Monday, October 19, 2015

Chicago Marathon: Urban Legend

The Chicago Marathon Oct. 11 delivered the spectacle that it touted. More than 46,000 of us, along 26.2 miles of the Second City, with an estimated 1.7 million spectators lining nearly every inch of Chicago sidewalk and roadway. What a sight they were.

At various points in the race I saw:

  • A group of men dressed like the Statue of Liberty but in rainbow/pride colors.
  • Another group of men dressed in all black and cheering us on with red metallic pompons.
  • A Vegas Elvis impersonator (couldn't run away from him fast enough!).
  • Many inventive signs urging us on to the finish line.
  • Two large papier-mache puppets dancing in the city's Mexican neighborhood. I apologize that I don't know what that neighborhood is called, but it was my favorite for the crowd support, the music, the kids handing us food and drink.
  • Children (not officially volunteers) handing out pretzels, orange slices and small bottles of water. 
  • Thousands of hard-charging, dedicated runners pushing toward the finish line in Grant Park.
  • More spectators wearing Green Bay Packers garb than Chicago Bears clothing. I could have finished five minutes faster if I hadn't stopped to talk to/high five all of them.
This was my first big-city marathon, and likely my last. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but races of such magnitude bring with them increased expenses, logistical planning and a lot of waiting around to cross the starting line. The expo was huge, too, but the bus ride there was especially enjoyable with a jovial, friendly, inquisitive driver ("So, who's from the farthest away?" Iceland trumped Syracuse, I'm afraid.)

On the other hand, I felt a huge sense of camaraderie running with so many others. I enjoyed the "countdown" from mile 25.2--banners with "1 Mile to go," "800 meters," "400 meters," "200 meters" and then the finish. I enjoyed running through the neighborhoods of Chicago. I liked being asked hours afterwards if I had "run the marathon." Unlike many other finishers, I didn't wear my medal into the restaurant I walked to afterwards--Lou Malnati's--but I wouldn't exactly call my perambulation "walking." My hobbling must have given it away.

And what a revelation Chicago was to me! Big, bustling and full of life, but cleaner and friendlier than New York City. The only vehicles with beeping horns were taxi cabs. I took the Red Line to the race ($3!) and marveled at how clean and urine-free the station was.

My finish time is a disappointment, but, as with all marathons, that time hints at improvements I can make while training for the next one. Still, I finished at approximately 29,000 out of the 46,000, not even close to last.

And now for my minor suggestions for improving the race:

It's "The Bean." 
  • Could you please get the rights to more songs than "Right Now" by Van Halen, which played over and over and over again as we stood in the starting corral? Since we were in there for 30 minutes, that's a lot of time hearing one song.
  • The medal underwhelmed me. I understand the race organizers wanting to feature a Chicago landmark on the medal. But, not being from Chicago, I had no idea what I was seeing. Was it a big cloud hovering over the runners? Was it the Mothership disgorging aliens into Grant Park? Take a look for yourself (at right). 
I am grateful to have had this opportunity, and urge anyone who wants to run a major marathon to do this one. Even though I never saw them, it was cool knowing that big-time runners led the way and finished hours before so many of us. But the spectators treated everyone like he or she was a speedy Kenyan, and at the end of the day, that's this race's biggest charm.

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