I was on a two-day work-related training in Chicago last July 13 and 14, 2015. It was the third time I was in town. The first two trips were both for leisure, so basically I am quite familiar with the city. I thought I might do something different this time and what else can I think of but to join a running event. Luckily, the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon was scheduled the weekend after my training. With a big event like this, I thought I don’t want to miss this one even if it means staying the entire week in Chicago. It will be costly but it’s worth it.
Joining an event out of town is a little stressful. I’m not familiar with the place, the weather, the people and basically what to expect in the event itself. So I did list out the things I need to consider before I actually set foot in Chicago.
* Accommodation. There are two things that I checked before I booked my hotel, the distance from the race expo and the distance from the race start line. I wanted it to be near both location but unfortunately the two are 3 miles away from each other. So I thought, which one should be critical to be closest to my hotel and I decided it should be at least walking distance from the start line. But then again, there have been shortage of hotel rooms already that are near the finish line. Finally, I got a hotel that’s just walking distance from the race expo. I picked the hotel because I found out that they are offering a free shuttle service to and from the start line. And that’s good enough for me.
* Training. Getting a few more training is difficult when you are in a new place and you’re thinking that it’s a vacation. I initially planned to stay in a hotel a few nights for my work-related training, ask a friend if I can crash in their apartment for a few nights then check back in a hotel for the race weekend. Eventually, I booked my hotel weeklong. Why? Because at least I have access to a gym the whole time. I did not intend to run outside. I am not used to running around Chicago downtown where I can just bump to anyone on the road. What I made sure before I travelled to Chicago a week before the race is that I was able to complete my last long run and I did.
* Nutrition. Another reason I preferred to stay in the hotel is the accessibility of food. I checked in in a hotel at downtown Chicago where they serve free breakfast and is near grocery stores. I would just walk a few blocks and I can buy my food supply for the few days of my stay. The hotel is also surrounded by restaurants so I can just go down if I feel more of eating out.
RACE EXPO DAY
On the Saturday, I checked in at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place hotel. The first thing I did was to head to the race expo to get my race kit. The race expo was adjacent to the hotel though I did not expect that the place was a huge one and that I had to walk half a mile to reach the expo. Once I reached the entrance, I was welcomed with the stretch of race bib redemption counters lined up based on assigned wave numbers. The process was very smooth and there’s totally no lines. With over 12,000 expected half marathon participants, it was absolutely an organized event.
The Rock n Roll Marathon expo was the biggest I attended so far. There’s an exclusive area for Brooks, one of the race event partners, where you can buy Rock n Roll Chicago marathon official merchandise, get a free gait analysis or just have fun and grab freebies in one of their game booths. The main expo,with all the other race sponsors and the rest of the participating exhibitors, is not crowded. I had fun going around checking for stuff that I can buy. I don’t really buy stuff during expo but I found a lot of running items that I don’t see from stores and are on sale. After about half an hour of checking each of the booths, I did grab a few items. I got a sun visor as I only brought a cap. It was predicted that the race weather will be hot and I need adaptive gears. I bought a new race belt which is the same brand as my old one but I preferred the design of the new one. It’s lighter and still got all the pockets I need for my stuff. Last thing I bought is Rock Tape which I am surprise to see in the expo. I already ran out of it from my previous run and I was using KT tape which I don’t really like so I was thankful that they have it available in the expo.
I was getting tired already and I realized I haven’t taken my lunch at around 1pm. So I had my last stop at the Michelob booth. It’s where runners get a Beer Garden Wristband by presenting their IDs so we don’t need to show our IDs on race day when we redeem our free finisher cold beer.
I had sandwich for lunch just because I don’t know where else to eat. But for dinner, I availed of the carbo loading dinner buffet in one of the restaurants inside the hotel. I had my dinner at 6pm so I can rest early before the race day.
THE RACE DAY
Travel to Start Line. Gun start is at 6:30am. I went out of my hotel at 5am to catch the free shuttle. Once I was outside, I can feel the heat already. It was the first time I am in Chicago for a summer and I never expected the temperature can go that high in the morning. A lot of the runners are also outside and we were able to board the shuttle after around 5 minutes of waiting. We were dropped at the intersection of 13th and Indiana St. I was not able to check a map beforehand so I just followed the other runners walking to the start line. What I didn’t realize is that the drop off and the start line is over a mile. We were already sweating on our way to the starting line and I was telling myself, if I can’t walk back to the pick up area after the race I would probably get a cab back to the hotel.
Gear Check. It was more or less an hour before the gun start when I arrived at the start line. I searched for the gear check area. They are lined up alphabetically based on your last name and again there are no lines. I guess most people don’t bring stuff or are just checked-in in a nearby hotel. After checking in my stuff, I grab some banana and hydration and do some stretching while waiting for my gun start.
Gun Start. I was in wave 23. Somehow, it’s a little frustrating for me being at the back of the crowd and waiting for 30 minutes to finally start running. Most runs in the US are organized in waves based on expected finish times of runners. Though it does make sense. In the Philippines, some of the races do not have wave assignment and you can be at the front of the pack if you arrived early. Usually, the route gets crowded and faster runners gets irritated with a lot of slower runners getting on their way.
I was expecting more fun at the start line though. Like a band playing while we wait for our cue. There were music playing but could have been more interactive.
The Race. Our wave’s actual gun start is 7am. I know its going to be a lot hotter the rest of the run. So I did my best to get hydrated and consume my energy gels every hour. The hydration stations are packed enough with water and energy drinks. On the second part of the route, I was already pouring water on my head to keep my temperature lower. And in one part of the route, we were able to refresh ourselves with sponges dampened in iced cold water.
The highlight of the route is basically the music. Though I only get to see most of them on the second half of the route. I believe there are a couple of rock bands and the rest are line of speakers entertaining the runners on the route.
Finisher. Less than a mile before the finish line, I saw a shoutout “Hurry up! I’m thirsty I need a beer.” I know it’s for her friend but every runner needs that motivation on our last stretch. An iced cold Michelob ultra beer and a feast of rock music was enough to welcome us after a hot half marathon run. But what I most love about finishing was the awesome medal. I might be running another Rock n Roll Marathon event in the future and in another city perhaps. 🙂