I live in the Milwaukee area. I have run 2 races in Chicago that started at Grant Park and both times I arrived the day before and stayed at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. I couldn’t imagine trying to drive into that area the morning of the race. Staying walking distance from the start of the race is incredibly convenient. One thing I noticed about the Chicago Marathon is that a lot of people arrived late, after the corrals were locked. All these people had to start at the very back of the corrals.
Besides, it’s nice to have a dinner out in downtown Chicago the night before a race!
I was very impressed with the organization of the race, beginning with the expo at McCormick Place. My husband and I took a shuttle from Millennium Park to McCormick Place, which was kind of cool because it took a super-secret busing lane directly to McCormick Place. At the expo there were no lines for picking up bibs, and a small line for picking up shirts. Not bad for a race with 45,000 registered runners. I don’t want to talk about the fiasco with bib pickup when I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K a few years earlier in Chicago!
I was starting in Corral G which was perfect for my goal time. My goals for the race:
A – Finish under 4:45
B – Finish under 5 hours
C – Finish in one piece
There was no 4:45 pacer so I went with the 4:40 pacer that was conveniently in my corral. I met the lead pacer for the group at the expo, she seemed fun and super enthusiastic. I usually do better in a race when I start slower than goal pace, work my way to goal pace, then finish faster than goal pace. That was a bit faster than I planned to start but I tend to start way too fast so I figured it was preferable to going out way too fast in the early miles.
Something that was a little odd, if you officially join a pace group at the expo you are given a bib to wear on your back with your goal finishing time on it. I was a little torn about joining the group. If I really fell off my pace I didn’t want to announce it to everyone! I decided to join the group as that bib on my back might give me a little extra motivation to stay on pace.
Race morning, everything went off without a hitch. I don’t normally eat a lot before I run so I just had some water and a peanut butter Clif bar in the hotel room. I used the bathroom numerous times before I left and luckily it lasted me through the entire race, I did not need to use the porta potties on course!
It was sunny, cool and in the 40’s to start. I could not complain about the weather, it was pretty ideal for running. I wore a short sleeve shirt, shorts, and compression socks. I had picked up a cozy zip up hoodie from Goodwill for the race and I also had a pair of very worn gloves that I could ditch at the start.
I was in Wave 2 and the wave started at 8:00. We started to make the long march down the start chute. This is always my favorite part of a race. Everyone is fresh, everyone is excited. You can feel the electricity and energy. As we walked people shed their throwaway layers. The starting line is pretty wide and everyone was congregated on the right. People kept screaming at us to go to the left. I wanted to stick with the pace group. I was kind of tired at people screaming at me.
I crossed the start line at about 8:15. I was right behind the pace group but in the march forward I lost sight of the pace leaders. They were holding up a large paddle before the race started but had dropped it to the side. They did not have a smaller paddle to carry during the race, which was very disappointing. I found out afterwards that these smaller paddles did not arrive to the start area on time.
So I was on my own. I knew my Garmin watch would not be accurate due to the buildings and bridges so I just tried to gauge my speed as best I could. I ended up ahead of the pace group but I felt good so I went with it. I was running my first marathon!