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Bank of America Chicago Marathon

So......the usual build up to running a marathon is 12 to 16 weeks of training building up the mileage gently before tapering back down a few weeks before. NOT 6 weeks of no running and a swift reverse taper in which you manage to run ONE long run of 5 miles a few days before hand. But then I have never claimed to be normal, sensible or have two brain cells that work at the same time. Having had to defer Berlin two weeks previously with a severe bone bruise bordering on stress fracture there was no way I was missing Chicago, plus they wouldn't let me defer so that was that decision made. As some of you will know Chicago is one of the currently 6 Abbots World Major Marathons and was intended to be my 4th but ended up being my 3rd instead.

Chicago marathon usually has around 40,000 to 45,000 runners taking to the streets and an estimated 1.7 million spectators (I was there and this sounds a rather large figure but then Americans do exaggerate better than us and I got this info from their site). Apparently it is also the 4th largest race in the World! The course has a strict 6 1/2 hour cut off and everything is packed away after this time bar 1 timing mate and box of medals at the finish. All infrastructure and volunteers are told to stop at the cut off, rather harsh if you're having a bad day. The course starts and ends at Grant Park in the centre of the city with the bag drop at Buckingham Fountain which was not the best place to be at 5am with the spray coming off the water. Chicago was unseasonably warm this year during the day at around 20 - 24 degrees but the temperature plummeted overnight before the marathon with minus figures predicted when factoring in the wind chill. Fortunately we did not get that cold but it was still a tad nippy and I was glad of my charity store overlayers and the blanket I had commandeered from British Airways on the flight over.

One thing I discovered about Chicago is it's not your average American mega city.... well it is but is also on the edge of Lake Michigan (which is big enough to fit the UK mainland in by the way) and has sandy beaches and lots of open parkland. A stunning mix and I highly recommend putting it on your list of places to visit.

So, the day dawned and there was unprepared me already shivering in my 3rd toilet que of the day as they have some stupid person in charge of Penn times, and we had to be inside our start Penns for 5:30am. In the dark, before sunrise, in the cold, two hours before the elite start...... yeah, I didn't like that part. It's very weird to be wandering around in the dark with sunglasses on your head wearing tiny shorts in the cold and wrapped in a stolen British Airways Blanket. Also, I was tired and very very grumpy with the toilet queues ( I have only ever found one major marathon who has nailed this and that was Boston, having had 126 years practice to get it right..... there's hope for the runners of the future then).

I had a plan to run/walk the whole thing with my friend from Lordshill Road Runners Antonia (Toni) who having run London the week before was also intending a run/walk with lots of photo taking along the way. Another silly thing Chicago do is not allow you to drop down to a slower penn, with Toni being in the penn behind me this was rather frustrating with her pushing to the front of hers and me lagging behind at the rear of mine. However, I did get to meet my spirit runner in the form of a loud American also at the back of my penn wearing a bright green running vest on which he had written in sharpie and big letters the word BEER. He's my new hero.

My wave was released, and I executed my slowest race start in history with a 15 min mile pace and at points walking backwards waiting for the next wave and Toni to catch up. I think they may have been waiting for me to get out the way before letting that wave go so I scampered ahead and hid under a bridge. As the wave was released one of Hamwic Harriers runners informed me on the way past that she was on her way shortly before I was engulfed in runners. With Toni by my side we set off for an adventure around Chicago!

The route does not disappoint with a skyline of vast skyscrapers leading into big green park areas and along the shoreline too. The course goes through 29 different neighbourhoods and across 6 bridges on which red carpet has been laid so no one loses a toe through the metal grids, and you get to feel like royalty. One of the most distinct areas we ran through was China town with all the massive signs leaning out of buildings and a Chinese dragon doing a jig up and down the road. The support and entertainment on course were huge. Had we had the space to move across the road at will without tripping up other runners we could have had out photo taken with many mascots including Benny the Chicago Bulls Bull! We did manage to stop for a storm trooper and for a photo of the famous route 66 Sign. My favourite part of the course was the sign saying FREE BEER and the massive cheer I got for stopping to partake, all the other runners were obviously sensible and went on by so anyone stupid enough to stop was screamed for. Finally I had found 'my' people, sadly i had to leave them to finish the marathon.

The course was well supported with aid stations every 2 miles with a choice of Gatorade or water at each, all provided in compostable cups which is great for the environment but not for drinking, many runners could be seen chocking as they had attempted to run and drink. I can now offer the wise advice of not overdoing it on Gatorade and don't have the last cup at mile 25 unless you want to spend mile 26 trying not to be sick.

With the course having lots of turns it was hard to know where we were at any given moment but you certainly knew when you were turning for the finish as the skyline got bigger and heavier with building upon building in the distance and the noise got louder too. There was one last bridge and left-hand turn and the finish was in sight. We held hands and charged through the others around us for sprint finish ..... that the professional photographers failed to capture..... ffs. We had made it, Toni 1 week post a London Marathon PB, me apparently now injury free with no pain and we had also sneaked in under 4 hours. There were smiles..... after the tears of course. The eagle eyed amongst you may have clocked the time and compared this to my we WERE going to run/walk statement of earlier. This was our intention but we got over excited and carried away, we did walk through every aid station, granted this was to stop to aforementioned choking but if any coaches ask I did a run/walk.

I didn't see BEER man again but we did get FREE BEER (best two words in the world) from Goose Island Brewery with a large can of finishers beer given directly after your medal and then another token on your bib for free beer at the finishers party at mile 27 where we went after collecting our bags. Everyone was in a party atmosphere here and lots of non-runners were wandering around with even more beer giving it to runners as they relaxed on the grass in the sunshine, yes I was in heaven.

I could go on and on about Chicago, it's a wonderful place to be and a great Marathon to run, I recommend putting this on your bucket list! I think I can now happily say the injury is gone and after a couple of weeks post marathon rest I should be back out running (in time for HXCL and more CC6). Instead of boring you further I will leave you with some more photos.

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