Six months of training. Massive consumption of energy foods. Battling the chaffing. Laughing when you realize your "short run" is ten miles.
If you can identify with any of the above, you're probably a runner training for the marathon. A while back, I decided I'd give up on my days playing hockey and tennis and pick up a pair of running shoes. Three marathons later, I thought I'd pass along some tips on how to prepare and survive The Chicago Marathon.
Chicago is a diverse city and so are the runners. In past years, I've run next to a man in a chicken suit, a group of Scots dressed as the Loch Ness Monster, and all four Ninja Turtles. The 26.2 mile course weaves and snakes through the 29 neighborhoods I call home. And they all have unique sights and sounds.
What's great about Chicago's course is that it's generally flat. Other courses in the country (Boston comes to mind) have massive inclines. You know what it feels like to burn alive if you've ever pounded the pavement at Heartbreak Hill. But, thankfully, Chicago's a bit easier on the joints!
The marathon kicks off downtown in The Loop. As you weave through the streets, you'll get a free tour of our historic downtown buildings. Between mile 7 and 8, you'll enter Boystown where wig-wearing drag queens will happily keep you hydrated. Don't be surprised if you get a bit of encouragement in the form of a "you go, girl!"
At the half way point, you'll enter the University of Illinois at Chicago area. Sleepy, post-party college students line the streets and cheer you on through their hazy hangover smiles. Miles 19 and 20 run through Pilsen where salsa music carries your heavy legs past the breaking poing. Hey, Stop doing the tango! You've got another 6.2 miles to run!
Keep on truckin' through Chinatown at mile 21. Chinese dragons and the smell of dim sum flood your senses, let the promise of post-race spare ribs motivate you as you fuel with another packet of "Gu Gel." [Ed. Note: One year, one of my running teammates decided to order a plate of fried rice "to go," which had me envious... and drooling.]
Curving from Michigan Avenue onto Roosevelt Road brings the screams of hundreds lining the curbs as the end draws near. Tired and weary, feet buring, the finish gate awaits. Congratulations, you've run a Marathon.
With proper training, you too can finish a Chicago Marathon. Preparation is essential to success. Make sure you take along proper nutrition or have someone who can meet up with you periodically throughout the course. Hydration is also extremely important. Water stations are spread throughout the city and offer both water and sports drinks. I recommend you bring along a water belt which can be purchased at any running store. Fleet Feet and Running Away are local shops that are excellent in their knowledge, expertise, and ability to fit you with all your running needs.
The weather in Chicago can vary. In 2007, I ran with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees. Ultimately, officials were forced to cancel the race. There is also the potential for cold temperatures. Mornings can be chilly, but your body and the temperature will warm up more than 20 degrees during the race.
My suggestion is to layer. Wear clothing that you don't mind ditching along the course. As you strip, a crew comes by and picks all the lose items and donates them to local charities and shelters.
You'll also need a good pair of shoes and make sure to get a proper fit. It can make a world of difference.
The most important part is finding the motivation to keep on going. 26.2 miles is far. One unique thing about Chicago is that you have thousands of strangers rooting you on, to provide you with the encouragement you'll need to finish the grueling race. If you take a permanent marker and write your name somewhere on yourself, you'll get plenty of inspiring cheers that will fuel you along the course.
You're Done. Now What?
Congratulations. You've finished. You've done something most people have not. You've got bragging rights and, most importantly, a heavy medal draped around your neck that serves as a physical sign of your determination and will.
Everyone has their own post race rituals, so I'll leave you with some suggestions. First of all, make sure that you have identified a rendez-vous point before you start the race. This is a predetermined spot where you can meet up with your family and friends. The end of the race can be cluttered and chaotic, don't get lost in the mess.
For those who want that ice cold beer after a race, Goose Island Brewery offers runners 21 and over a sudsy "312" wheat ale to help celebrate your accomplishment. Your feet are gonna feel like they are about to fall off, so venturing too far outside the surrounding area may be more daunting a challenge than the race itself. Try out The Gage at Michigan and Monroe, cold ones await in this upscale Irish establishment. Just a few blocks away is Monk's Pub where craft beers in a warm, cozy atmosphere helps you relax and unwind.
Feeling a wee bit protein deprived? Head to Eleven City Diner at Wabash and Roosevelt where stacked corned beef sandwiches are served in traditional Jewish style. If you just want to revel in your accomplishment, Grant Park and Millenium Park are both in the immediate area. Find a nice patch of grass or a vacant bench and soak in your 26.2 mile journey. You deserve a moment of self-admiration.
Oh, and for my ending? I cried. Not only out of the physical toll it took on me, but most importantly, I completed something I never thought I could. That's my Chicago Marathon story, I can't wait to hear yours. For more information on the October 7th race, click here.