Disclaimer: I received an entry into the Bank of America Chicago Marathon through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to find and write race reviews!
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago in order to run in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This was my second Abbott World Marathon Major and my first marathon in the state of Illinois.
Saturday – Expo
I flew to Chicago on Saturday (day before the race), which is my typical M.O. for race travel. Upon landing at Midway on Saturday morning, I linked up with a my friend Melissa who lives in the Chicagoland area and we rolled to the expo together. The short drive to the expo allowed us to catch up and for me to give her some tips for her first ever marathon. When we got to McCormick Place (site of the expo), the traffic and parking situation left a little to be desired, but it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever experienced. Props to Chicago PD for keeping things moving!
If you’ve never been to Chicago for a convention, McCormick Place really is the best place for the expo. It’s a little bit south of downtown, but incredibly accessible by all means of transportation – car, bus, cab/rideshare, L-train, etc. Additionally, the venue itself is HUGE and can handle the large influx of people. My favorite thing about the expo, from a logistics standpoint, would be how the organizers managed the packet pickup process. Each runner was issued a packet pickup ticket – essentially a QR code – in order to gain entry to pick up their packet. Once my code was verified, along with a photo ID, I was sent to one of the MANY packet pickup stations. When I say many, I mean MANY. End result? No massive lines to stand in, no hunting for your bib number, no hunting for the right spot to pick up a packet. The organizers nailed this and it made overall process the easiest I’ve ever experienced.
Aside from that, my favorite thing about the expo OVERALL was the opportunity to meet PAULA RADCLIFFE! For those who don’t know, she was the world record holder for the women’s marathon…well, until Sunday morning! I honestly did not even know she was going to be there. I was standing next to a particular vendor’s set-up and just happened to look up at the large monitor above, which stated she would be at that booth…in just a few minutes. I then did a quick scan of the vendor’s area and THERE SHE WAS! Ran over, got in line, and got to meet a running legend. Let’s not talk about the fact that I did not keep it together AT ALL. Paula – thanks for being okay with that!
Getting back to downtown from the expo was a piece of cake. I will post about my overall travel experience in a seperate post, but I will say this: getting around Chicago is EASY – so long as you 1) know where you’re going and 2) plan ahead.
Team in Training
What I haven’t talked about yet though is the WHY behind my trip to Chicago. The main reason I was even able to participate in this race was thanks to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I was one of the many who did not earn a spot via the marathon lottery, so when the opportunity came about to possibly get in via another method, I jumped at it! From the minute I got to the expo, every person I interacted with from LLS/TNT was absolutely amazing. They made me feel as if I had been a part of the TEAM for years. I was fortunate to have raised $1775 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but I could not have done so without the support of some amazing people, so another HUGE thank you to:
- Beth & Mike Conn
- Di Spiva
- Debbie Morris
- Marie Basler
- Marie Burleigh
- Nicole Piechuta
- Paul Woidke & Lillian Elliott
- Steph & Jeremy Cramm
- Hailey & Dan Hadden
- Mark, Rose, Jenna, & Jillian Bradbourne
- Nicholas Fellers
- Erin & Chris Damm
- Chase Masters & Carrie Luke
- Lisa Masters
- Mary Gorell
- Mike Lindsay
- Team BibRave
What I will add here for review’s sake is this – don’t sleep on the charity bib as a way into a marathon. Yes, you’ll get to run the race you’ve always wanted to, but you also will do a LOT of good along the way. LLS/TNT is just one of MANY charities that partner with the Chicago Marathon, so I encourage you to find one that speaks to you and consider supporting it!
On race morning, I walked over to the LLS/TNT hotel and walked to Grant Park with a group of my fellow teammates. It was great heading over with people who have done this race before. They knew exactly where to go and when to get moving to be there. Getting INTO the park was a little stressful because there were so many people and not as many security folk checking bags. PRO TIP: make sure you read up on race day policies BEFORE you get to the security checkpoints, no matter what race you run. Most races will NOT allow any bags aside from the clear plastic one runners can collect at the expo. Follow the guidelines and your race day will go smoothly!
Gear check was what you’d expect – find your bib number and give’em your stuff. Pretty straightforward. Best part about gear check was the amazing views of Buckingham fountain (which was on!) at sunrise. The corrals themselves seemed organized about the same as any other race I’ve run. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get from gear check BACK to your corral though, as there is a little bit of a walk between the two.
The start was a little crowded, but it began to spread out fairly quick. The course itself is absolutely great – AND FLAT! The only exception to this would be the bridges, which are small rolling hills at best. Best advice I received and that I will repeat to you: go for the carpet on the bridges! You’ll have better traction and lessen the chance of slipping/twisting an ankle in the grating on the bridge. Aside from that, the only real difficult spot on the entire course is inside the last half mile when you make your last right turn and have to climb over the only real hill on the course – “Mount Roosevelt”. Favorite part of the course was running through Chinatown! I did not expect it to be as cool as it was and the spectator turnout in that area was amazing.
There was no lack of aid stations and toilets along the course. Plenty of Gatorade, Water, and gels to get through the race. The toilet were set up on side-streets along the course near the aid stations, almost like pit stops in an car race. For as many people as there were in the event, the toilets never seemed to be overwhelmed or gross – definitely a plus.
You should ABSOLUTELY make it a priority to run the Chicago Marathon. I don’t care how you get there – lottery, charity, etc – just go and experience it. The event is fantastic, the organization of the race is second to none, and just being in Chicago will make it that much more fun.
I would definitely consider returning to Chicago in the future. Thank you BibRave and Team in Training for an amazing weekend!