by Angelica Pasten-Anderson
2016 has been an amazing year of running for me. It all started when I became a marathoner in January at the Cadbury Marathon thanks to TRR’s ‘Make me a Marathoner’ program.
In October, I proved to myself that it wasn’t a fluke and I ran my second marathon and first World Marathon Major in Chicago. It was an incredible experience and I’d like to share it with you in the hope that it will inspire you to run the world!
I have to start my story with Bib Pickup. I wasn’t quite prepared for the enormity of it. I’m used to a casual bib pick-up at the Running Edge in Hobart. This was something quite extraordinary. It was HUGE and very high-tech. In order to pick up my bib I had to present my entry-validation on the app (sort of like a boarding pass) and ID. Once I was “checked-in” I was sent to another table where I could collect my bib. My credentials were checked again and my bib was scanned which activated the timing chip. Next I had to go get my gear bag –
you could only use the official clear plastic gear bag provided to store items at gear check on the day.
The expo was positively insane. It was packed with excited starry eyed people like me, wandering around in open mouthed wonder at the sheer size of the event. Nike had its own live DJ spinning tunes which added to the vibe Nike was the apparel sponsor of the event and they produced the finisher tops (nice top I might add!).
I nearly got to the gear bag stand when I saw one of my running idols on the main stage. Joan Benoit-Samuelson was speaking about her motivation for running. It was truly inspiring to hear from such a legend of the sport. Talk about inspiration!
There was so much to see at the expo. Another highlight for me was to see the medals for all 6 World Marathon Majors which put another crazy idea in my head… maybe I’d like to run all six.
I left my hotel room an hour before my start time of 8:00. I walked leisurely through Millennium Park, snapped a selfie at the Bean and just soaked in the energy and beauty of my home city. Chicago is truly spectacular especially so on Marathon Sunday. It was slightly chilly before the sun came shining through, however we were lucky to have some very unseasonable warm weather for the day. I walked through security and found gear-check. The race was incredibly well-organised, as it must for an event catering for over 40,000 participants! Gear check was organised by bib-number and wave colour. Finding where I needed to go just brought home how massive this thing I was a part of truly was. Gear checked and stowed I made my way to my start Corral – G wide eyed and excited.
It was literally a Corral – fenced in and all! I guess you need to keep everyone “herded” where they needed to be but it was a bit surreal being fenced into the corral awaiting the start. I quickly found my way to the Nike 4:25 pacers. Pacers found, it was time to play the waiting game… I found myself feeling the usual pre-race nerves but feeling remarkably calm. I felt like I was in a dream and this wasn’t actually really happening, bizarre I know. I felt so happy to be stood at that start line waiting to run. The years of training and prep had come down to this moment and I was loving it.
Finally it was time to run.
It took about 10 or more minutes to get to the actual start line. It was a bit hard because at that point I just wanted to go for it. Nothing could have prepared me for the emotion I felt as I crossed the start line. I was elated and carried by the roar of the crowd – absolutely incredible. About 500 meters after the start line the crowd of runners surrounding dissipated – there was no scrambling for space and I was able to run free. I stuck close to the pacers and was feeling good. Again the race was so amazingly well organised that the wave start and corrals did what they were meant to – thin the pack enabling everyone to have a comfortable run.
The spectators were magic, their chanting and genuine well wishes were something I will forever remember and treasure. Chicago certainly knows how to support its runners! Everywhere I looked there was something to see and hear. I purposefully didn’t run to music because I wanted to take in every moment and experience every sensation the course had to offer.
The first few miles of course were in the CBD and we ran under towering skyscrapers (which caused Garmin chaos) and across the many bridges crossing the Chicago River. I loved how the bridges had red carpet over them so as to make our run a bit more cushioned and to make us feel VIP. Then the course headed north into leafy Lincoln Park. At this point my heel began to hurt but I somehow managed to get myself ahead of the pacers and stayed there. As if to bolster my spirits and take my mind off of the pain, there was a blues band belting out “Sweet Home Chicago” as I ran. I was grinning from ear to ear! We then turned south and hit Wrigleyville where I thought of my beloved Chicago Cubs. While we didn’t run past the iconic Wrigley Field you could still feel the energy of place magnified by their playoff triumphs. (They are now World Series Champions making the run through the neighbourhood all the more special!)
At around 12km we hit Boys Town was another huge course highlight for me. Boys Town is the centre of pride celebrations in Chicago and the Queens were out in all their glory. I couldn’t help but slow down a bit to take in the spectacle and raucous atmosphere that is Boys Town. The ROTC (Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps) put on a brilliant colorguard performance and I could help but stop to applaud.
The spectators lined every inch of the streets and were loud! There were awesome signs that motivated you to run faster. One of my personal faves was “Run like Trump is chasing you!” I laughed every time I saw one. The spectators and local businesses also provided great music to keep our spirits up. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Eye of the Tiger” or “Born to Run” but those tunes never got old and just kept me going.
Before I knew I was back in the Loop and halfway done. The course headed west for a bit until we hit the United Center which is home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks. The Bulls Mascot, Benny the Bull, was there doing his thing cheering us on. I felt for him (or her) because it was getting quite warm and it must have been boiling in that Bull costume. The spectators were thinning a bit but still loud and boisterous. Some were offering free beer. None for me! I was happy with my gels and electrolyte for now.
The next memorable part of the course was Pilsen, the Mexican neighbourhood known for its food and art. It was a vibrant area filled with salsa and mariachi music. They were even handing out Tequila shots to the runners. In hindsight, I should have took one because it might have been just the rocket fuel I needed to get me back into gear.
Once we got out of Pilsen the course got a bit depressing as we ran alongside the Dan Ryan Expressway. There weren’t many spectators and the scenery was a bit bleak. The best part about this section of the course is running past the White Sox Park. However the bleakness was short-lived as we turned the corner onto Michigan Avenue and the home stretch.
The end was now within reach only 5km away. The crowds were back and cheering. I got a boost from the Elvis impersonator in all his bedazzled jump-suited glory. There was a little Korean enclave busting out the Gangnam Style and I had a little dance with them. At this point I was stopping at every aid station and walking through them sipping on water. I have never seen volunteers this excited to cheer you on and so happy to hand out the water. They were truly inspirational.
Off I trudged getting closer and closer to Grant Park and the finish. The iconic Chicago Skyline was getting closer and closer with the roar of the crowd getting louder and louder. Despite my weariness my smile was wide. I was nearly there, nearly at the finish of the Chicago Marathon!
The course was flat up until the very end. I heard people talking about Mt Roosevelt and didn’t quite get what they meant. The final approach to the finish line on Roosevelt was a bit of an incline. Nothing like Mt Cadbury but still enough to make you earn that finish. With the Finish Line in sight I unfurled my Aussie flag and finished my homecoming marathon with the biggest smile. I did it!
I had no bloody idea what time I did. I’m lucky I remembered to turn my Garmin off. It registered that I did 44km…yeah right. I didn’t find out what my finishing time was until later that night. Not that I cared, it didn’t matter to me. What mattered was I had a good time out there (well maybe except for a few km when I really hurt) and finished. For the record I finished 4:33:04 which is only 1:43 slower than my debut time at Cadbury. Maybe I shouldn’t have mucked around….nah… I would have missed out on some of the fun.
The finishing chute was good and kept moving and I had a bit of a teary moment when the wonderful volunteer placed the finishers medal around my neck. I loved that they did this. Everyone was personally congratulated and not just handed a medal. It was like your own personal awards ceremony. So special. Once you got your medal you got a “heat sheet” to keep you warm… not that you needed it on such a wonderfully warm day. I took one, well just because everyone was wearing one and I wanted to be a cool kid.
The freebies kept on coming. There were bananas, there were energy bars, there was gatorade and there was beer! The supermarket sponsor even handed out a bag full of snacks for you to take away with you. I declined the beer but had some bananas, more water and felt refuelled enough to collect my bag, get my photo taken and find my friends.
There was a huge after-party with food, live music and entertainment at Grant Park. It was mayhem with so many people there but the crowds were very orderly and full of happy finishers and proud supporters.
You’d think the end of the race would be the end. Not so in Chicago. The marathoners proudly wore their medals as we celebrated into the night and into the next day. There was this sense of camaraderie amongst us all. Congratulatory smiles and high 5’s and looks of reverence from those mere mortals who spectated and supported. We were all beaming with pride walking around the city like rockstars! I don’t think I could have gotten away with wearing my Cadbury medal in Hobart the day after but in Chicago it felt natural.
I had an amazing time and I was so proud to be wearing my TRR colours across the finish line. We truly do run the world. If you ever get the chance, run Chicago! If you do go, let me know and I’ll be right there with you.