This was the 41st year of the annual Chicago Marathon. The race organizers have been refining the details over the past 4 decades to make this an unforgettable event for both runners and spectators. All of their hard work was easy to see all throughout the weekend.
One of the best decisions I made in planning for this was my hotel location. By recommendation from runner friends who have run this race in the past, I chose to stay in a hotel near the center of the city. This put me less than a mile from the start of the race.
This made getting lined up with 44,000 other runners about as easy as it could be. There were huge crowds of people, both spectator and racers. There were specific instructions about when to head to the start based on how close you were to the front of the starting line. There were several security checkpoints to get runners into this area. It was crowded and harried, and yet impressive how well it all worked.
After an introduction of the elite runners and the national anthem, the race began. The first few miles were slow going, as a sea of thousands of runners alongside me got started on their 26.2 mile journey. The course winded through city streets with tall skyscrapers on either side of the block and across bridges over the Chicago River.
It took about 4 miles to break free from the dense crowds of runners and get settled into to my race pace. This meant starting out slower than planned by 20 seconds per mile. I took some time to enjoy the experience and look around a little more than I normally would. The crowds also prevented me from going out too fast, something so easy to do on race day.
The course is flat. The course is fast. It was easy for me to settle in with a pack of runners moving at my pace. Cheering spectators and a variety of bands lined the streets along the entire course, giving a supportive boost of energy to all runners.
I stayed true to my nutrition plan: taking an energy gel 15 minutes before the race and every 30 minutes with water. I drank electrolyte sports drink every 2-3 miles as well to maintain hydration. This provided good fuel to get me through to the end. I felt good the entire race – perhaps too good. All of the race-pace training had paid off. I was a little uncomfortable for the last 4 miles, but I was able to keep the momentum going.
I highly recommend this race for either a seasoned marathoner or a first time marathon runner. The flat course and energy from spectators helped out so much. I might even go back again in the future for another chance to experience this great running event!