If you’re not fully acquainted with the world of running, the Chicago Marathon is kind of a big event as one of seven World Marathon Majors. With over 40,000 athletes participating, it’s a very large event that takes over the Windy City.
This year, I was lucky enough to get a bib with the Fuel Up to Play 60 team from Midwest Dairy. It was actually my first-ever trip to Chicago and I can’t think of any better way to see the city. While the final four months of the year are definitely a busy time of year for me at work, it worked out perfectly so I could make the stop in Chicago for marathon weekend between meetings in New York and Denver.
Training for Chicago Marathon
Most of my summer was spent on mountain trails when I wasn’t traveling. Lots of hill work and discovering the mountains of Colorado around Golden, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail. I had a few long runs in over 20 miles and was consistently getting at least 30 miles per week following my 50-mile ultra in June.
While my diet was specifically on key, what you eat is just as important as running miles when training for a marathon. I am a creature of habit and I was able to make sure my fridge was stocked with the right dairy products, vegetables, and proteins.
Chicago Marathon Weekend
I flew into Chicago on Saturday morning from a week of meetings near Rochester. For the weekend, I decided to stay in the Midway Hotel Center. I saved a significant amount of money compared to downtown Chicago hotels and found Uber an easy way to commute to the Expo at McCormick Place and on race day. This also allowed me to clean up after the race with a late check-out. I’m sure the passengers on the plane Sunday appreciated that.
The Chicago Marathon Expo was big. Of course, lines were long on Saturday, but they moved quickly. Nike had their huge store at the entrance with overpriced gear specific for the marathon. Swag bags and t-shirts were located in the back, so I made my way slowly around the expo floor, avoiding samples of anything new.
My ritual prerace meal includes an 8 oz. sirloin, medium rare, a potato, a vegetable and a beer. Nothing spectacular, but I try to be fairly consistent on race week with my food. One of the worst things you can do is mix up your diet at the last minute and end up with GI issues. This meal gets my proteins, fats, and carbs needed for four hours of running.
Race Day at Chicago Marathon
Of course, security was large and present at the marathon with recent incidents around the globe and Las Vegas. I arrived at the suggested time for my start corral with no traffic traveling downtown. There was plenty of space in Grant Park for everyone to stretch out for a bit.
I dropped my bag with a jacket and post-race protein shake at the bag drop tent and stood in line at the toilets. Of course, these were long and I could’ve used a little more time. I missed the anthem and official start, but my start corral was in the second wave, so I was in the crowd with plenty of time.
Chicago Marathon Course
Having run the Marine Corps Marathon last year, I had some idea of what to expect for a large race. But a few thousand more runners makes for more of a crowd. The staggered start times definitely kept the start of the race from being quite as slow, but I still had to dedicate some effort to avoiding people for most of the course.
The crowds along the course were loud and present for the entirety of the first 13 miles. At times, the crowd was loud. In fact, I was so distracted, that I didn’t even find myself counting miles until things thinned out some in the last half. For the first time, I had friends who showed up to cheer me on. So I kept an eye out to give them a high five at mile 8!
During the race, I wore the Nathan hydration pack that I’ve been training with on the trails all summer. And I’m glad I had it because the aid stations were very crowded, slick and I definitely saved time with bypassing them. However, don’t be overly concerned about your GPS being exact. The tall buildings in downtown Chicago will create errors.
Final 10k Gets Warm
By the time we got to mile 18, the course was becoming more exposed to the sun. This is where things began heating up. I started drinking more water and slowed my pace some. I saw my friends again at mile 18 for a much-needed hug of support before winding through a few loud and sunny Chicago neighborhoods.
Aside from smelling and wanting tacos, I was looking for the finish line. I wasn’t the only one feeling the heat with several people slowing and stopping. There were several aid stations along this portion of the course and I took a cup at each for a sip and to pour over my head.
Turns out, my mistake was drinking too much water. By the time I got to the finish I had a very sloshy stomach and promptly got rid of that at the finish.
This Chicago Marathon did a great job of funneling people out of the finish line. Like many big races, there is some walking to do after you cross the line and meet up with friends. They had some food, water, Gatorade, Goose Island beer for runners, but there wasn’t any shade to be found.
My friends were there to meet me at the finish and I was happy to see them! Once you walk out of the finish area, there were some trees to sit down under, a festive atmosphere and plenty of foot traffic to navigate on the way out.
Overall, I would say the Chicago Marathon was a great experience. It was a great opportunity to see the city and to experience such a large event in our running world. Everyone was welcoming and I had several positive encounters along the course. The fan support is awesome (even if at times too loud). The organization was awesome with several emails communicating race details and race day schedules.
I don’t know yet if I’m chomping at the bit to go back and do Chicago again. However, I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity and I will certainly seek out opportunities to run in other large-city marathons. There’s a strong sense of accomplishment and some pride after taking part in such important events in the running world.
Have you ever run Chicago Marathon? Or maybe it’s on your bucket list? Let me know what you think!
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