"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chicago Marathon 2011 - 26.2 Miles Through Chicago’s Neighborhoods

The sun also rises over Michigan Avenue
On October 9, nearly 45,000 participants ran in the 34th annual Chicago Marathon.  Along with the races in New York, Boston, Berlin, and London, Chicago's is considered one of the "World Marathon Majors".  Unlike the Boston Marathon (in which only about two miles actually take place WITHIN Boston’s city limits), the entire Chicago Marathon is a journey through some of the city’s most notable neighborhoods.

This year, one of those 45,000 was Laura, your fair blogger for this site.  Meanwhile, Michael actively participated…as moral support from the sidelines.  While Laura was focused on completing her first marathon, Michael ran around several of the neighborhoods to catch the action.

Below is a list of each mile and which neighborhood the runners traversed.  We’ve also attached an image of the scenes where Michael caught the action.
Mile                       Intersection                                    Neighborhood
Start                       Millenium Park                                The Loop

Beautiful morning for a nice, long run
Michael's Take: It was a beautiful, cool morning.  Still, with the sun just peeking over Lake Michigan as we got off the Brown Line and walked over to Columbus.  There was an overwhelming crowd gathered (counting the supporters, maybe around 100,000 people in just a couple city blocks) and there was definitely a startling energy through the air.  After trying to instill some words of confidence to Laura, I let her wander over to her corral.  I grabbed some coffee and a quick bite to eat as the race got underway.  So I scampered over to the Harrison Red Line station to try and catch Laura.  For a race that even the fastest in the world require over two hours, it certainly moves at a rapid pace, especially when trying to jump around and catch the race from different vantage points.

Mile 1                     Rush & Grand                                 River North/Streeterville

Mile 2                     State & Jackson                              The Loop

Mile 3                     La Salle & Kinzie                             River North

Mile 4                     La Salle & Division                          Gold Coast/River North

LaSalle Street Church is part of the background at Mile Four
Michael's Take: Where the Gold Coast and River North meet is an interesting place to watch the race.  It was easily accessible via the Clark/Division Red Line station and hosted a packed crowd.  It got to about three people deep on Division, with some of the surlier crowd trying to push their way through.  There's no barricade, which allotted certain people to take their lives into their own hands and run across one of the widest parts of the course.  Otherwise, you could give a high-five to one of the tens of thousands moving northward.  I missed Laura here, probably due to the fact that La Salle is so wide.  Still there's beautiful scenery down the street, notably the stunning LaSalle Street Church.  This was one of the busier locations that I viewed the race.

Mile 5                     Stockton & Wisconsin                      Lincoln Park/Old Town

Mile 6                     Canon & North Pond                        Lincoln Park

Mile 7                     Lake Shore Dr & Roscoe                  Lakeview East

Mile 8                     Broadway & Aldine                           Boystown/Lakeview East

A third of the way home and still going strong
Michael's Take: I caught up again with the race near mile eight at Clark and Diversey, right on the Lake View-Lincoln Park border.  This is a good place to watch the race.  There are barricades between the crowd and the runners, but it's not terribly congested, and you can get right up to the action if you wait just a couple minutes.  I took the Brown Line to Diversey and then it was a few minute jog, but I made it and got to see Laura as she approached the 1/3rd mark.  This seemed to be the spot with the most families.  Lots of parents and seniors with young children.  Also, Clark gets fairly narrow at this point, so it's much easier to spot your favorite runner(s) as opposed to along La Salle which is exponentially wider.

Mile 9                     Clark & Deming                                Lincoln Park

Mile 10                   Sedgwick & Willow                           Old Town

Mile 11                   Wells & Division                               River North

Mile 12                   Orleans & Hubbard                           River North

Soak it up, this is the one day a year you get to do this
downtown and not worry about getting hit by a cab.
Michael's Take: Ahh downtown, could there be a better place to watch the race?  Here's where you have seemingly the largest assortment of organizations cheering on the runners.  The energy from the crowd is awesome, and it's not that hard to get right up to the street.  I got to cheer along with the Swiss Club of Chicago.  They had a great, passionate contingent, and not one runner mistook them for the Red Cross while I was there.  The streets get wide, but the participants seem less bunched together than in the Gold Coast, so it's easier to spot your runner here.  Obviously parking is a nightmare, but if you can take public transit (and you know you can), then you can find yourself a great spot amidst the skyscrapers.

Mile 13                   Clinton & Adams                              West Loop

Mile 14                   Throop & Adams                              West Loop

Mile 15                   Damen & Van Buren                         Near West Side/United Center

Mile 16                   Racine & Jackson                            West Loop

Mile 17                   Halsted & Polk                                 Little Italy/University Village

Mile 18                   Laflin & Taylor                                  Little Italy

Running in Little Italy?  That's a spicy meatball!
Michael's Take: What Little Italy lacked in the pure energy of downtown or the sheer sardine-in-a-can-ness of Gold Coast, it made up in comfort and sheer pleasantness.  The foliage along Taylor Street was a beautiful gold and amber.  The crowd is good, but it's not brutally congested, and it's another great place to get up close to the runners.  I suppose I expected it to really embrace the Italian theme more than it did (I heard they come out in full force in Chinatown and Pilsen which I unfortunately missed on both accounts).  Still the aura of one of the city's most under-appreciated neighborhoods in terms of charm helps separate it from some of the more boisterous segments of the race. 

Mile 19                   Ashland & 18th                                 Pilsen

Mile 20                   Halsted & 19th                                  Pilsen

Mile 21                   Canal & Archer                                 Armour Square/Chinatown

Mile 22                   Wentworth & 26th                              Armour Square

Mile 23                   State & 33rd                                     Bronzeville/Douglas

This is the point of the race
where shirts become optional.
Michael's Take: Undoubtedly the biggest surprise for me of all the locations I visited.  Mostly because I didn't really know what to expect.  This is the southernmost portion of the race, and the Bronzeville neighborhood is an interesting mix of middle-class blacks, low-income residents of public housing, upper-class denizens of recently developed lakefront high-rises, and IIT college students.  The scene was MOBBED.  It takes a few minutes to work your way towards the front, otherwise you're stacked two to three people back from the street.  There is real emotion as the runners seem to sense that the finish is within grasp, but the crowd can sense the agony as many of the competitors are pushing through the metaphorical wall that comes around mile 20, and are clearly not enjoying the final push.  Seeing a competitor pull up limp right in front of me was difficult to watch.  It's not the physical so much as the mental frustration of being so close to the end and yet coming down with an injury that's probably going to force you to exit the race just before the stretch run.  This stretch of 35th Street is really narrow, but can be difficult to spot your runner as everyone is really bunched together at this point.

Mile 24                   Michigan & 29th                                Bronzeville/Douglas

Mile 25                   Michigan & 21st                                South Loop

Mile 26                   Indiana & Roosevelt                          South Loop

"Hey, what are they giving away over here?"
Michael's Take: So you wanna watch the end of the race, huh?  I hoped to get there to see Laura in the last quarter mile, but it gets absolutely jammed at the end.  It goes five or six people deep from the street, so if you want to see your runner, you're gonna have to get there a while before he/she makes it to that point.  After trying to see if there was a place to slide in, I quickly gave up any hope and decided to meet with Laura at the very end of the course.  The nice thing is that it must be an absolute rush for the runners to be so close to the finish and just be greeted by a flood of supporters.  Fortunately we had a couple friends who had gotten there well before I did, and managed to cheer Laura on as she headed towards the finish.  Still, to be able to watch the contest in neighborhoods like Little Italy and Bronzeville helped compensate for the inability to get up close at the end.

Finish                     Grant Park                                       South Loop
Your favorite bloggers post-race.
Michael's Take: Just as a spectator, the Chicago Marathon was an incredible experience.  Training for a marathon, as Laura will tell you, is an unbelievable commitment both in terms of time and emotion.  Even without a horse in the race though, it's really enjoyable to just be a part of the celebration.  The Chicago Marathon isn't just a race, it's a celebration of the city itself.  Hopefully I'll be back to watch again.  I'd like to see the excitement and culture represented in Boystown, Pilsen, and Chinatown.  It'd also be great to follow the elites who can finish one of the most draining things a human can do in just over two hours.  Lastly, the beauty of the Chicago Marathon is that it's an open event to anyone.  Only the best of the best get to golf at the Masters or play tennis at Wimbledon.  But anyone can run the same course as the best long distance runners on the planet.

Laura's Take: The Chicago Marathon is a super, super-awesome event. I don't have another marathon or major world marathon to compare it to, but I absolutely loved not only the Marathon itself but the training on the flat trails of Lake Michigan. We are so lucky as Chicagoans to have access to 18 miles of safe, uninterrupted trail. The mornings that I spent watching sun rise over Hollywood Beach I will never forget, and the times when the weather was on my side almost made times when it was not worth it. Even though I was training by myself, I felt sort of a camaraderie with the same people I would see 3-4 times a week getting in their miles early in the morning, whether they were young or old, joggers or walkers or the clear elites who just rip up those trails. It was amazing to see the amount of spirit and determination among the runners, even if I didn't directly train with them: the motivation to be up and running almost every day, the confidence and heart to make it through searing winds, all types of rain, and in my opinion the worst these, the stifling sun and humidity in the summer when your mileage is really increasing.

Although I was quite nervous about the race, I was really looking forward to absorbing all of the neighborhoods from a new perspective of  a runner.  Funny enough, that's not really the way it worked out. I think I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn't spend much mental energy on the surroundings apart from scanning the sidelines for Mike and other friends when I knew they were close. This was much more challenging when runners were still bunched up until after Boystown. I crossed the Start line after only about 15 minutes of walking toward it from my start corral, a real feat of engineering and planning if you consider that about 40,000 runners have to all start from the same basic place. The beginning of the course was truly exciting: you are sort of at the gateway to downtown and you are running straight in, part of a huge pack of runners who are raring to go, although they all know the length of what's ahead.

A cool mist awaits the runners at the finish.
Things carried themselves until the temperature started rising above my liking after the halfway point. If there was one thing I could change about Chicago 2011, I would have had it 30 degrees cooler (50 rather than 80 and sunny). On the plus side, I never had any problem getting access to water or Gatorade at an aide station and I took some at almost every one. The volunteers were committed to what they were doing and I so appreciated it (especially after being responsible for my own hydration for so long!). People's signs were actually pretty funny. This was my first marathon and my second race, so I learned why runners value crowd support so much. Running through the tree-lined streets of Lincoln Park-area felt quaint and some of the residents were coming outside with hoses that they sprayed straight into the crowd. A dip in confidence came right after seeing Mike, Sarah and Brian at the half in the Loop. We seemed to cross through the West Loop so many times, it was starting to get hot, and the first energy gel I had taken just after the half hadn't kicked in yet. Good thing Aaron showed up at mile 14 and ran with me for a couple blocks! That really brought me back into focus on just getting to Little Italy where I knew they'd be next. It was around this time that I realized that slowing or stopping to use a new pattern of muscle movement was worse than just running through everything.

I would say the hardest part of the race was definitely from Little Italy through Bronzeville (miles 18-23). Luckily, I had support from my friends on both ends of this stretch. I had mentally prepared to get to 18, which was the furthest I ran in training, and I wasn't sure how much harder it was gonna get before 23 or so. The heat and the lack of fans and things to look at during those hot, painful miles before the final turn on to 35th Street were tough and seemed to drag on and on. However, I never hit the wall (thank you, Marathon, for that Clif shot at mile 17). I cannot express the relief at seeing that I was FINALLY turning onto Michigan Avenue, and realizing that now I could push it, and that this was it, and I was going to finish. Believe it or not there is a cruel and unusual HILL right before the finish! Alex warned me of this, however, so I was ready for it.  Sarah and Brian's cheering location at one of the final little turns of the course was SO exciting because I was right there at the end-- thanks partially to the guy who helped them scream my name loud enough that I heard it!

Chicago was my first Marathon, and hopefully it will not be my last. Either way, I will never forget it. I would eagerly recommend doing the marathon to anyone who thinks it is an event they really want to experience for themselves. Remember, registration is open here, the land is flat, and the weather is gr... um, well, let's just say the weather keeps it interesting. :-)

The full course for the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

The action from the 35th-Bronzeville-IIT Green Line station

No comments:

Post a Comment