Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Will Run For Pizza: My 2016 Chicago Marathon Review

Today I got accepted into the 2017 Chicago Marathon lottery!  I figured it would be a good time to finally share my first experience running in Chicago in the 2016 race.

Chicago Marathon has always been a dream race for me.  My Mother was born and raised in Chicago, but I only visit The Windy City once as a kid and that was in the late 90's.  So I did exactly what you would expect for me to do and registered for Chicago Marathon on a whim.  I originally said I would wait another year because it fell on my birthday weekend, but it appears Chicago Marathon ALWAYS falls on my birthday weekend.  My original plan was to head to Tampa for the weekend to see my alma mater ECU play USF.  My Pirates lost so Chicago Marathon was obviously the better decision.

I started experiencing FOMO when I saw many of my running buddies receiving their lottery acceptance emails.  I didn't enter the lottery for Chicago Marathon.  I know that Chicago Marathon actually reserves a large number of bibs for charity so my only option was to fund raise my way in to Chicago Marathon.  I signed up to run as a St. Jude Hero since I ran for them during my first marathon in this year's Dopey Challenge.  There is an extended list of charities who run for Chicago Marathon that are definitely worth checking out.  You can view a list of the 2017 participating charities here.

So after registering to run with St Jude, my boyfriend and I booked our flight and counted down the days until Chicago Marathon...

He did not run.  Just to clarify.

The night before we flew out of North Carolina, I was too excited to sleep.  I stayed up watching The Breakup because it's filmed in Chicago. Duh. This obviously led to more excitement and an even more difficult time getting to sleep.

Friday was my birthday and we woke up early and ready to leave.  My sister drove us to the airport and we surprisingly took off on time.  For anyone who knows me, you know I have the worst luck with flight delays.  We fortunately did not have any layovers and flew directly into O'Hare.  If you ever want your birthday to last an extra hour, take a flight out west.  Of course, I spent that extra hour on a plane but nonetheless I had a 25 hour birthday (who am I kidding- I normally have a month-long birthday)!

Upon landing, our plan was to take the train downtown to our hotel.  I was advised to purchase a three-day pass.  If you are staying downtown like we did, I actually suggest you don't get the pass.  I paid $20 for essentially a one-way ticket because I never needed to use the train again.  Our hotel, Hyatt Regency, was walking distance to nearly everything including the starting line.

We were able to check in early, nap, and freshen up before deciding what to experience first.  I decided I wanted to head to the expo before anything else.  There was a shuttle that conveniently stopped right in front of Hyatt Regency and was supposed to take approximately 15 minutes to get to McCormick Place.  Well, President Obama  happened to be in town and there was a road closure that backed up traffic and caused our driver to go a different route.  We were on the shuttle for an hour.  I'm not even exaggerating.  We saw the long lines waiting for shuttles when we got off and decided it was best to just take our time at the expo.

The expo was top-notch.  The venue, McCormick Place, is actually the nation's largest convention center.  From the vendors to the experiences, there was so much to do at the expo.  I started with a beer from Goose Island.  Maybe I'm sheltered from runDisney races, but I've never seen beer at a race expo.  I'm certainly not complaining.  That beer was my first of many Goose Island 312 IPA's that weekend.

The North Face had great gear at their booth.  I don't typically buy hoodies but I wish I had purchased one from them.  Chicago Marathon was a dream race for me, after all.  I left the expo without a hoodie and now I carry an immense amount of regret for not purchasing one.

We headed back to the hotel to figure out our next move.  Because I'm a planner, we already had dinner reservations for my birthday.  When talking to a fellow runner, she suggested RPM Italian, which happens to be co-owned by Bill and Giuliana Rancic.  She must've known exactly what I was looking for because because it was every bit of chic, elegant and upscale.  I made reservations one month in advance and there was only a 5:00 and 10:00 PM option.  Like an amateur, I went with the 10:00 option thinking we would have lunch and be able to wait that late.  Well, we should've stopped for a slice of pizza before checking into the hotel but we didn't.  And we were way too hungry when 5:00 rolled around to even fathom waiting another five hours for dinner.  So, I cancelled our reservation and opted for Giordano's instead.

There is a Giordano's in walking distance from pretty much any hotel so we walked to the Millennium Park location.  There was a 45 minute wait but we were able to order our pizza during the wait so it would be ready shortly after being seated.  My boyfriend and I split a pitcher of none other than Goose Island 312 IPA while we waited for our pizza.  The cheese pull on that pizza was everything.  I highly suggest you squeeze at least one trip to Giordano's into your trip if you plan to run Chicago Marathon.  Stuffed pizza is my new thing.

The next morning I woke up early and went for a 5k stretch run.  If I lived in Chicago, I would literally run everyday.  It's such an active city with beautiful surroundings.  We spent the rest of the day walking around Navy Pier and ate dinner at Lou Malnati's.  Their chicken alfredo was the largest bowl of pasta I've ever seen and it was like $11.  I ate every single noodle and drank another Goose Island 312 IPA because CARBO LOADING.  Then we headed to Wrigleyville to experience a Cubs game.

Being in Wrigleyville during a Cubs playoff game was the coolest sports experience I think I've ever had.  We didn't actually purchase tickets to the game but we hopped from bar to bar and decided we were officially Cubs fans for life.  Call me what you want, but I don't think experiencing a Cubs playoff game during my first Chicago Marathon and then cheering for them after I get home makes me a band wagoner.  If anything it makes me feel like I'm still in Chicago and experiencing Marathon weekend all over again.
I tried to get to bed early on Saturday night.  Sunday morning rolled around and it was tough to get out of bed but I walked to the starting line.  I'm still blown away at how well-organized the starting corrals were.  The race starts in Grant Park and its truly a phenomenal venue.  It was easy to enter and easy to make way to my corral despite there being 40,000+ runners.  I was in the second last corral so it took nearly an hour after the first corral for me to actually take off.  Once we started though, it was well worth the wait.  Well worth training in the hottest summer I think North Carolina has ever had.  And worth the very high price tag that comes along with flying to and staying in downtown Chicago.

The Chicago Marathon takes runners through 29 different neighborhoods and each one attempts to be more memorable than the others.  I don't think I can pick a favorite.  The crowd support was incredible.  From what I hear, its easy for spectators to get around.  I saw my boyfriend twice on the course and then again at the finish line.  Around mile 16 I got to see encouraging messages from my friends and family on a mega-tron.  I only saw three but I was later emailed everything my friends intended for me to see on the course!  Thanks, guys!

I crossed the finish line and there was Goose Island 312 IPA waiting for me. My phone died around mile 19 so I don't have a medal picture. After getting my medal and drinking my beer, I took a Lyft back to the hotel.  You can judge me all you want but I had zero desire to walk any further after that race.  I got back to my hotel and took a nap without even showering.  I decided it was best to just order pizza after my nap and I decided on Gino's East.  I didn't go out and do anything else that evening but I would've liked to.  I was just so sore!

So, here's my review of The 2016 Chicago Marathon!

The course: 10/10
Chicago is famously flat and their course is known to be a flat, fast course.  Chicago is also a gorgeous city so there's always something to look at.  With the vibrant neighborhoods and 1.7 million spectators, its difficult to get bored on this course.  I can't find anything to complain about.  Chicago Marathon has the perfect course.

The swag: 9/10
This year, Chicago gave participants neon yellow tech shirts.  There's also beer at the finish line and the expo!  Since it's a World Majors Marathon, they really don't need to entice runners with swag in order to sell out every year.

The medals: 9/10
I've seen past medals from Chicago Marathon and loved them.  The design this year was not my favorite, but because of the experience it's one of my favorite race medals.  The medals typically feature a Chicago icon and this year they went with the Picasso statue on Richard J. Daley Civic Center. This is apparently where the Chicago Marathon used to start, so I like the history behind it.  With next year being an anniversary year, I can't wait to see what they feature on the 2017 medal.  The Chicago Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park was on the 2015 medal and the iconic Buckingham Fountain in downtown Chicago was featured on the 2014 finisher medal.

Overall Experience: 10/10
I absolutely fell in love with Chicago and the Chicago Marathon this weekend.  It's my new favorite race by a long shot and the perfect way to celebrate my birthday weekend.  The food, the history, the culture, the fans.  They're all a perfect ten.  If I could do just one race again and again, this would be it.

Now that I've gotten home and been able to reflect on my weekend, there are a few things I would do differently.

First, I wanted to arrive on Friday because it was my birthday.  I loved spending my birthday in The Windy City but I would actually prefer to arrive one day later next time.  That will allow me to stay one day longer past the race.  There was so much to do in Chicago but I didn't want to drink too much or stay out too late prior to the race.  I would have really appreciated the extra time in Chicago when I didn't have a race to focus on.  Next year, my birthday falls on Saturday so I can arrive early in the morning the day prior to Chicago Marathon with plenty of time to make it to the expo and eat.

Second, I'm going to RPM Italian!  I heard several runners exclaim how delicious it was and I regret cancelling my reservation.

That's actually all that I would change.  I loved my location and I can't wait to experience another Chicago Marathon.

I love running for St. Jude but I'm relieved to not have to stress about fundraising for Chicago in 2017.  Now I can just focus on training to make the 2017 Chicago Marathon my best race yet!  My goal is to beat Katie Holmes' time from the 2007 NYC Marathon, 5:29:58.  Of course I'll update you on my training along the way!  Cheers to running Chicago in 2017!