Prior to the start, as the dark slowly gives way to sunrise, the collective sense of excitement, anxiety, confidence, and preparation feels uniquely intoxicating. —Terry Bush
Numerous runners from the South Bend region have participated in the Chicago Marathon—some jsut once, others for multiple times. With nearly 45,000 entrants, it’s one of the world’s major running events only a short drive or train ride away and a great way to cross off a bucket list item. This October, I was fortunate to run my ninth Chicago Marathon in a row. Channeling my inner David Letterman, I thought I’d share my personal “Top Ten List” for it. Here goes:
The Expo: While it’s a requirment to go to the Expo at McCormick Place to get your race bib, I find it a pleasant one. The scale and size of the event becomes obvious upon arrival, and the excitement level is palpable as people browse the booths, snag some free snacks, and get their bib, shirt, and other info. My favorite part of the Expo: taking a few minutes to watch the fast-motion movie of the entire marathon course outside the main exhibit hall.
The World Comes to Chicago: Throughout the Marathon weekend—at the Expo, in the hotels, on the streets, and in the start corrals—the presence of runners and their families and friends from all over the globe is apparent. The international community of runners has a supportive, cooperative spirit, regardless of the language spoken. Race organizers estimate participants come from 140 countries, and I feel like somewhat of a host to the international participants.
Converging Masses in the Dark I’ve always marveled at the sight of thousands of people converging in the dark on Grant Park before the start of the race. Prior to the start, as the dark slowly gives way to sunrise, the collective sense of excitement, anxiety, confidence, and preparation feels uniquely intoxicating.
Charging That Final Hill: Chicago’s marathon course is pleasantly flat; bridges and the occasional railroad underpass provide fairly gentle inclines. During my first Chicago Marathon, I was pushing hard at the right turn onto Roosevelt, only 400 meters from finish. I wasn’t expecting what felt like a nasty hill up and over multiple railroad tracks, before making the left turn and sprinting (or was it lurching?) the final 200 meters to the finish line. Now that I know it’s there, I somewhat look forward to it, even though I’m rarely feeling good at this point in the race.
An Elvis Sighting: The Marathon has several spots with entertainers—DJs, bands, cheerleaders, a rifle-twirling group – along the course, which always provide a welcome boost of energy. Just after mile 10, on North Avenue as the course zig-zags back downtown from the north, an Elvis impersonator is my favorite. He’s always in the median, and as I think about it, he’s out there working hard for several hours, just like the runners. I’ve been able to slap hands with him a couple years, and I don’t know why, but those are some of my favorite memories of the event.
The Sublime: I usually experience something unique, heartwarming, and unexpected each year. One year it was a French runner in my start corral somehow wearing a small-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. This year, my wife Lori and I found ourselves sitting with three runners from Milan at dinner on Saturday night, and we enjoyed sharing some stories and wine with them. A highlight this year: I sat on the curb in my start corral and started some small talk with the gentleman next to me. When I asked him where he was from, he said “South Bend” – what are the chances of that? Thanks Tim Dolezal.
Supportive Crowds: Marathon organizers estimate 1.7 million spectators at the event, and there are many points on the course where their audible support and presence becomes a helpful force of its own. Kudos to Moody Bible Institute, with music pounding and people cheering at two points in the course: 3.5 miles in on LaSalle, and at the 11.5-mile mark on Wells. There are some quieter parts of the course, and at times those are almost a welcome respite from the crowds. I often run near the edge to high-five kids—for some reason that always gives me energy. I am amazed and grateful for the thousands of people who don’t even know me who cheer, clap and encourage me, particularly later in the course when pain is a constant companion.
The Finish Line Shuffle: I rarely feel elation at the finish line. It’s more like a daze, a muddled recognition that the effort is over, although relief has not arrived yet. At a crowded event like Chicago, the chute after the finish line seems like a mass of slowly shuffling zombies, with bodies and brains registering what they’ve just done. I’m sure there are people who feel terrific at the end – I do not. Strangely, for me, I begin to feel the joy of finishing the marathon later that evening and in the next several days, as I relive different moments and feelings from the race.
The Cathedral Experience: 5:15am mass on Saturday at the always-packed Holy Name Cathedral is nothing short of remarkable. The spiritual boost before the marathon is certainly timely. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to feel like a rock star at mass, but when Father John Boivin invites marathon runners to the sanctuary for a blessing after the homily, it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had. And it gets even better: the pasta dinner in the school basement next door cannot be more intimate, welcoming, and nourishing in more ways than one.
Supportive Family: My enjoyment of distance running is an imposition on my family, and the money I spend on entry fees, shoes and gear, hotels, etc. makes me feel selfish at times. I’m very grateful for my family tolerating, encouraging and supporting my hobby. I’ve gone solo to Chicago some years, but being there with family is always better. A hearty thanks to my wife Lori and our daughters Ashleigh and Taylor!