Add Chicago Marathon to Your Bucket List

It really was that good! I've run a lot of races, and the Chicago Marathon, at 40,000 runners, had the logistics down. This was possibly the best-organized race I've run, and not only that, but the course was great, the spectators and volunteers were awesome, and it was a lot of fun!

Scot's picture of the medal

My mom is from Chicago, and I have an affinity for the city. Unfortunately, I hadn't really been there for a visit in several years. I've been through both airports, and been close by in St. Charles IL for the 2012 Fox Valley Marathon, but I hadn't actually spent any time in the city in over 10 years. Scot and I decided to enter the lottery for spots in this year's Chicago Marathon, and we got in!

We flew in on Saturday morning and home on Monday morning. That didn't leave time for much other than the race expo and the race itself, but we stayed in The Loop at Hotel Allegro to be close to the action and walked almost everywhere we needed to go.

Chicago architecture: old vs. new

After getting settled into the hotel, we walked leisurely to another hotel to catch the shuttle to the race expo at the McCormick Place convention center. It was a huge expo, and very well organized. We quickly and easily picked up our race gear. Sadly, we were disappointed by the drab, boring race shirt in our bags, but that was really our only complaint about the whole race experience.

The t-shirt; I found this image on eBay; someone is selling their crappy shirt

We spent quite some time at the expo and ran into people we knew, some of whom were speaking on the podium (Trent the Marathon Man), and some of whom were working in a vendor booth. That's right, we attend enough race expos that we have come to know the vendors. On our way out of the expo, we saw our friend Anders, the Biking Viking. We hadn't seen him in almost a year, so it was nice to say hi.

Anders plays "air flamingo" with Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo
I'm being carded to enter the Goose Island beer bus at the expo, as Magenta looks on
Trent speaking at the expo

Our next stop was Millennium Park to meet up with Doug and to see the Cloud Gate sculpture, otherwise known as "The Bean". Scot and I were in awe of not just this, but all of the architecture in the city. There's a great mix of the old and the new, and most of it is full of character. After the park, Scot and I had a pre-race dinner at Pizano's, which serves huge portions of pasta and deep dish pizza.

Doug (yellow hoodie), me (teal jacket), Scot (red hoodie) at The Bean
Setting up the second aid station in the early hours before the race

On race morning, Scot and I were running a little late to make the official Marathon Maniacs photo at Buckingham Fountain. The combination of our late start and the bottleneck of runners trying to get through security into the starting area made us miss the pic, but we found several of Maniacs still by the fountain. The start area was extremely well organized with separate gear checks for different corrals, pre-race drink and aid stations (yes, pre-race!), and lots of port-o-potties. After taking care of all our business, we hopped into Corral G just as it was closing - whew!
The Maniacs we found before the start

Scot and I before the start
Skyline before the start, with lots of pre-race water and Gatorade for runners

I can barely see the starting line up ahead

And then, after a while, we were off! Scot and I ran separately, though I did find him later in the race. I spent the first several miles alone, which was no problem. There were plenty of other runners, and the spectator support was awesome! Eventually, I ran into Jill and ran with her for more than half of the race.

The boys in Boys Town

Chicago River view

The Chicago theatre, which was near our hotel

I loved that the course changed directions often enough to provide different vantage points of the skyline. I love the iconic architecture of Chicago and enjoyed the various views of the John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower (I'm sorry, Willis, but it will always be the Sears Tower to me). We ran within sightlines of Lake Michigan, though not on the lake itself. We ran through neighborhoods with lots of character, and we ran very close to all the major Chicago sports arenas. I have to say that I was quite disappointed we were not routed right by Wrigley Field. That absolutely should have been on the marathon course. But otherwise, this was a great course with lots of energy.

Jill, and the L

I captured Jill and myself on the Jumbotron; note the Sears Tower in the background

Festive drummers on the course

The course wasn't all skyscrapers

Scot doing his impression of the Sears Tower

I probably could have pushed myself a little harder to finish a little faster, but I reached a point around Mile 20 where I just felt a little off. I needed to take a couple extended walk breaks, so I encouraged Jill to go on ahead of me. I wasn't alone for long. Fellow Maniac Rachael, whom I'd originally met at the 2013 Louisiana Marathon, saw me stretching my legs on the side of the road in the last few miles of the race. She encouraged me to join her and we stuck together until the finish. It took us both a few minutes to figure out where and when we had first met. It turns out that Rachael recently moved to Alexandria VA, so we are now practically neighbors!

Finishers: Sandy and Scot

Finishers: Rachael and Sandy

All wrapped up and warm after the marathon
Scot finished about 20 minutes before me, so he was waiting in the finish chute. As is typical for him, he had little muscle soreness and was walking around as if he hadn't just completed a marathon. I just don't get it, because I am sore EVERY SINGLE TIME. I took advantage of his genetic anomaly and asked him to pick up my bag from bag check while I drank my beer and half of his. Did I mention that you get your finisher beer right away, before you even exit the finish chute? Yeah, the race logistics are THAT GOOD! And it's not cheap beer either; it was local Goose Island 312.

Sitting just outside the finish chute, on my butt, drinking a good beer on a great day

Scot and I waited for Doug to finish and then the three of us decided to stop at Dairy Queen on the way back to the hotels. We didn't BQ (Boston quality), but we sure did DQ, was our line. Then we parted ways, Scot and I went back to the hotel via Chipotle to pick up burritos to go. We stayed in the rest of the night and relaxed. It would have been nice to get out and see more of the town, but we were tired, we were feeling good about the race, and we wanted a low-key evening before our early flight home.

It was a short, but sweet weekend in Chicago. We missed out on seeing many of the people we wanted to see, but we did see many others. This was one of my favorite marathons ever, and my first of the six World Marathon Majors. I don't like to repeat a lot of marathons, but this one might see me again.


  1. Sandy, GREAT recap of the race and I agree with this race so much, my 4th time running it and I will be back again!! Doug

  2. I ran Chicago in 1999, but I should probably go back. For me, it's either an all-day drive or a short flight.

    1. Definitely go back. I'd be curious to hear your comparison of the 1999 event to today's.


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