We interrupt the Running London series to report on the Chicago Marathon. Chicago is the third of the World Marathon Majors I have run and by far the most logistically easy for a mid-pack runner to make her way through.
After checking into a downtown hotel on Saturday, we walked a couple of blocks to the closest pickup point for the free shuttle to the Expo at McCormick Place. We picked up my race bib and shirt, listened to a panel discussion offered by Runner’s World, made our way through the many exhibitor booths and said hello to Adrienne, a hometown River Runners friend . Although a large Expo, it didn’t feel overcrowded and we were in and out in a few hours.
Race morning, I was awake at 5:30 with plenty of time to ease into the day. No need to catch a pre-dawn subway and then a ferry to wait several hours for a 10:30 start, no need to catch a 7:30 bus to ride 26+ miles to the start to wait for my 10:45 start time. Here in Chicago, at 6:30, I merely walked out of the hotel and joined a parade of runners wearing outer layers of throw-away clothing and walking/jogging down Michigan Avenue to enter designated gates to Centennial Park.
I heard the announcer calling runners to report to the the early corrals. That’s not me. I still had plenty of time to drop my post-run bag, get a photo of the sun rising over Lake Michigan and establish my place in a very long porta-potty line.
As we lined up, the temperature was 52 degrees with a cool wind coming in from the lake. My corral was to close at 7:45 and at 8:13, to the rhythm of Chicago blues flowing from the loudspeakers, we were off to begin our run into a tunnel. We emerge on Columbus Drive and the roar of the crowds begin, rivaling spectators on the streets of Boston.
With the exception of a few blocks of the course, enthusiastic people were on the sidewalks several deep along all 26 miles. At a nursing home along the way there were huge signs in the windows and faces of residents and staff waving and cheering. Chicago is that kind of town.
From Lincoln Park to Chinatown, the course moves through a number of neighborhoods, diverse in ethnicity, architecture, cuisine and music along the course to further reflect those distinctions. One of those was my neighborhood many years ago. Nostalgia hit as we moved past the beautiful old brownstones lining the course.
Making our way through the miles, we made more than 20 turns. It’s a plus to be familiar with the course or at least watching a block ahead or so to be ready to run the tangents efficiently. The course is primarily flat, offering enough up and down blips to keep legs from getting stale.
I had heard Chicago is a fast course so I decided to take it slower the first ten miles to avoid burning out. So it was that two minutes after Abel Kirui of Kenya won the 2016 Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:11:23, I was approaching the half marathon mark and moving on to the 25K point when Florence Kiplagat crossed the line as the first woman finisher for the second year in a row with a time of 2:21:32.
I did pick up my pace as planned but stomach cramps around mile 17 and quads tightening up around mile 19 slowed me considerably. Even with that, I was enjoying the race and being among the runners around me from all over the USA and a strong international contingent.
While Still a Runner was, well, still running, the first women finishers in my age group were battling it out with finish times under 4 hours. Barbara Wright of Germany finished at 3:46:02, nosing out hometown runner Nancy Rollins by a mere two second (3:46:04) and Yoko Nishi of Japan finishing 3rdat 3:54:57. Fantastic times in the F65-69 AG.
By the last four miles and after four hours, it was warmer than I like a marathon, but the cool wind off the lake helped. After walk/running for several miles, I ran the entire last mile to the finish for a time of 4:39:04, 14th out of 72 women in the F65-69 AG. The hill I had heard about near the finish was barely noticeable, and I was pleased to be done. I walked the gamut with other finishers, picking up snack bag, finisher medal, heat sheet and a wonderful cold crisp apple that I managed to drop after taking only two bites.
Goose Island had a cold glass of beer for every finisher and from there I picked up my drop bag, (again – no wait, everything very efficient) found a spot of ground to sit down and put on some warmups, munch on chips, enjoy the beverage and talk with runners doing the same. Everyone seemed to be taking their time before leaving the park and going to meet friends and family waiting outside the marathon finish area.
If you like large marathons (Chicago had more than 40,000 finishers), large crowds of enthusiastic spectators, a relatively flat course, and a conveniently located well managed race, you would like the Chicago Marathon.
Have you run Chicago? What was your experience? How did it compare with your other large races?