I arrived in good time for the 7:30am start, transfixed by the sunrise over Lake Michigan and able to secure a prime spot in corral E for a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.
The first half was like a party and despite the early gun-time, thousands of supporters cheered noisily, ringing bull bells, calling out positive affirmations and holding up laugh-out-loud placards along the streets. A highlight was Boystown (Chicago’s Soho) at 8 miles where male cheerleaders and drag queens were elevated on floats.
I passed halfway, and as the course progressed and the route headed west, then south of the city, the surroundings became desolate, pockets of support were smaller and more sporadic and the sun blazed onto the exposed roads. Consequently my, ahem, ambitious pace slowed from mile 18. But eventually we turned north onto Michigan Avenue and Chicago’s triumphant cityscape loomed back into view for the final three miles. There was the hill to conquer at mile 26 (admittedly more of an incline but on an otherwise pancake flat course and at that late stage when your quads are screaming – so cruel) before the finish line back in Grant Park where cheery volunteers dished out water, beer and the all important bling.
Everything about the Chicago Marathon was slick – from the convoys of free yellow school buses that delivered runners to and from the expo; the blocks of proficient helpers dispensing energy drinks and water on the course, through to the 27th mile post-race party in sunny Grant Park where marathoners reunited with friends and family.
I was content to finish sub-4 (3:55:58), albeit with an 8-minute positive split. If you’re looking for a destination marathon I’d recommend Chicago, an exceptionally polished event for pb hunters in a captivating city.
Chrissie Eason is an experienced marathon runner with a 3.52 PB, a regular parkrunner and a frequent race pacer.