Last weekend, more than 44,000 runners took part in the 40th Chicago Marathon and we were there to take part ourselves.
The day prior to the race, we went to the expo to pick up our race kit, and the video showing the entire route was equally exciting and anxiety inducing. The route takes you through nearly 30 neighbourhoods and for me, watching the video just reinforced how long 42.2 kilometres really is. The race expo is amongst one of the best ones we have been to; lots of interesting vendors, and high production value. Runners lined up for free beer from Goose Island and were eager to get photos at a few very Instagrammable spots, like at the Nike wall where you could make your mark with your name or message.
The day prior to the race was very humid and muggy, but thankfully it cooled down significantly by nighttime. In the early morning, temperature was about 14 Celsius and we were greeted with a glorious sunrise beyond the Buckingham Fountain as we checked our bags and went for one last bathroom break. The weather would remain relatively cool for about two hours but then the temperature rose significantly, and was at least about 26C by the time I finished the race around 11:30, and in the latter part of the race, there were more portions of the route not shaded by tall buildings.
The relatively flat course makes for a fast course, and most of the bridges has the metal grate surface carpeted. The one moderate incline in the last few hundred metres to the finish line proved to be a small challenge. I appreciated the frequent kilometre markers and the big water/Gatorade stations and the cheerful volunteers. Several sprinklers and a few sponge stations were along the route, which came in handy once the sun was out in full force, and chafe not–several stations had Vaseline for runners to slather on.
The most fantastic part of the race, though, are the runners from all over the world (more than 100 countries are represented in the race) and the spectators. The sidelines are thick with people cheering pretty much the entire race. Fun signs with people’s faces or ones telling you to run as though you forgot to turn off the stove for the frijoles provided a welcome chuckle as we ran, along with a school band, an Elvis impersonator, to name just a few of the entertainment we spotted during the race. And there wasn’t just water and Gatorade and gels on the route; people handed out oranges, bananas, beers, Jello shots, paletas, hard candies and more.
tIn the end, we ran our second fastest marathon here (and my marathon PB is also in Chicago three years ago), so the flat, festive course is a nice fast one for those looking to PB or BQ.
Considering running Chicago? Here are some of our recommendations for the first-time Windy City visitor.
Where to stay: Our race HQ was at the James Hotel, just off of the Magnificent Mile, where the beds are luxurious, and a breakfast buffet was set up in the lobby for runners. The race start was only three subway stops away, and Nike and Under Armour are steps away, for any last minute gear purchases, and there’s a Trader Joe’s across the street for your healthy fuel needs.
TIP: While the Chicago Marathon is one of the Big Six World Marathon Majors, so you probably know it as a top notch spot for running, if you’re looking to combine your love of the sport with your travel plans, consider trying the booking.com Passion Search feature to help plan your getaways. You can, of course, search any passion or interest; I found myself going to Sayulita, Mexico, not long ago when I looked for a surf getaway using this feature.
Where to eat: If pasta is your pre-race carb of choice, RPM Italian is within walking distance of the hotel as is Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian food emporium. But you can also go budget-friendly and classic at Club Lago, which has been serving up pasta since 1952. For your post-race indulgences, Chicago boasts such an incredible food scene (Au Cheval! Publican! Anything by Grant Achatz or Rick Bayless!) that you can find something delicious no matter what you’re craving. A very popular post-race meal, though? We encountered loads of runners proudly wearing their medals and chowing down at hamburger chain Shake Shack.
What to do: If you’re looking to keep those legs moving after the race, strolling the River Walk will give you superb views of the fantastic Chicago skyline. If the weather is fair, a Citypass to Chicago will get you into some of the top sights, such as Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute of Chicago, where you can stroll for hours.