Chicago Marathon 2016 (Part 1)

The marathon was two days away and I was in the last phase of my carb loading phase. That meant stuffing as much carbohydrates as possible down my throat before hitting the streets of Chicago. It was going to be a pasta weekend, at least until Sunday night.

My sister’s husband is an excellent cook-maybe one of the best chefs that ever had a CPA. Just like my uncle, who was a political science professor. His passion was cooking though. Not his only passion, but he loved it enough to make me wonder why he ended up where he did. I wondered that about my sister’s husband as well. But who was I to question? Looking at where I was, nowhere near where I think I should be, I came to the conclusion that things happen. But that was changing. I would be 26 miles closer to where I wanted to be on Sunday. After a sizeable meal of pasta Alfredo, we tuned in the baseball playoffs, the Chicago Cubs (who would go on to become champions for the first time in 108 years), and my Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m torn between the Dodgers and Cubs when they play eachother, but this time my mind was preoccupied with other things. It would be a long day Saturday, and I retired early. Just as well. My Dodgers went down in flames that night.

Saturday was going to be a busy day. I packed an overnight bag for the trip to Chicago, and my sister gave me a ride to the train station, which would take me right where I wanted to go. She already made the drive to and from St. Charles, so a two hour round trip up to Chicago would be a bit of an imposition. Besides, the train would take me right where I wanted to go. Not like home where traveling just a few miles can be an ordeal. She did go up there the previous two years when I ran, but both times it was a logistical nightmare. She never did see me on the course, and after a full marathon the last thing I wanted to do is socialize. Well, socializing was fine, as long as it didn’t involve actually moving around. 26.2 miles is more than enough moving for one day.

The train arrived near McCormick Place, Chicago’s massive convention center. Since I just had my overnight bag, I ventured in to pick up my packet before heading to the hotel. They would have shuttles leaving on a regular schedule that would stop near where I was staying. Lots of glass in that place. The place is so huge that just the walk to where the packet pickup was ended up being a defacto pre-race workout. There was the real possibility of getting dehydrated from all of this, so having a bottle of water with me was essential.

The packet pickup was amongst a large expo, set in one of the sprawling rooms inside McCormick place. Vendors from all over the running world were hawking their wares, but most of it was of no interest with me. I already had my running gear and I was happy with it. I thought of being there with my girl the year before. The bitter memory of how that ended weighed upon me, and I began to get an inkling of annoyance from the crowd, the vendors that meant nothing to me, and the fact that this year, I was alone. Compared to how last year ended though, being alone wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Still, a marathon is a big deal, especially a world major like the Chicago Marathon, and it would have been nice to share the experience with someone. But dwelling on the past wasn’t going to create my future, so I did my best to put it out of my mind. Besides, 50,000 of my friends would be running with me the next morning, and a million more would be cheering from the sidelines. There would be some experience sharing for sure.

After getting my packet and everything else I wanted from the expo, I looked for those shuttles that would take me to the hotel. The place is so massive that I had to get directions. The lady at one of the help desks was unable to accurately direct me to the shuttle area, and after a few frustrating attempts, she finally called on the security guys to help out. Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch where they do “Da Bears?” That was this guy. You think that the way they were talking was exaggerated and there really isn’t anybody like that, but you would be wrong. Straight out of Ditka’s. He got me to the shuttle area, where a series of long lines awaited me. I was directed to the correct line based on where the bus was going. Despite how chaotic and crowded it looked, the wait was only about 30 minutes. I say only, because at first glance it looked like it would be much longer. Water, don’t forget the water. I finally moved up and got on one of the buses. Now it was just a quick zip to the hotel…

The ride turned out not to be as zippy as anticipated. The Loop is busy on weekends anyway, as is any downtown, but add in the marathon and the Cubs in town on their historic run and you had chaos. They had already blocked off some of the streets for the race and that made already bad traffic even worse. We had a trainee driver to boot, but I must say, she navigated that bus much better that I would have. We took a tour out of McCormick place, around Soldier Field through a few detours, onto an expressway, ended up on Lakeshore Drive, and came back around over the Chicago River and back on to Michigan Avenue. The normal route would have been straight to Michigan and to the drop off point, maybe 10 minutes of driving. Not this day. Traffic was bumper to bumper, and a few ingrates on the bus demanded to be let off in the middle of the street as we neared their respective hotels. Well, for safety reasons they weren’t supposed to do that, but these folks were in the beginning stages of passenger road rage. The driver reluctantly let them off. Have a great race you rude SOB’s. I felt bad for the driver, who again was doing an excellent job navigating terrible traffic conditions. She finally detoured down some side streets, and we arrived at the drop off point, which was about a block from my hotel. I made sure to thank the driver and tell her how awesome she was. Hopefully that negated some of the grief that she got along the way.

This year I was staying at the TravelLodge, not only because it was fairly cheap (well, cheap for downtown Chicago on marathon weekend), but it was a little closer than last year’s hotel, and after a 26.2 mile run, the less distance to the hotel the better. In fact, it turned out to be directly across the street from the Grant Park entrance I needed to be in the morning. Can’t get closer than that. The room was a little plain, but suite size. I had a front room, complete with a sofa, and a little kitchenette. It looked very spartan though, and the view out the window (such as it was) didn’t help. The sleeping area was nice though, and that was the most important thing. As always when traveling, the thought popped in my mind: Bedbugs. There weren’t any, but the thought is always there. I didn’t want to manifest any either so I tried to put that out of my mind.

I walked down a few blocks to a Trader Joe’s and picked up some carbs for the morning before having my pre-race meal that night. The Congress Plaza Hotel was next door and were having an all you can eat pasta extravaganza. I took advantage of that and made it an early night. I would be back at the Congress the next night, presumably for a celebratory steak dinner. Anything can happen over the course of 26.2 miles, so that dinner was tentative. I felt good though. The day before the marathon, and no real aches and pains. Would the three-day-a-week running plan work tomorrow? Was it enough training? Was it not nearly enough? Was it some kind of wacko experiment that left me grossly undertrained? Yes, that dinner was tentative.

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