Boy was Chicago a last minute decision. I had held out for a cheap plane ticket and purchased a nice non-stop right at my budget.
The goal: Run with a friend miles 8-22, cut over to the finish and join her for a celebratory breakfast.
What actually happened: Catching the train to Addison and jogging the couple of blocks to the north turnaround (mile 7.5ish) was cake as I was coming from the north rather than the south (downtown). First the hand bikes came by. These folks are studs. The amount of upper body and core strength these athletes possess is astounding. Then the elite runners appeared around the turn, which made me reminiscent of Boston*. The elite men passed the 7.5 mile mark in 35:00 and some change…crazy! I can’t stress it enough, Ryan Hall has the most beautiful stride I have witnessed. It was hard to take pictures with my old phone and cheer at the same time. Plus, I was supposed to keep my eyes peeled for my friend when the 3:55 pace group passed, which, based on my ability to view the runners that had come by thus far, seemed easy.
She knew that I’d be on the north side of the road and I knew that she’d be sporting a shirt with her name on it and hot pink compression socks. Additionally, we had met for so many long runs in the dim morning light, I was confident I could pick out her stride in a line-up of 100+ runners. Then the 3:00 group appeared. From that point on, the race looked like the starting coral of any normal race. IT. WAS. PACKED. I got panicky 55 minutes before I needed too.
I thought, ‘I flew all the way to Chicago, got up at the crack of dawn on a hurt foot and, now…now I wouldn’t find my friend!’
It was a preparing-for-the-race-but-forgetting-to-set-your-alarm kind of feeling. When the 3:55 group passed it was getting more crowded. I would guess this is because the majority of the approximately 45,000 people at Chicago had a goal of 4:00 or of just breaking 4:00. She had told me to wait about 15:00 for her if I didn’t see her in the 3:55 pace group.
I waited. Then I jumped in and ran. I had to catch up to and pass the 3:55 group and the 4:20 group had already passed. I made up my mind a mile in that I would not run a race this big until a) I could break 3:00 or b) I had done so many marathons that I didn’t plan to run a good race and just wanted to do it for the thrill of being packed in like sardines and unable to enjoy the view. My Rule #1 (don’t mess up someone else’s race) was proving difficult near mile 9 and I couldn’t pass enough people to make much of a dent between myself and the 3:55 group. I hopped up on the sidewalk and picked up the pace. The sidewalk was crowded, but not near as bad as the race. I was able to catch the 3:55 group near mile 12. I decided the best way to handle this was to jump back in the race. I started yelling,
“Kate! Kate!” No luck. I stopped again at mile 15 and called a mutual running friend. The run tracker text messages were finally rolling in and they put Kate near the 4:30 group. Phew! So, I waited. I learned that pink compression socks were easy to spot and that a lot of people like to run in hot pink compression socks, including burly men.
The 4:30 group ran by with no sign of my friend. At that point, I had to admit defeat and get in the rest of my long run. Around mile 20 I started weaving my way to the finish, cutting off the southern loop of the race. At one point, stuck in the crowd of the race, watching the road so that I didn’t trip anyone or myself, I noticed the running surface changed. I looked up and realized we were crossing the river. This race took a beautiful route, it was just too crowded to enjoy it. In a last ditch effort to find my friend, I ran backwards from the finish to the 25 mile mark (there was no way I would see her finish anyway with the crowds). Four lanes were blocked off here so the runners were more spread out.
Because of my Rule #2 (don’t take fuel from the race…you didn’t pay for it), I was dehydrated. I didn’t expect the Chicago Marathon to be warm. I found a nice bike store owner who was passing out bottled water and PBR at mile 25. (And, yes, runners were drinking PBR at mile 25.) He was nice enough to let me have a bottled water! Thank you PBR guy!
Just past the 4:30 group I spotted a lean runner chick wearing hot pink compression socks and a singlet with her name, as described! I was thrilled! I could only run 800 m from the finish with my friend before being kicked out of the race. It was worth it to finally see Kate, who I have run many a long run with but never seen race. I am proud of her for being part of an incredible breed, almost 45,000 strong at Chicago, that will keep moving forward no matter the obstacles.
*I found out that my friend who had been injured at Boston achieved his goal of breaking 3:00 (2:54 and 2nd overall) at a marathon the same weekend that I was in Chicago!!