Running the Chicago Marathon

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In Chinatown, Chicago Marathon at 22 mile mark!

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I ran the marathon on October 13, 2013. I would call it one of the two or three most significant achievements of my life. The Chicago Marathon, I won’t call it “Bank of America Chicago Marathon”: those criminals gave us, along with other corporate outlaws, unbridled capitalism, subprime mortgages, and criminal negligence leading to the Great Recession. Interesting that this bank is the sponsor of the race but how many did they burn to get the money to promote this grand event? I would prefer if the marathon were sponsored by some progressive group that contributes to international peace and justice: Sierra Club, United Nations UNESCO, Greenpeace, Green Party, some socialist group seeking redistributive justice in the land of the Tea Party and later day nullification types: you get the picture.

The Chicago Marathon is one of the great races in the world. All the aid stations have plenty of water and Gatorade. At the 18 mile mark, they provide the runners a PowerGel with different flavours: I chose vanilla. I am more into eating raisins which I did throughout the marathon as opposed to fake food, but it was a boost and helped me. Then at the 20 mile mark and all subsequent aid stations, they give you bananas that are cut in half for the convenience of the runners. Every station was well stocked so slow runners, like me, are not running a Mojave Desert race without hydration or sustenance. If I had any criticism of this race, they could provide more toilets so folks don’t have to stand in line in the middle of a race. With 45,000 registered runners, maybe this is unfair criticism but I thought they were rather limited in number. I had one stop, and snuck into a service one that saved me time. I would double the amount of commodes for the runners the next time they run it in 2014. Yet this race is an A+ in runner pampering.

The crowd is amazingly supportive of runners. For 26.2 miles there was barely a gap in spectators that were rooting for either a friend, relative or as one sign proclaimed, “a random stranger.” I have rarely seen so many signs. Some were ribald, misogynist, crude. Most were good natured, hearty and one I thought was funny: “Running is a pain in the ass but it gives you a good one!” Well, Hahaha. Some I could not replicate on this blog but most were of good esprit.

Runners, as previously noted are pampered in this marathon. Registration is a breeze; unlike the Hot Chocolate scam with four-hour waits to pick up gear, the Chicago Marathon is quick and expeditious and held in mammoth McCormick Place on the lakefront. Upon finishing the race, they give you a wrap: a plastic poncho to cover yourself with to warm up! They hand you a PowerDrink in a bottle already opened, so you don’t have to twist too vigorously the cap to consume the content! It’s like the Four Seasons! Note this is AFTER the race. They provide a finisher’s medal which I will sleep with this evening and for awhile. No jokes please! I just ran a marathon, ok?

This was my first marathon and having completed two half marathons since November, I felt I could at least sign up as a legitimate contender. Lisa Ebel, an extremely gifted and motivational women’s track and cross-country coach at my university, gave me a path, a plan, a regimen of training that really brought me over the finish line. I peaked at 20 in the weekly long-run, then tapered to fourteen and then twelve. I did a mid-week longer run of eight miles, and the other four days, my usual four miles. I strongly recommend that all runners take one day off a week, and build that into your training. Rest is part of training but whatever works, works.

Was the marathon difficult? It was grueling and for me the ultimate physical challenge; it was brutal but the crowds, the weather, the music, (Van Morrison, “Brown Eyed Girl,” Stones cover) were positive distractions from the growing stiffness and pain. For those who are marathon runners, you should run this event: you get to see Chicago’s neighborhoods: Boystown, the Loop, Pilsen, Chinatown, Lake View area, White Sox Park (US Cellular Field), the financial district on LaSalle street, well I could do without that. You don’t get to see a lot of the lake but that is fine: lakefront races for me are treacherous and the surfaces include curbs, dirt and narrow bike paths: they are very conducive to falling and tripping. Streets, while unforgiving, are the easiest because they have fewer hazards and are a cleaner strike for the feet, if you don’t mind dancing around the cracks and sometimes running on an incline on a less than flat street.

I am so glad I had this experience: all the training, all the sacrifice, all the long runs were worth it. Chicago is my kind of town with one of the top marathons in the world. Yes there are other majors such as Boston, New York, Berlin (which is also super flat), London and now Tokyo but I will take Chicago!! Such a grand event and so beautifully staged.

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