TriJake Runs Chicago
I have been around sports my entire life. I have met many different athletes who play at all different levels. I am convinced that marathoners are some of the best people in the world. From the first responders after the Boston Marathon bombings to the volunteers at hundreds of marathons put on throughout the year in America, people who are involved in marathon running simply care. So… What happens when you take some of the most caring athletes in the world and place them into the Midwestern arena which is the Chicago Marathon? Everything happens. The Chicago Marathon is one of the best races I have ever ran. And it’s not because it’s flat, and it’s not because it’s big, it’s because the local people involved have a special way about them. The Chicago Marathon is one of the five major marathons worldwide. Most of the time when you get involved with something of that caliber personal touch goes out the window. But not in Chicago. The Windy City delivers hospitality as few places worldwide can. It starts with the registration. After you successfully register for the Chicago Marathon, which is very user-friendly, you are put on the mailing list. Most mailing lists are only good for advertising, and junk mail. But not this mailing list. This mailing lists main purpose is to inform you about How to be successful at the Chicago Marathon. Don’t get me wrong, I received emails from other races where they talk about tempo training runs, hill work, so on and so forth. But the Chicago Marathon actually sends you course information on when to speed up, went to look out, and went to slow down. It’s a large race there are thousands of runners every year and the tiny Chicago neighborhoods have tight turns. There are many bottlenecks throughout the race, contrary to belief it’s not the fastest track I’ve ever ran as a result. But, the information that the people who organize this event try to educate all of its participants before they get there. Making them privy to this, so as not to delay their time. I only bring it up because it is a small detail, a caring gesture to each of the 45,000 runners who travel from all over the world to run the streets of Chicago.
“My kind of town” Sinatra would sing. And it certainly is true. Food, culture, criminal history, and one of the five major marathon championships gives Chicago allure for any runner to travel too. We flew in the day before the marathon, took a friendly taxi ride to our hotel. Got the lowdown on where to get a good pasta dinner from a local walking her dog, and then hit the streets. Walking up and down the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue is one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had. It’s like a shopping mecca on steroids. Although I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not even a big shopper, the atmosphere was exhilarating. As we walked in front of Niketown we noticed a sign that said Marathon Shuttle. No bells, no whistles, no laser beams, or bright lights. Just a simple sign that read Marathon Shuttle. I saw young lady who looked like she worked at Niketown, so I approached her. I asked her what this meant, and if it was for the race tomorrow. She replied with a “no” and that the Marathon Shuttle was to around the corner to take people to the marathon expo down at the convention center. The Marathon Expo was about 8 miles away and we were going to take a taxi. I laughed and said, “well that’s awful kind of you, how much?” She laughed, and said she’d been asked that all day. “No charge. It’s on us. Welcome to Chicago.” I slapped her a high-five and off we went to catch our shuttle. Again this may be an ordinary thing that may happen on some smaller market marathons but a major corporate event just allowing people to hop on some yellow school buses and take a free ride around Chicago seemed impressive to me. But there it is again, the people that organize these races are marathoners, and they care. They care about people. Once we got to the expo, the place was electric. There must’ve been over 50,000 people at this convention center. All of them jacked to run or cheer a marathon the next day. I walked in, and my first thought was this is going to take forever. I veered over to the left where a sign had said packet pick up. I had my ID ready and before I knew it I was already being scanned through and walked over to receive my shirt and packet, then quickly escorted along to enter the expo arena. It took less than 5 minutes! As we walked around the expo everybody was so friendly, handing out all kinds of free samples, and wishing everybody with the packet good luck tomorrow. I’ve ran races where the field was less than 300 participants, in the middle of nowhere, and not been treated that way. After soaking in the hospitality of the expo we decided it was a good idea to go hop back on the shuttle and head back to the hotel. We cleaned up a little, and headed out to the restaurant we were tipped off to. The place was great, simple, and did the job. We tipped our server and made our way back to our room, tomorrow was an early start.
Walking down to the start line of the Chicago Marathon was every bit as enjoyable as the first 20 hours we spent in the city. People were already out shaking hands and wishing people good luck. Again, this is not unique to Chicago. It’s just another example of people who run marathons and support marathons is being genuine caring souls. Unless you ever experience it, you will never know the true feeling of being connected with these people. As we made our way to the start line, several people who had run the race before were chatting about when to push it, when the holdback, went to the patient, and when to hurry up. It was funny to listen to them. I never heard people talk about running a marathon quite like that before. But I guess that’s the way of the Chicago Marathon.
During the race almost everything the people I talked about happening, happened. There were bottlenecks, there were hundreds and hundreds of cups scattered throughout the ground that nobody could pick up. And the running lanes were congested. But it didn’t matter, the support was incredible. I don’t recall a gap in the crowd. Even in New York City and Boston there are gaps with no spectators. But not in Chicago. I don’t know why, just making an observation. Throughout the race you hear the usual clichés, “You can do it. You’re almost there. Keep going, you look great.” Like I said love, care, and support oozes from people involved in these things. Upon crossing the finish line, the feeling never gets old. It’s euphoric relief that can only be expressed by saying, “Thank God that’s over.” Then the volunteers rally around you with your medal, bananas, protein shakes, bagels, you name it you can get it at the end of the major marathon. I yelled to the crowd, “Where you get a good Chicago deep dish pizza?” One guy yelled back “Gino’s!” So off we went – To Gino’s.
Marathon running is, at its best, painful. It’s hard work and commitment are taxing and, oftentimes, thankless. In fact, most people that train to run these things are looked at by the general public as being crazy. People run for all different reasons, and the vast majority do not expect to win. Drawing an interesting question. Why do people run marathons? Most people run their first one to say that they finished. Some people have even said that the marathon is, “the common man’s Everest.” However, these people don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. They work themselves, train for hours, and sacrificed much to get to race day. And when they get there the overwhelming support, love, and care provided by the marathon volunteer staff, spectators, and fellow runners is contagious. As I said in the beginning, Marathon people are some of the most caring athletes I’ve ever seen. Watch the Olympics. Every time somebody wins an event, they run over, grab their national flag, and take a victory lap. But not the marathoners. It’s the only event in the Olympics that I noticed where the winner crosses the line and waits. The winner is waiting for the next marathoner to come through. When the second-place finisher comes through, they hug, then wait. Usually they wait until about the 10th or 11th finisher comes across the line. They are hugging each other and congratulating each other on a job well done in a race worthwhile. Maybe it’s because 26.2 miles is a very long way to run, but the support the people that run these things give each other is second to none. It’s also why, against my will often, I find myself at the start line of yet another marathon.
The Chicago Marathon was spectacular. The midwestern hospitality combined with the already rich love and care in marathoning was worth a trip back. If you don’t think you can run a marathon, you may be selling yourself short. It is my passion to reconnect people with a spark that drives them to achieve great things. I just might be able to help you achieve a great accomplishment, such as running your first marathon. If you really don’t want to run a marathon, that’s okay too. I recommend that you go volunteer at one of your local Marathon events. Just so you can see what it’s like.