Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race. Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.
Race Organization: 19/20
I made a point to get to the expo early this year and was able to very quickly breeze through the registration, get my packet and head to the back to pick up my shirt and bag before the crush of the crowd. Before I reached the area where I picked up my number they already knew my name (from when I first scanned my bib and got my assigned area to pick up my bib) and had the number packet ready and waiting. The only blemish on the record of Chicago is the long lines to get into the park on race morning. Obviously these lines are caused by the sheer number of people who attend the race, and the security is a necessary measure, it is just not the best experience when you are already super stressed about the race to begin with.
If there ever was a perfect experience at an expo that had thousands of people then I had it. I got there early on Friday, with Bride and a friend who was also running the race and we headed strait to the booths that we wanted items at first. We wanted to make sure that they were not sold out before we got around to the booth. After that we headed to pick up our registration and was quickly pushed through the line. We quickly got our shirts (which were much better than last year’s) and were off to visit all the booths. While at the expo Bride got a pair of Chicago Marathon Nike LunarGlides, I got a USA Track and Field Chicago Marathon shirt and a few other items. But the big item was not something I bought, but something I won! I won a free entry into the Puerto Rico Marathon in March!!! I couldn’t believe that I wont and am so excited!!!
I could not have asked for a better experience. I beat the crowd, I won a free race entry, and never was I told that something that I wanted was sold out.
Race Experience: 20/20
It is obvious that the race is great. Not only is it organized but it is one of the most well supported races in the world. Well over 1.5 million people were estimated to line the 26 miles through the 29 neighborhoods. How can anyone not be inspired to run their best when they know that so many people are there cheering them on.
The whether called for it to heat up to near 70 later in the day so I changed my strategy away from staying locked in with a pace group. I instead decided to leave it all on the line and go out hard and just hold on for as long as I could. I knew that with it just getting hotter I needed to take advantage of the cooler earlier temperatures and that is exactly what I did. I stayed ahead of the 3:40 pace group until mile 20 where I really started to slow down. As with every marathon I have ever ran, miles 19-23 were the hardest for me. From mile 24 till the end, I survived on adrenaline and crossed the line with a huge PR of 3:57:06!!! Great time for a warm day. I saw one analysis where they said the heat could have caused the times to increase by almost 10 minutes, so that made me feel even more confident with my time.
Post Race: 16/20
This year’s post race was different from last years. This year I got to spend it with Bride who made the trip up for the race. She said this was her favorite race that she has ever watched me in. She got to see me twice along the course, and our hotel was just a block from the two locations where she could see me!
After the race we met by the family reunion area, after I wobbled over to it. We relaxed under the sun until I was recovered. I enjoyed my free beer, some food and some time to take in my new PR. We then moved on to the hotel where we packed and headed back home. The Chicago Marathon might be one of the biggest in the world but the way that it is set up makes it very manageable for any runner. There is plenty of room after the race for you to stretch out and enjoy some time off your feet in the park. That being said, there are still thousands of people walking around and many of the lines are unbearable to stand in.
With any big race there is going to be plenty of themed items. Virtually every major running brand is at the expo and everyone of them has Chicago themed clothing and items available. Goose Island Beer is always one of my favorites. This year I got a themed pint glass to celebrate another year in Chicago. I also was happy to find a great t-shirt that had the outline of the skyline on it. (I was disappointed at the Nike official clothing this year because this years logo was almost identical to the one used last year.) One of the best experiences at any major race is getting to see all the extras that are available for that race and this year is no different.
MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 93/100
Simply, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best Marathons in the world and definitely one of the best races I have ever ran. I understand that big races aren’t for everyone, and I have ran some small ones as well, but a marathon major like Chicago is unique and I would recommend every runner to aspire to someday run those 29 neighborhoods.