As I left my boyfriend I felt excited. This was it. Time to earn my third star.
The start pens were well organised, not too packed with people, easy to find and there were also plenty of toilets around. The queues were quite long at the first toilets that I came across but, if you’re in a pen towards the back, make sure you head that way first as there are more toilets for you and less people waiting. As I stood in my start pen soaking in the atmosphere, it started to rain but I was wearing a plastic poncho so I managed to stay dry. It was the type of rain that seems like nothing but soon soaks you to the skin!
I mentioned in part one that I had decided to just relax, enjoy the race and not worry about time. With everything that happened in the couple of weeks before flying out, I knew that if I continued to stress about my finish time, I ran the risk of going all the way to Chicago and not enjoying the reason for being there. I think it was this decision that led to the feeling of calm that washed over me on the start line. Suddenly, I just felt ready and I knew there was nothing more I could do now except run. I was ready to run Chicago and enjoy it no matter how it went.
Being in a start pen that’s towards the back means there’s a little bit more of a wait to start but it does give you a bit of time to soak in the atmosphere. However, I was soaking in a little bit too much rain at this point as well! It did start to feel like a long wait because of the weather but we were soon moving forward (after another, nervous wee!).
I could see the start line above the heads in front of me and, as we started to move forward more rapidly, I made the mistake of taking off my plastic poncho thinking I would soon start running. It turns out I was a little hasty in dumping it on the pavement as we stopped and I started to get very wet! When I eventually did start, the rain was still falling and it would continue for the first 7 miles of my race.
During miles 1-3 you cross the river three times before heading north. You run past the Chicago Theatre with it’s iconic vertical sign which you see as you run out from under a bridge. Seeing the theatre sign was one of my favourite moments of the day. As the weather was grey, overcast and raining, there was something magical about seeing the sign lit up, sparkling in the wet weather.
From mile 3 you head north towards Lincoln Park, entering the park just before mile 5. Between miles 5 and 6 you’ll run alongside Lincoln Park Zoo which will be to your right so watch out for the animals (Disclaimer – I’m not sure if you’ll actually see any animals but you never know! I wasn’t aware that I was running past the zoo at the time so I wasn’t on the look out!). Once you get to mile 8 you then turn back towards the city and, by the time you hit your next bridge, you’re already half way!
From here you turn right along Monroe Street (my favourite street as I’m a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe!) before turning back on yourself between miles 15 and 16. You continue on to run through Little Italy and the University Village. The next 4 miles we’re slow for me. The support was still good but there was nothing to make these miles stand out. Mile 21 made up for it though as this is when you reach China Town! Turning the corner into China Town was incredible – the noise, the support …everything! Make sure you take it all in here!
Knowing I had less than 10k to do really spurred me on through the next few miles and before I knew it I only had two miles left to run. Leading up to this part of the course there wasn’t really any section that wasn’t packed with people, but by the time I got to mile 24, spectators were a little thin on the ground.
It didn’t matter though because at this point I knew I was going to go sub 5:30 unless something went drastically wrong. I just had to stay calm and keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other. That last two miles is on a long, straight road so it started to feel never ending. Just before reaching the marker for mile 26 the course turns right … straight up a short, sharp hill! Who decided to put a hill at the end of a marathon?! However, when you turn left again at the top and you see that finish … well I can’t even describe how I felt knowing I was going to reach my goal.
As I crossed the finish line I thought I recognised one of the women giving out the medals. I assumed I was just delirious when I thought it was Paula Radcliffe but it was actually her! How lucky was I to get my medal from Paula?!
When you finish you walk back along the road where you started, picking up your goody bag, a bag of ice for your aches and pains and specially brewed Chicago Marathon beer (yes, you even get beer made for finishers!). You have to drink the beer inside the finish area due the the organisation’s licensing so do take you time enjoying this. I’m guilty of chucking half of mine away because I was too desperate to get into the runner/family reunite area to meet my boyfriend. This area was really simple and well laid out so don’t worry about being able to spot your supporters.
I was achy but so happy as we walked slowly back to the hotel. I knew my copy of the Chicago Tribune would list me as a sub 5:30 marathon finisher. Top tip – if you’re staying in a hotel, ask them to deliver the Monday edition of the Tribune to your room because it sells out really quickly the next day and becomes impossible to find anywhere.
The next day I woke up still not really comprehending the events of the day before but I was ready for some more sightseeing. I walked over 30,000 steps (don’t ask me how!) going to the zoo in Lincoln Park, shopping and ascending the John Hancock Centre to look over the city, seeing it from a different perspective. It was scorching hot at 28 degrees so I spent the day thanking my lucky stars that it hadn’t been that hot the day before! We left the best meal for last, having Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza for dinner in a restaurant near our hotel before some last minute purchasing of some American sweets to take home with us.
I was sad to head home the next day after such a great experience but Chicago will always have a place in my heart no matter how many marathons I might complete. The city is beautiful, the Chicago natives were lovely and of course the pizza is amazing! Chicago was my comeback marathon after a disappointing 26.2 six months earlier. It was the place where I gained my confidence back, putting my London experience behind me, and for that I will always be grateful to the Windy City.