Such an amazing race! I don’t even know where to start on this conversation. I suppose MY story for the 2021 Chicago Marathon started in mid-2020 with a group called OAR. I ran down a mountain in June 2020 to run the Revel in the Rockies course. Due to the pandemic, the race was canceled, but several runners decided to get together and run it anyway! One man ran in a fundraising shirt for “Organization for Autistic Research.” As my son and I both have autism, I thought maybe it would be a good idea for me to join them. I researched the organization and found they had a lot of great qualities and did so many amazing things with their funds. In addition, they didn’t have negative attention within the autistic community like Autism Speaks has. I saw that their fundraisers can join several different races, but one caught my attention more than others: CHICAGO! What does Chicago mean to me? I grew up in Wyoming where we are free-agent fans. And because “Frigerator” Perry was on GI Joe as a kid, I became a Bears fan. Because of Air Jordan, I became a Bulls fan. It didn’t take me too much longer to also become a Cubs and Blackhawks fan way before I ever visited the city. So, I made my decision to run for Autism and see my spirt-city in the process.
Upon getting to Illinois, the city was great. A fast-paced city full of culture, history and people of all kinds. The weather was warm. In fact, for October, it was a bit inconsistent. And one of the big worries for everyone was going to be the unexpected heat for race day. As I got around the city, I took advantage of all transportation types. I used Lyft, the subway and even rental bikes! I spent time along the lake shore. And saw some of the great tall buildings. Such a spectacle! Sadly, none of my sports teams were playing in the city on the days I was there.
The expo was huge. While the pandemic is still going around, I wondered how big or small the expo would be. Of course, the whole race was canceled in 2020, but I figured there would be a lot of cut backs in 2021 as well. I cannot say if it was any smaller or larger than past years. But, I can say the expo was MUCH larger than most expos I’ve been throughout my racing career. To make sure all racers were “safe and healthy,” we had to present our vaccination cards or negative test results at the entrance of the expo. When presented, we got an arm band that would get us into the expo and the race the next day. The expo had all the normal vendors and 3 different places we could get a free sample of beer! I spent around 3 hours in this location seeing all the booths and vendors that were there. One of the best expos I’ve seen. Top notch really!
Then race day came. There was a staggered opening. There were 3 “official” waves with different start times. However, there were many corrals in each of those waves. So, there were runners being let go every 5 – 10 minutes or so. Sadly many of the runners I started with were slower than me at the start, and I had to dodge a lot of walkers. This may have impacted my time somewhat, but for a huge race like this, that is to be somewhat expected. The course was amazing. There wasn’t one spot in that 26+ mile run where there weren’t hundreds of spectators cheering us on. That was amazing to see. So many signs. So many friends. So many runners. It was truly an amazing running experience. They also disallowed camelpacks and other like-items. So, they had Gatorade and water stations all over. I really don’t think I went a mile without seeing these volunteers helping us out. And the course was super flat. At no point did I feel like I was attacking a huge hill. There were, of course, ups and downs. But, it really felt flat the whole way around.
The finish line is going to be where I have to deviate my experience with others. After crossing, there was the typical bananas, water bottles, Gatorade and other foods. They also had a finisher’s area where you could get free beer and hang out with other runners; but I didn’t go there. Instead I went to the OAR area with other fund raisers. It was located in a hotel across the street from the start line. I was able to get a free massage, coffee, and a nice lunch. It was nice to meet with other people who were fans of running and autistic people. We got a lot of pictures and every kind of food you could think of. Sadly there wasn’t free beer there. But, it really was an amazing experience! And…. I completed my first MAJOR marathon. Will I run the other 5? Maybe. All and all, this was one of the best racing experiences I ever had. I suggest everyone runs the Chicago Marathon and help out with OAR.