It's been nearly a week since running the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon and I've been dreading this moment. As I sit here and reflect on all the great moments during my trip to Chicago, I know that now I have to let go of the warmth bathed over me by the city of Chicago, its inhabitants, and the race itself. All I can think of saying is, "Well, shit."
I had been anticipating this trip for some time, especially since I hadn't taken any vacation time since January. Being from the Windy City I wanted to get back to take in the familiar sights, sounds and smells. But, also I wanted to see what had become of my fair city since moving to the northeast nearly two years ago. I'm happy to report, not much really has changed, save for a few noticeable enhancements to the skyline; the abandoned Hotel Shangri-La on Wacker Drive finally found a backer has blossomed into what looks like upscale condos, the Blackhawks store moved, and the Trump Building added to its gaudy, ostentatiousness by physically adding the word "TRUMP" to the building. Other than that, the city felt as comfortable as it had when I was a resident.
We arrived early Thursday morning to a bustling Midway airport, and hopped on the "El" headed towards the city. I used to gripe about the Chicago Transit Authority, but would gladly take it over the means of transportation offered to us here in Boston. After checking in to the Springhill Suites just north of the river (which was a great hotel - amazing staff and free breakfast), we bee-lined it towards the most Chicago place I know, Portillo's. Portillo's is to Chicago as the Parthenon is to Greece; it's a pillar of the city, and don't worry about directions, just use your nose to get there.
At Portillo's, we met up with some friends, both local and non. Our friends from Florida were on their first trip to the city to run the marathon, and we made sure this was stop number one, "You have to visit Portillo's before anything else." After effortlessly wolfing down three Chicago dogs and one Italian Beef, I was ready to bid adieu to this wonderful establishment. After all, there were so many other amazing restaurants to revisit. And revisit, we did. That night, we took our friends to our favorite little (and I mean little) sushi place, Green Tea Sushi in Lincoln Park, a flavorful homecoming between my taste buds and their delectable seafood treasures.
After dinner, we took a quick stroll around our old neighborhood, stopping to say hi to our old doormen at our condo, to which they allowed us up on the roof deck to show our friends the most magnificent view of Lake Michigan and Chicago's skyline. That view still has me in awe.
Back in our room, we decided to sleep with the blinds open to enjoy the city around us. I went to bed with a massive smile on my face. It was a great day.
Morning came early, as I didn't want to waste my time stuck in a stuffy (but, lovely) hotel room. Today was expo day, and this kid's a sucker for them. After picking up my bib and shirt, it was time to peruse the treasure trove of running goodies being hawked anxiously by the barkers, eager to sell their running-related toys. Traversing the floor, I caught up with my friends at Team PAWS, the charity I was running on behalf of, to pick up my charity tent wristbands and a few other goodies. We also stopped at the New Balance booth and picked up our annual NB Chicago Marathon shirts. While Nike is the official sponsor of the race, all the other big shoe/apparel companies find clever ways to sell race shirts and we always pick up one or two.
The interactive displays this year were really well done. New Balance, had a photography installation that fit in really well with the artsy-Chicago vibe of their booth. Abott Labs, who sponsored this year's expo, gave expo patrons 1.5 seconds to go as crazy as possible, recorded it, and then played it back in super slow motion. Devin and I didn't waste any time getting stupid.
After the expo, we all headed to another one of our old haunts, Renaldi's pizza for some of the best pizza in Chicago. If you recall from last year's recap, here is where we met up with one of our dearest friends and debauchery ensued. Well, this year was no different, except we added more people, and with more people, more debauchery. After a long evening of Fireball/Rumchata shots, bad pool, even worse music selections and a close call to starting a bar fight, we broke off into the early morning darkness.
Saturday morning was especially exciting, as I was headed out to a shakeout run, that I had organized a few weeks prior. In all honesty, I just wanted to run the Lakefront Path again, but then I thought there may be others who would want to do the same and so I organized an easy run. Shortly after setting it up, I was approached by online race review site, Bibrave, to see how they could help. Not only did Bibrave bring in some great runners, they also struck a deal with local doughnut shop, Glazed & Infused to get us free doughnuts after the run. We ended up with about 45 runners, which is amazing, considering we were competing against a shakeout run held by Deena Kastor and Bart Yasso at the same time. It was great to personally meet so many friends I've known through social channels and meet new runners, too. Thank you to all who attended!
I spent the most of the day laying low, catching lunch at 7 on State in the old Marshall Field building, and then later meeting up with our friends again for dinner at my absolutely favorite Chicago restaurant, The Pasta Bowl in Lincoln Park. If you haven't eaten at the Pasta Bowl, you must. It's a bit of a hole-in-wall situated just off the corner of Clark and Fullerton, but the dishes they prepare are sublime. We all had different dishes. I feasted on Rosemary Gorgonzola Gnocchi, while my wife had the Capellini Pomodoro and our friends had equally appetizing dishes. Every plate was clean by the end of dinner and I wanted more, but knew better as I had the race in a few short hours.
Back at the room, I laid out my race kit and hopped into bed. For most big races, I rarely sleep, enjoying the anticipation of race day. However, on this night I easily drifted into slumber. For some reason I had a feeling this was race was going to be different than other races. There's a belief in the world that your brain is a good barometer of future events. And, for this specific event, my brain was spot on.
End of Part 1