As soon as my son Joseph and daughter-in-law Julie moved to Chicago, running in a Chicago race became a bucket list item for me. I toyed with the idea of entering the Chicago Marathon lottery, but playing it smart won and I decided to stick with a half or shorter race. As soon as Julie’s mom Janet and I stumbled upon the Chicago Spring Half Marathon, a five-day racecation was planned!
Sunday morning Bill, Janet, and I walked from our hotel to the race start. Janet, who says she normally sleeps fitfully the night before a race was walking on clouds after an excellent night’s sleep. Since I normally sleep like a rock, my biggest challenge is getting into bed early enough the night before a race. Being in a hotel room was very beneficial because I didn’t get involved in any project and got to bed nice and early.
We stopped first at the athlete’s village to find the porta potties before making our way to the starting corrals. While in line at 6:30 AM, a volunteer stopped by announcing that the corrals would be closing in fifteen minutes which meant they would be closing fifteen minutes before the first wave of the race started – and we were in the fifth wave…
We made the short hike to the corral gates and were let into the corrals from the Lake Michigan side. I was so confused as to where we were going to start running because I’d never been in corrals where we didn’t face the race starting line. I kept wondering at first if we were going to run down the grassy area or turn around and run back onto the concrete boardwalk next to Lake Michigan. I have to admit that the view of Lake Michigan was the most beautiful view from a corral that I’ve ever experienced.
During announcements, we were reminded that the temperature was 60° with a forecast of it easily reaching 70° before everyone finished the race. We were told that if yellow flags were raised that we were to slow down and take it easy and to be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Janet and I got a little chuckle out of the announcement since we would consider 70° and low humidity delightful running weather in Virginia.
After the National Anthem was sung, it finally became clear that we would be moving in the corral away from the lake and toward Lakeshore Drive. I didn’t realize that there was an asphalt path that runs along Lakeshore Drive, and was relieved because in my head I’d envisioned us running along Lake Michigan on the broken up concrete walkway hoping not to get knocked into the lake by passing runners.
Once we were all on the race path, we slowly moved forward as each wave was allowed to start. Volunteers held an orange mesh barrier in front of runners to hold them back until the previous wave was about four minutes out. Our wave started about eighteen minutes after the official race start.
Looking backward at the sea of runners waiting to start…
Bill was near the starting line taking pictures and watching for Janet and me to run by, but because I hadn’t noticed his text, I didn’t know on which side to look for him, and he had no idea when we would be starting. He got this picture of the starters in the first wave…
And by sheer luck, Bill saw Janet and me right as we were even with him and he snapped these pictures as we ran past.
After all of the runners from both the half and 10K had started, Bill walked around taking pictures while waiting for Joseph and Julie to finish their 10K. Here’s what the athlete’s village looks like with a fish eye lens.
And here’s the beautiful catered breakfast spread. As Janet later said, “A catered breakfast – what more could you want?” There’s a close-up of the food later in the recap.
I carried my GoPro (affiliate link) to snap pictures along the way. There were water stations almost every mile (occasionally 1.5 miles), and there were ten opportunities to find a medical station while out on the course. Shortly after we started, I saw a man getting back up from a fall, and thought about how lucky those around him were that they didn’t get tangled up and fall, too.
I was pleasantly surprised to see porta potties at every water stop. Even though I didn’t need to stop, it was comforting to know they were there in case of an emergency. Most had a line of at least a couple of people, so they were definitely appreciated!
The course was wonderfully flat with the exception of a tiny incline near the observatory. Even though we weren’t running together, Janet and I both heard people complaining about the “hill,” and we were both like, “What hill?” I have to admit that as nice as a flat course sounds, I like rolling hills in my races. Even though I have to work a little harder on the uphills, the downhills allow my running muscles a chance to relax while I let gravity pull me down the hill.
For the most part the race course was an out-and-back with a few sections where we were separated from oncoming traffic briefly as the trail wound around little grassy islands. Once we passed the grassy islands, we would merge back with oncoming runners for short super crowded sections. At one of those merges, I followed an orange-shirted runner onto the grass to pass slower runners on the right. After we got past, he struck up a conversation with me and we chatted for a few minutes.
After our turnaround, I caught up with my orange-shirted friend. We introduced ourselves (his name is Aaron), and ran together for a few more minutes. I lost him at our first water stop after this picture, but managed to keep him in my sights until the end of the race.
We passed these soldiers shortly after our turnaround. Janet said that they were on the path when she ran by and all of the runners were shouting thanks for their military service as they ran by.
I walked through all of the water stops just long enough to get my water in me and not on me. My longest stop was here, where if memory serves me correctly, this band was playing right next to a water stop. I stopped long enough to make sure I got a good picture, and later realized that I should have taken it at an angle so the Chicago skyline showed better in the background. In actuality, I was so tired that I didn’t even think about what the background looked like.
While Janet and I were still out on the course, Bill captured this cool picture of the finish line before any of the runners started coming in.
And then caught the half marathon winner, Thomas Root of Barrington, IL, finish with a time of 1:16:36.
Bill also captured the excitement of the women’s half marathon winner Sylvanna Toledo of Guatemala as she finished her race with a time of 1:27:32.
Meanwhile out on the course, runners around my pace were still plugging along and about to turn off of the Lakeshore Drive path to Lake Michigan’s Lakefront Trail.
This portion of the trail was certainly the most beautiful, but the concrete was quite broken at places so we really had to be careful and watch where we were stepping – much like I’m doing in the picture below. 😉
As we approached the final half mile or so, a couple of race photographers were placed to capture our final push along the lake. Fortunately, I saw the photographer in time to put a smile on my otherwise exhausted face.
I didn’t see Bill; however, as I rounded the next to the last corner, he caught me looking seriously focused as I wondered just when the heck I would get to the finish line!
Heading down the final straightaway to the finish line I caught sight of that orange shirt that I had been chasing for the last ten or so miles. I pushed hard to finish and finished just three seconds behind my rabbit.
I crossed the finish line in 1:59:05 (9:05 pace). Apparently I wove back and forth a bit on the course because my Garmin tracked me at 13.23 miles (9:00 pace).
My mile splits were:
- Mile 1 – 8:54
- Mile 2 – 8:58
- Mile 3 – 9:00
- Mile 4 – 8:53
- Mile 5 – 8:52
- Mile 6 – 8:54
- Mile 7 – 8:53
- Mile 8 – 9:01
- Mile 9 – 9:13
- Mile 10 – 9:13
- Mile 11 – 9:09
- Mile 12 – 9:12
- Mile 13 – 8:54
- Final .23 mile – 2:02 (8:50 pace)
Once across the finish line, I immediately caught up with Aaron to thank him for pushing me. He had no idea, but as I left each water stop it became my goal to catch him before the next one. Even though I never got close enough to chat, just seeing that orange shirt ahead kept me focused and pushing forward. Without that little goal, it would have been so easy to slow to a more comfortable pace. Thank you, Aaron!
Shortly behind me was Janet. She had a really great race and later told me that it was one of the most organized races she has ever run (I agree). We were both fearful that the course would be horribly crowded with 6,800 runners, but with the wave starts and the race directors carefully determining when to start the 10K runners, the course rarely seemed crowded.
Once runners crossed the finish line, we were directed toward the athlete’s village and handed a water bottle and our finisher’s medal as we worked our way through the crowds.
The first thing I saw was this Do-It-Yourself Flower Station. Assuming it would be tough to get my flower through TSA, I passed.
Next I saw the Skinny Pop tent. I picked up a bag of popcorn for later and even had someone take my picture. I have a thing about Skinny Pop, I love it so much that I can’t buy it. It’s one of the few foods that causes me to lose all self control when it’s in the house (it and mint chocolate chip ice cream).
Next I headed to grab breakfast. It looked delicious, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I grabbed some scrambled eggs, a plain pancake, and another bottle of water. That, with my Skinny Pop, hit the spot!
After breakfast I finally found the rest of my crew. Julie and Joseph had run in the 10K and were with Bill cheering Janet and me in.
While hanging out in the athlete’s village, I received a message from my friend Amanda back home saying that I’d placed second in my age group. It took a while, but I finally found the results/awards tent outside of the athlete’s village – about 45 minutes after the official ceremony.
Our finisher’s medals are really fun! The Ferris wheel representing the first ever such ride from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair actually turns. I really like the Chicago skyline and Ferris wheel on the age group awards.
And the race shirt is a women’s cut, so you know I like it!
I definitely enjoyed running the Chicago Spring Half Marathon. It was well organized, we had a beautiful day, and Janet and I got to see our kids. What more could we ask for in a race?
- What has been the best organized race you’ve run?
- What has been the largest city race you’ve run?
- What has been your favorite post-race food?