, but at the end of Chicago I found it much more difficult to keep from crying as they moved runners through the corrals to get their medals and water etc. I didn’t actually cry (happy tears!) until I got back to Boston and saw my boyfriend but I was MUCH more emotional at the end of this race. I think it was the fact that I set an attainable yet challenging goal for this race and I had achieved it and kicked my butt to do it. Oh my gosh, the feelings!
Ashlee’s parents found me after I finished and we waited for Ashlee to come in. Once we met up with her we headed back to the hotel sharing each of our race stories, all the neighborhoods we enjoyed running through, etc. Back at the hotel it was time for showers, food, and naps (in that order) before we going to Lou Malanti’s for deep dish pizza (aka the real reason I ran a marathon, let’s be honest).
A couple of Ashlee’s friends were in town without her knowledge and surprised us in the hotel lobby on the way to dinner – such an awesome and sweet gesture! Lou Malnati’s was delish – beer and deep dish pizza was exactly what the doctor ordered post-marathon. Our waitress had actually run the marathon too and so we swapped race stories with her. Yes, she ran a marathon and then went to work as a waitress and was walking all over the restaurant like it was no big deal. I’m convinced she’s superwoman. After dinner we went back to the hotel, packed our bags, relaxed and went to bed, and the next morning we went back to Boston.
All in all the weekend was perfect. Chicago was a fantastic city and I would go back in a heartbeat – just maybe not during the winter. The race organizers did a spot-on job setting up everything from the expo to the race start and finish lines to accommodate the enormous amount of people. I still can’t believe that at no point during the weekend did I find myself waiting in a massive line (even the porta potty lines were totally manageable!). I look back on the Chicago Marathon as a very special weekend, one of my happiest, and it would not have been nearly as wonderful had Ashlee and her parents not been with me! It was great to share the race experience with them, and Ashlee’s parents were such amazing cheerleaders for both of us, marathon spectating is not an easy job. Thank you!
A final “thank you” to my boyfriend, Bill, and all of my family and friends for their constant and unwavering support. All of the supportive and congratulatory texts and Facebook posts and tweets really meant the world, you guys are the absolute best! Training for a marathon is never easy, and I’m so lucky to have you all! Congratulations to everyone who was out there on the Chicago Marathon course that day – the accomplishment is having the drive and courage to get to the start line! Everything after that is a bonus.
… And a special “congratulations” if you made it to end of this extremely long post. You deserve a medal just for that!