October 12, 2008 was an incredible day. It was the day I ran my first marathon.
Usually I’d say that I’d rather gut out some ridiculous distance on my bike on a poorly paved road with raw pain in the unspeakable areas, in a downpour, with 20 mile an hour headwinds than run 26.2 miles. But a marathon was something I wanted to accomplish, (just once of course) before I got old and decrepit. So this year a friend talked me into Chi town.
My overall experience at the race was incredible. Heading there I kept my expectations pretty low. I knew it was well run, I knew I loved Chicago. But Fall weather by the Lakes changes on a dime from beautiful to cold, rainy and windy. I had no love for the run so I figured it could be something I just had to push through to achieve my goals – Not really something I expected I would enjoy doing. Wow, was I ever wrong.
We stayed at the host hotel, the Chicago Hilton. This was the way to go. Comfy beds, pillows and great location, just blocks from the start and finish. The hotel was bursting with athletes and activity which upped our excitement. They had a free tram to the expo which was helpful, and race morning all we had to do was follow the crowd leaving the hotel to the start line.
Race morning was spectacular. Blue skies, 58 degrees. The start line was quite literally a sea of people. Standing there surrounded by 31,400 other runners and 30 wheelchair participants is almost as surreal as running with them and seeing them move en masse ahead, beside and behind you – seamless and flowing. The energy of the morning was great. The athletes were psyched, the crowd was intense.
If, like me, you haven’t run in a crowd that large before, don’t get too excited when the gun goes off. It takes a while to get to the start. Before long though we were over the mat and off. The crowds lined the streets for the entire race. I don’t remember ever having a gap where someone wasn’t cheering for me. At the advice of a friend we wrote our names on medical tape and put them on our shirts, front and back. Best advice of the day. The event organizers made the day flow smoothly, but the crowd made it fun and carried me through to the finish line. I pretty much ran the entire race feeling like a rock star with every fifth spectator yelling “Go Suzy!” or “You’re awsome!”. I had a huge, uncontrollable smile plastered on my face from start to finish. Every time I was in pain I’d just focus on the crowd and smile and someone would shout my name. Those people know the true meaning of crowd.
The aid stations were great. Lots of water, lots of sports drink. Throughout the run they kept athletes aware of the heat index. At my mile 22 they were calling out on the heat index and encouraging people to slow down, hydrate and take it easy. Being from KC and a triathlete (at least more than a marathoner) I didn’t feel it was all that hot. The high of the day was about 85 or so without too much humidity.
All my body parts held out and I finished a 4:30 time. Not speedy, but just about right for me. The finish line was the picture of organization. They keep you moving until you are at the finisher tents. I never once waited for anything from getting my chip removed to getting my finisher pic or my free beer. (Unbelievably it tasted great!) Even getting a massage only took about 15 to 20 minutes in line.
I recommend this race to anyone. The organizers did their work, the crowds were beyond amazing and the scenery of the race is really cool. I met incredible people along the way and had the time of my life.