Some people travel to go on vacation and relax, while others travel to climb mountains and run marathons. 4 years ago, I decided to get outside and run for the first time. 4 years later, I finished the Chicago marathon; my third marathon with a personal record. But before the marathon report, I present some sights of Chicago.
Cloud Gate (The bean mirror):
Just when I thought it couldn’t get louder and wilder than the NYC marathon, Chicago was just as loud and wild with 40,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators. My marathon training was mediocre this year due to a Mt Rainier training conflict and a new fondness for lifting weights. Also, I gained 10+ pounds over the past 6 months (mostly muscle I hope). But I figured, I’d gladly sacrifice many hours of marathon training for one painful final marathon hour, which is inevitable anyway. Besides, I just wanted to enjoy my 26.2 mile tour of Chicago and its countless neighborhoods without the stress of time goals.
The line-up at Grant Park was quick and organized. The security line was actually shorter than the pee lines. I literally left my hotel at 6:30 and was standing in my corral at 7:30 ready to start the race. By the way, the weather was mid-50s and no major hills on the entire course. It doesn’t get better than that. On your mark…
Surrounded by skyscrapers and crowded streets in the city center, the first 2-3 miles are a blast and great way to start. It’s not the epic Verrazano bridge beginning but it is awesome in its own way. From Grant park through Streeterville, passing the Magnificent Mile and back to The Loop (city center). There were runners from all over the world wearing their country’s colors as well as domestic runners wearing funny costumes. The crowds had all sorts of signs and costumes, live bands, loud horns and cowbells; it was one epic 26.2 block party. It was NYC all over again. The volunteers were exceptionally lively and looked like they were having the best time of all. Yep, that’s me wearing shades and a skull buff on my head throwing the “3 finger” gesture for third marathon.
Several neighborhoods reminded me of Brooklyn and uptown Manhattan – Near North Side, Lincoln Park, Lakeview East, Park West, Old Town, River North, and Near West Side. Since I was feeling alright, I decided to high-five any hand that was sticking out of the crowd. Whether it was a huge Hulk glove, “touch here for power” poster, or a confused looking kid with his hand out, they all got my high 5. It’s the best when there is a line of hands; combo. This went on for miles, like a big whirlwind of noise and running. One of the best moments was when we returned to The Loop, where my biggest fan (the wife) was waiting for my sweaty hug in front our hotel. My wife said I looked fine after 12 miles and then told me to keep running. How tempting it was to just go right upstairs and take a nap. At the halfway point, the real race begins…
It was just like the first half, but painful toward the end. We ran through more neighborhoods – Greek Town, Little Italy/University Village (where the Rocky theme song was blasting), Pilsen (largest Latino community), East Pilsen, Chinatown, Bridgeport, Park Boulevard, Bronzesville (adjacent to IIT college campus), South Commons, and Central Station. The crowds were so full of energy (and full of booze in some areas). Spectators were handing out all sorts of food like oranges, bananas, Kleenex, Vaseline, Twizzlers, power gels, tamales, beer, etc. The crowds were loud as hell for one mile and quiet during another mile as we ran through the neighborhoods and the roads which connect them. By mile 18 (Pilsen), my high fives ceased as my enjoyment transformed into struggle, it was only a matter of time. The fatigue and pains started kicking in. Throughout the many twists and turns of the second half of the route, the Willis tower was always in sight and served as the finish line marker; a ray of light. Also, it became 10 degrees warmer, ugh. And something I learned: wearing shades hides the exhaustion face in the photos.
Every mile felt longer and longer. Stronger runners started passing me by, but that was fine. I knew it would be over soon. The final hour was painful indeed as I resisted the urge to walk. The water stations were like heaven tables with angels handing me water and Gatorade. I only have glimpses of images in my head during the last few miles, a kind of drunken memory of it all.
The last 2-3 miles was a straight run up Michigan Ave to the finish and I was possibly running as fast as I power walk. At mile 25, I felt like passing out regardless of the liters of water and Gatorade in my system. My body was failing quickly. It is during these last moments where you ask yourself, why am I doing this to myself? Why run a marathon? The answer becomes clear. To know what it feels like to run the Chicago marathon and to know what it feels like to finish it, to feel victorious, and to feel alive. If I stop at mile 25, I’ll never know, so I must finish. After an eternal final mile, the finish line was in sight; it’s the most beautiful sight. 4 hours and 19 minutes! 8 minutes faster than Disney, and 15 minutes faster than NYC. VICTORY!
The path to the marathon continues. I have a score to settle with NYC. Thanks to the Chicago marathon experience, I feel prepared for the NYC marathon rematch in 2 weeks. Most importantly, the taper period starts now which means less running and more eating, excellent. For anyone who ran the NYC marathon or any one planning to run the distance, I highly recommend Chicago. You won’t regret it (until mile 20+, hehe).