Here I sit, trying to right another race recap. Yes, I have a slew of products in my office that are overdue for review, but let's be honest, the product reviews from the running community are a little out of control right now. I could spend a whole post on questioning the transparency and legitimacy of running "influencers," but I'd rather talk about what I love, my city of Chicago and unquestionably the best marathon in the world, the Chicago Marathon.
This was my fourth year running Chicago and my second for Team PAWS. If you're not familiar with PAWS Chicago, they are Chicago's largest "no kill" animal shelter. Basically, these good people have dedicated their lives to saving the lives of our furry friends. As long as my legs work, rest assured, I will support them. This year, I was selected to be a Shepherd, meaning I was responsible for new Team PAWS members, by ensuring their fundraising and training was going well. I was appreciative the team thought of me as a leader, a job I served with pride.
The Friday before the race, my wife and I landed at Midway Airport and the moment I stepped off the plane, it felt like a great weight was lifted off my chest. Everywhere we looked, people were smiling and courteous, a far stretch from where our flight took off. Granted, I was born in the Chicago suburbs, so this city is hardwired into my DNA. God, I love that city so much. What made matters even greater was that my beloved (and subjects of years of abuse from me) Chicago Cubs were back in the playoffs, and of course the city had Cubs fever. It was wonderful! We hopped on a clean Orange Line train and made a swift trip into the city.
Our first stop was to see some incredibly dear friends from my old office, Shannon and Christophe. If you read last year's recap, you'll recall Christophe is my partner in crime. Every time we get together, trouble is close at hand. Unfortunately, Christophe and his girlfriend were heading out of town so there would be any debauchery on this trip. I hadn't seen Shannon in a long time and it was great to see her and catch up on where our lives had gone since working together. After saying goodbyes, my wife and I headed to the next logical stop on our tour of home: Portillo's.
I won't say much about Portillo's, but if you don't know about it yet, stop reading and Google that shit. Now.
After lunch, we made our way to the race expo, arguably the best expo in all of running. However, this year the showing was a little disappointing. Most of the exhibitors were the same as last year, with the same installations. I picked up my traditional New Balance shirt and met up with the Team PAWS crew to say hi and catch up on race day details. As with every year, the two largest sponsors, Bank of America and Nike had the most floor space. BOA had some cool exhibits, while Nike had the same flashy, gear it always has. At the expo we ran into our friend from Florida, Andrea, and chatted it up a bit.
Leaving the expo, my wife had a "girls night out" with her old work friends, so I headed over to Rockit Bar & Grill to catch the Cubs game. Sitting at the bar, and in true Chicago fashion, I struck up conversations with the bartender and local patrons. It seemed I enjoyed myself a little too much as before I knew it the Cubs game was over and the gods of libation had descended on my sense of better judgement. Oh well, when in Rome.
Back at the hotel, scrolling through Twitter I saw that steeplechase champion, Emma Coburn, was in Chicago and asking for things to do in the city. Through the numerous responses of deep-dish pizza (which really is more a tourist thing) and Chicago Dogs, I hopped in with some recommendations that showed off a local's view of this wonderful city. Moments later, I received a DM on Twitter from Emma asking if I wanted to go on a shakeout run the following morning. I was in disbelief, a world champion asking if I'd like to run with her and her friends. Well, it took me all of 30 seconds to reply with an exuberant "YES!"
Saturday morning we all met at the Chicago Historical Museum, no less than 1500 meters from my old condo in Lincoln Park. It was an intimate group, Emma and her friend (who was running her first marathon) and a few other runners, none of whom were local. "So," Emma said, "where should we go?" I couldn't believe it. It was up to me to show these guys my city. The pressure was on to perform. I started us past all the parks, over Lakeshore Drive and on to the lakefront path. The weather was perfect and the waves crashing on the rocks gave everyone a sense of being at the ocean. We kept a leisurely pace as I did my best to deliver facts about the city, like some sort of running tour guide. We headed north on the path for about two miles, stopping to take pictures and chat. Everyone couldn't stop talking about how beautiful the city was and what a great path it was to run. I brought them to a little peninsula that gave a magnificent vista of the metropolis so everyone could grab a good pic.
Moving off the trail, I took the crew through the Lincoln Park Zoo, and incredibly old (and free) zoo opened in the early 1900's. I had run through the zoo probably 1,000 times as my old home used to be directly across the street. Having that experience allowed me to know that since it was early, the lions and tigers would probably be out. Low and behold, there was a tiger out sunning himself. Everyone was speechless, and I couldn't stop beaming. I had the opportunity to show people (not just the famous ones) the parts of Chicago that are special to me. This was my Chicago tour and I felt a great sense of worth in my heart.
After trading some tips on where to stand and spectate the race, we all split and I headed back to the hotel to lay low for the rest of the day. After some quick shopping at the grocery store for the following day's breakfast, we settled in for a restful night's sleep.
I was awake before the alarm went off and into my running gear in no time. This was my wife's first Chicago Marathon, and her nerves were in high gear. I gave her some tips on what to expect and where the tricky parts of the course were and then headed off to Wave 1 start. Security seemed to be tighter than last year causing me to almost miss my corral. I was expecting the best from this race, but I knew it was going to be tough going. My training for this race had taken a severe wrong turn with an ankle injury, with my only long run being 18 miles the week before the race. In addition, the weather watch was yellow, meaning it was going to be warm. Knowing that, I just enjoyed myself and decided to take it easy.
The course was the same as years past. Leaving Grant Park, we headed north, then west, then south and then back north out towards the wonderful Chicago neighborhoods. Somewhere around Mile 7, I zoned out a little too much and tripped, catching myself but not before ripping back my big toenail. So, at least that was something to take my mind off the miles.
Now, I could give you all a mile by mile recap, but you don't want that. Rather, I will say, this course is unbelievable. Every square inch of it is littered with spectators, rows deep, most with orange slices, bananas, candy and even beer. Seriously, Midwestern hospitality is the best.
I was feeling great until Mile 23 when my body just shut down out of nowhere, and as I turned onto Michigan Avenue for that final 5k, it was a battle. I know it was purely from lack of training as my legs just didn't have anything left in them, so I walked for about a minute and then tried my best to marathon shuffle to the finish in a somewhat respectable time.
After finishing, I waited for Devin to finish. She looked great and really enjoyed the race. I'm glad I could finally share that with her.
Later, we met up at Rockit with a dear friend, Cyanne, who's happiness is infectious. She also ran her first Chicago, so we celebrated the only way we know how, with champagne. It was great to catch up with her, since we only really talk via social media. She's great guys, you should all meet her.
The night came to a close with my staring out the window onto the gorgeous city. The lights from the high rises gave off the impression of a smile on the side of the buildings, as the people murmured and went about their nights. The following morning came too fast and back we flew east, until the metal behemoths and blue lake water were out of sight.
As you may have guessed, this post wasn't so much about the race. Rather, it was about the city. A wondrous place full of diversity, great food and even greater people. Truthfully, it's not perfect and like everywhere has its share of flaws. But, for the most part, it's a city full of pride and a host to those who choose to experience its treasures. I hope you all get a chance to experience it.