So here’s the thing:
Back in May, you may recall, I PR’ed at the Madison Half Marathon. I was super stoked about my 1:47 half, especially considering the considerable hills, and it was a good notch in my belt as I entered my Summer of Seriously Serious Training for the Chicago Marathon.
Then, a few weeks ago, the Chicago Marathon finally sent out info about start corrals, and much to my chagrin, they had lowered the qualifying standards by 5 minutes. Which meant that my 1:47 half marathon time was no longer good enough to get me into the C corral, which is where I need to be in order to run with the 3:35 pace team, which is the pace team I need to run with in order to qualify for Boston. SUCK.
I needed a sub-1:45 half marathon time ASAP. I looked at the race calendar. The Rock n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 20 appeared to be my only real option. I wasn’t thrilled about coughing up $127 for a half marathon, but it had to be done. I had to try.
I’ll spare you the suspense: I did it. I clocked a 1:44:14 half marathon time on a hot, humid, early July morning in the middle of marathon training. It hurt and it was hard and I am ecstatic about the way I raced. The next day, I emailed my results to the Chicago Marathon office to claim my spot in Corral C.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can dish about the race itself.
Yes, I realize I signed up a little last minute, but come on, $127 for a half marathon?!? I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t worth it. I mean, it WAS, because I hit my goal and such, but otherwise, no.
I loved the expo. The pre-race setup was great, with water and bananas and bagels available, and what appeared to be a well-organized and easily accessible gear check area. The charity village and post-race party were in close proximity to the start/finish, and everything seemed to flow well. The shirts are solid, and the race medals are cool.
RnR nailed the pre-race and post-race. The actual race? Not so much.
The approximately one billion corrals started on Columbus and snaked around Jackson in Grant Park. There was a wave start with 30 seconds between each corral, which helped ease some congestion. However, it appeared that people were kind of just starting wherever the heck they wanted to anyway, so there were still walkers near the 2-hour pace group. And that’s real annoying.
Plenty of water stops were spread throughout the course, which is absolutely crucial for a race in late July in Chicago. The aid stations were not clearly marked – they really could’ve used some of those giant flag thingers – and the majority of the stops did not have enough volunteers passing out water and Gatorade. Three times I grabbed my own cup of water off the table. A friend who finished in just over 2 hours said by the time he got to the aid station at mile 12, volunteers were furiously trying to fill cups from jugs of water and he nearly had to pour one for himself. So, if we front-and-middle-of-the-pack runners had issues at the aid stations, I can only imagine what it was like for the back-of-the-pack runners.
One of the things the RnR series boasts about is “bands at every mile” along the course. Well, that wasn’t EXACTLY true for Chicago. The first band didn’t appear until about mile 6.5, when we were leaving downtown. I wasn’t complaining because I totally understand that setting up a stage in the loop is probably not viable. And really, I think live bands on the course aren’t for the runners as much as for the spectators, anyway. When you’re running past the stage, you get to hear the band for, what, 30 seconds? A minute or two, tops? So the concept doesn’t really do much for me. Except for marching bands and drumlines. I can never get enough of those.
The course itself could use some improvement, too. The first 6 miles were all in the loop, with tons of turns that were reminiscent of the Chicago Marathon course. Good stuff. Then we headed south down Lakeshore Drive and eventually turned onto the Lakefront Trail. And a race with nearly 14,000 people, even when you’re spread out with a wave start, can get a little tight when you head onto the trail. Especially when other people (re: cyclists) are still trying to use the path.
Then we went into the bowels of McCormick Place, going from a cloudy, bright day into near darkness. On a downhill slope. On pavement riddled with filled-in potholes. NOT GOOD. Hey, at least concentrating on trying to adjust my eyes to see in the dark and trying not to bite it on the cement took my mind off of how much pain I was in from running at a fast clip for 10-plus miles.
At mile 12, we hit the biggest hill of the day, which was actually an on-ramp to Lakeshore Drive. After cursing our way to the top, we could see the finish line in the distance. Like, WAAAAAAAAY in the distance. Still almost a mile away. That, my friends, was torture. I tried not to look at it, but I couldn’t help it. It was like a mirage. And after a couple minutes, I was convinced I was never going to get there.
When I finally did, I was thrilled that I had reached my goal — and that I got to stop running. Slightly delirious and soaked in sweat, water and pee (yeah, I peed myself at the finish, do something!), I stumbled toward a volunteer to claim my race medal. She blankly stared at me.
“Race medal? Can I have one?” I pleaded.
She continued to stare at me, holding a medal in her hand. Then I realized she was not a volunteer. The volunteer passing out medals was standing just behind her. But it’s not completely my fault because the race shirts and the volunteer shirts were the exact same color. Dumb.
So yes, I have some gripes about this race, which, again, probably wouldn’t bother me quite so much if I hadn’t forked over all that dough. When it comes down to it, all the bells and whistles surrounding a race are nice, but if you can’t nail the basics of the actual race, bells and whistles don’t mean a whole helluva lot.
In the end, what really made this race great were the pacers from Chicago Endurance Sports – thank you again, 1:45 dude and chick! — and my awesome teammates and mentors from the American Cancer Society’s Team DetermiNation. Everyone was incredibly supportive, and it made me even more excited about working with them for the Chicago Marathon (BTW, you should totally donate to my team HERE.) Plus, ACS had ice baths, water, Gatorade, snacks and ICE CREAM SANDWICHES AND DRUMSTICKS at their tent after the race. Clearly, they know what’s up.
See ya in the C Corral on Oct. 12, Angels. — Mags