2011 Chicago Marathon

Race Name: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Date: October 9, 2011

Distance: Marathon

Footwear: Inov-8 f-lite 195

Time: 5:35:18

I left Las Vegas as a “runner” and returned home as a marathoner, having completed the Chicago Marathon.

A good friend of mine, Ryan (different than the Ryan that posts here), with whom I talk running quite a bit, lives in Northwest Indiana. We decided that we each wanted to run a marathon so I told him that if he wanted to run one I would fly out and run the Chicago Marathon with him. Go big or go home, right? It was supposed to be his first full marathon and my second, but an IT-band injury in February of 2011 disrupted my training enough to prevent me from sticking to my original plan. As a result it was a first for both of us, which worked out for the best.

Thanks to another IT-band injury in the other knee (did I didn’t really know what I was doing as far as training went?), my plans for a fast marathon were altered, and I focused my training for the 2011 Las Vegas Marathon in December, with the Chicago Marathon being a “fun run” with no time goal in the middle of my training. To add to the disruption of the IT-band injury, I welcomed my second child into our family in July, a mere three months before my first marathon. Nothing like waking up six times in a night to help you amp up your mileage  and feel rested. There was also another, very personal family tragedy that I won’t talk about here, but it both hurt my training and propelled me to new levels of mental strength and determination at the same time.

Luckily for me and all my distractions to training, Ryan was never one for training, so my somewhat lack of training ended up not really affecting me in the long run. Our goal was just to finish and to stick together for the entire thing, no matter what.

The Expo

Rob with ultra legend Scott Jurek

The Expo was a lot of fun and VERY well organized. I bought a few things, tried some new foods and drinks, and got to meet three running legends: Scott Jurek, Hal Higdon, and Marshall Ulrich. I had met Scott Jurek the day before running my first half marathon, the Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, and now I got to meet him before running my running my first marathon. Cool! Also, he signed my racing bib and included a note to “DIG DEEP”, written upside-down on the bottom of the bib, so I’d be able to look down and read it during the race when times got tough.

Preparations

We decided to splurge in the name of stress relief on race morning, so we stayed at the historic Chicago Hilton, right next to Grant Park and less than 1/4 mile from the start and finish area. If you’re in Chicago, at least walk around inside the hotel, it is gorgeous! After checking in, we decided to just head down to the hotel’s official pasta buffet instead of trying to head out to an Italian restaurant somewhere. The food was delicious, and more importantly, it was plentiful. We stuffed ourselves and headed out to find a Walgreens or CVS to purchase a heating pad, as I had forgotten to pack mine from Las Vegas and we both needed to apply heat to our knees prior to running on Sunday morning. After returning to the room, we packed our check bags, laid out all of our food and clothing for the next morning, talked to our families, and headed to bed around 11:30 PM.

The Race

On race morning, we got dressed, checked our overnight bags, and crossed the street to Grant Park. We easily found our gear check area, stripped off our warm clothes (which were unnecessary as the weather was just about perfect), checked our gear bags, and headed to our starting corral. We started somewhere around the 5:15 pace group with the intention of running a negative split and finishing under the 5-hour mark. The amount of people in the starting corrals was breathtaking, as we had tens of thousands of runners both ahead and behind us.

Once we started we kept a steady pace and ran the first 10K split. We ran under half a city block on Columbus, where we saw Hope Solo standing on the side of the course! After a couple miles we saw our cheering squad, Ryan’s wife Kate, his friend Tim and his wife Jaime, and Ryan’s father and step-mother. They made signs for us and were a huge boost to us throughout the race. Before our first 10K split was over, Ryan’s ankle started to bother him and he called ahead to Kate and asked her to pick up an ankle brace for him. We saw them again around the 7- or 8-mile mark where Ryan stopped to put on the brace. Before reaching the half-marathon point the ankle brace was bothering Ryan, but he was able to stick it out and wear the brace for the duration of the marathon. Unfortunately, just after the half-marathon point, his hip adductor tightened up on him and we were forced to routinely stop and stretch it out, along with having to take periodic walking breaks until his adductor would quit hurting. On top of Ryan’s injury, his disdain for training caught up to us as he hit the wall —along with about ten thousand other people—around mile 20, necessitating routine walking breaks to allow him to save enough energy to finish the full 26.2 miles. The upside of all this? I was able to remain very happy and felt great throughout the run, able to routinely encourage other runners, as well as joke around with other runners and spectators alike, ultimately ending with a heel clicker on the finish line, a long-time goal of mine for a marathon that I just so happened to be able to do on my very first one! I was also running around, balancing on curbs as I ran, jumping off of light poles, and zig zagging all over the course. I very well might have been the only idiot laughing and with a huge smile on my face during the run up Michigan Avenue towards the finish.

Running along a curb with the Willis Tower in the background

The actual course that we ran was unbelievable, stunning, amazing, etc. etc. etc. Running through downtown Chicago, past the Sears Tower, and through the financial district was breathtaking. From there we ran through beautiful neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Old Town. We ran through Boys Town, the local gay neighborhood, which was hilarious and a lot of fun. The theme this year for their costumes was Lady Gaga. Two of them were wearing plastic dresses, and four others were dressed as cheerleaders. It was pretty funny and we were both disappointed it only consisted of a couple-hundred yards of the race. Up around Lincoln Park we passed a group of musicians covering The Beatles and I swear at least fifteen of them were playing guitar. It was pretty cool and I wish I could’ve stopped to hear them play some more songs. Other neighborhoods that caught my eye were Pilsen, which is a hispanic neighborhood and was essentially a mile-long block party. It was both fun and energizing at a time both were needed (around mile 19 or so). Chinatown was a lot of fun and very high-energy also. Around mile 21 or 22, we passed Bronzeville and a drum-line that was a lot of fun to listen to. Along other areas of the course we were treated to DJ’s playing reggae and Nirvana, along with other DJ’s playing a multitude of music, and even some people that lived on the course with their own setups blasting music to inspire the runners. A lot of residents hooked up a sprinkler head to their garden hose and sprayed it along the course for us to run through, which felt great with the moderate heat of the race.

Coming down the Columbus towards the finish was indescribable. We turned turned the corner, ran about halfway and waved at Kate, Tim and Jamie, then ran the last 150m to the finish. During the whole last few miles of the race I was almost yelling at Ryan, trying to get him to dig deep and find the strength to finish the race. I also tried encouraging other racers during the last few miles of the race, as well as trying to encourage the spectators to get loud and support the runners that sorely needed them at that point of the race. Down those last few miles, and especially on the latter half of Michigan Ave and running down Roosevelt and Columbus, I couldn’t believe that I was finally experience what I had thought about for so long during my training runs: finishing a marathon! I had to slow down at the end to get some space between myself and the people in front of me, then I crossed the first timing strip, stepped on the second and launched myself upwards to do my heel-clicker. Walking through the finisher’s corral afterwards, I got a little emotional but didn’t cry like I thought I would. I caught back up to Ryan and we exchanged a few hugs, a few shouts, and a lot of celebration. It was truly an amazing experience.

The Organization

The organizers of this race did the best job I’ve ever seen with a race of any distance, especially considering the sheer volume of participants (over 40,000). Getting into the starting corrals was a breeze as there was a large section that was runners-only, giving us the ability to check our bags, fuel up, etc., and get into the corrals without any unnecessary congestion. Instead of using numbered corrals (unless you applied to qualify for one), they had signs posted of where to line up based on your goal time.

Once we were out on the course the mile markers were high in the air and red, allowing us to easily see them as we approached. There were markers for upcoming aid stations, displaying what kind of aid to expect, markers for medic tents, and markers for the bathroom areas. Knowing what was available in the immediate vicinity was always easy.

At the end of the race the finisher’s corral was nice and smooth, with easy-to-find food and liquids, and plenty of post-race photographers. Once we got our bags and relaxed a bit (with just other runners still), we were able to leave the runners-only area and move to the post-race party area, which was massive and offered plenty of room for runners and their spectating friends and family to spread out and be comfortable.

The Conclusion

The 2011 Chicago Marathon was easily the most organized, and most fun race I’ve ever ran. The expo, the course, the spectators…the entire atmosphere was just unbelievable. I’ll definitely be back for another shot in Chicago.

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