Race Review – Chicago Marathon

Coming into Chicago I bailed on two races. Ealing half, the same day as the Berlin Marathon, because it was tipping down and I didn’t want to get sick and want to ruin my chances of a 3rd major in 4 years, and the inaugural London Ultra the week before. 55K across London? It would have been my 14th mara or above of the year but it was not to be. I would be fresh (ish) for this one. Rested. And would be wearing the coolest of tops. How is this puppy?

Running All Over The World

I have run in the States before, in Disneyland Florida, New Orleans and at the inaugural North Carolina Half Marathon around a NASCAR arena. None were marathons though, and nor have been my races in Africa. And so, before Chicago my marathon map has a rather Euro centric theme… for now…

The Marathon Map


Before I went into Comrades I spent too much time running road marathons and found myself injured after completing VLM and MK in 6 days as part of my first 12 in 12. Going into this I had probably spent too much time plodding slow 50Ks and found myself with an ITB niggle that went all the way to my knee, and a sore foot and ankle. Still, having completed 13 marathons or above in 8 months this year, if I can convince myself the niggles are nothing more than maranoia I should be ok re stamina, but I guess we will find out.

The real issue was a house full of viral gastroenteritis for a week that wiped everyone out, including me. I delayed the flight by a day, getting slammed with a rebooking fee as couldn’t travel in that state. Doubled up with stomach cramps and rushing to the toilet for immediate relief is not ideal on a transatlantic flight in premium economy. And so I delayed by a day and a bit, flying out much later the next day, losing a day in Chicago but feeling more confident I could survive the flight.


When I finally got to Chi town, the EXPO was pretty seamless. Well, it was if you paid attention to any of the numerous emails sent, or the website. There will always be people who don’t. And they will get into the queue without the barcode needing to be scanned, or proof of ID. And that is all you needed. Once scanned you were sent to a pick up desk and, as your ID had already been checked, they just confirm the name and hand over the bib and point you in the direction of the tee shirt and bag pickup. None of the vast Berlin queues leading to more queues and more queues. This was very efficient and totally relaxed.

Note: You need to use the clear bag they give you for bag drop but, once again, people do not pay attention and bring their own bags, or forget the tags.

And once you pick up the tee it is EXPO time. There are the biggies there, lots of smaller companies too, but it was no way as big as the London EXPO, and I preferred it. It meant I could pick a path of least resistance. I didn’t need gels, or seed bars, so could avoid those rows. I didn’t want race magnets. But I did need meggings and a new tee due to the weather and my fatness. My original OMM short and Abbotts Majors vest (see above) would not do when facing the biting winds coming off Lake Michigan.

Oh, oh, and how to get there. The EXPO is in the McCormick Centre about 3 miles from my hotel.  I read on the website about shuttle buses ferrying people there and back and so went out with the idea of finding one, and if not, getting a cab. I am right opposite Nike Town and saw a queue outside. I asked one of the staff if this was the shuttle to the EXPO and they said yes, but I needed a wristband from the store. A bit of a ballache I thought but still I went in. You needed to register with Nike, and I already was as I use the Nike Running App. So wristband received I got on the bus. And from here it was odd. We were all given free Nike ponchos, and a bag of Chex Mix and a pink Nike badge in the shape of a shoe. A heavy duty poncho too, none of the clear bin bag stuff. There was a video camera and a Nike World Coach hosting a Q&A session with US Track and Field and Olympic Athlete Evan Jager, who was very nice, very cold, and wished each and every one of us good luck, and a handshake as we got off the bus.

It was only later I discovered the free shuttle buses went from street corners by the hotels and were yellow school buses. So I guess I lucked out by accident there.

The 5K Breakfast Run

I had planned to run the breakfast run the day before in my Ferris themed “Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago” vest but I had a bit of a mishap. As I said, a week long bout of gastroenteritis plagued my house and I ended up delaying my flight from Thursday to Friday because I couldn’t travel. There were other knock on issues including American Airlines nearly not letting me on the plane the next day, a HUGE rebooking fee, and then the utter arsewombles at Booking.com not passing my “I’ll be there tomorrow” messages to the hotel so they cancelled my room. What this meant in all practicality, was that I could not get to the EXPO in time to get my breakfast run packet and thus missed out on a leg stretch (which is a shame as it would have highlighted the failings of the Sauconys), and the Chicago bobble hat they were giving to finishers. I had planned to wear this at the BOBBLE HOBBLE 6 hour race in December. But alas…


Chicago, the home of deep dish pizzas, Ferris Bueller, the Cubs and the Bears. The Windy city.  Stunning architecture and a gang violence problem in the south. I had been here a few times, visiting friends who lived here at the time. This was the first time I had been as a tourist, and so, after the architecture tour, I was ok with the geography. And it would be on nice wide roads like Berlin, 4 lanes most of the time, 2 wide lanes minimum the rest of the way around, taking in all the city has to offer.

I’ve never seen so many water stops

How I Did

The race starts at 7 something with the Athletes with Disabilities and wheelchair athletes going off before the elites. There are then 3 coloured waves, with me in the middle wave. It was a 30 min walk in the cold and the dark to the start but, having my clear drop bag from the EXPO with the tag on it, and extra warm clothes including the Nike poncho I was all toasty warm and ready.

I wore the new meggings from the EXPO and the new tee rather than the vest. It made me look like the Man in Black, rather than how I would have looked with the vest, namely a fat bloke in too tight a vest. It made me look like an over stuffed burrito and I am glad I have it, but this was not the time to debut it to the public at large.  Although I did wear it under the tee, to keep me warm.

Bag drop was seamless. I missed the National Anthem as I did. And was then in my pen. Pens close 15 minutes before the start (or so the literature states) but I saw security guards letting people in right up to the start line. And then, without further ado, we were off.

A fast start (loving it loving it loving it)

You know when you are in a major. The streets are wide. The field is massive. There is nowhere where you are running by yourself. And the crowds are near constant. Other than the occasional down under a bridge, or a short up going over one of the eighteen rusted iron movable bridges that cross the Y shaped river that intersects the city, you are running on the flat and this was great.

My pace has clearly slowed due to the mucky, lumpy ultras this year but I was ok with heading around at a decent enough pace to push for a PB. The first 10K was great, although I had already gained an extra KM by the time I hit 15K but still I kept going as the niggles reared their ugly head. But not until I passed the BIOFREEZE screens where loved ones, friends and followers could send messages to runners. I didn’t see the one for me  due to the volume of runners going through at the same time, but knowing it should have been there geed me on.

Hip Injury

At Tring Ultra, sometime in the final 10K of the 55K lump fest, my right hip started acting up. I slowed and that didn’t seem to help so I pushed on, the thigh going a little dead and the knee and ankle on that side coming out in sympathy and joining the pain party. I surmised it was my ITB as it hurt from hip to knee by the end of that race and I walked with a limp the rest of the week.

I have been stretching and mostly resting, hence me feeling glad I cancelled Ealing, but around the 20K mark, whilst still pushing forward, zipping past walkers and enjoying the great race I could start to feel the pain in my hip return.


If you are going to commit a Cardinal sin, make it a good one. New shoes for a race? No, surely not. Well, not really. I had worn the featherweight Sauconys before but only on a training run or two. And they did not do me well with my form going because of my hip. I was landing awkwardly and my Hobbit trotters were sliding about, rubbing on the edge of the insoles. Pain was my middle name as I came up to 25K.

Not George Takei

I slowed as the masses turned into Koreatown and Chinatown. I thought I saw George Takei, I slowed to let him pass and then overtook him on the other side to get a better look. No. It was not George. But for a fleeting moment I was a little starstruck.

Damned Watch

It was about here I noticed that my Garmin was about to die. I had worn it for the last few days and forgotten to charge it. A schoolboy error. I know I should be better at running without it. I know people say that running naked is better. I even completed a Masters thesis on the topic 3 years ago. I should know this. But no. I clearly need to manage my expectations on time and distance when in a race where I am physically in pain and uncomfortable regardless of both KM and Mile markers on the side of the road.


Then it all changed. I know quite a few runners here, Matt Bowman, Cat, Meg, Jeanette Beer, Cazza Ames went by at some point, and I knew Heartrunnergirl was around somewhere, starting in the earliest wave an hour or so ahead of me. I had kept an eye out amongst the running throng as we turned toward the city and it’s gleaming sky scrapers, and then away and into the small neighbourhoods. It was as I turned my Garmin off finally that I caught her out the corner of my eye as I ran by and so stopped to see how she was.

This was her first marathon on heart medication for her condition and she was not having the greatest of times. I have to admit I wasn’t either but could have persisted with my grumpy run/limp strategy without the prompting of my Garmin to change up or down the pace. Though this wasn’t the right thing to do. We were 15K or so from the end if the signs could be believed (I still don’t trust them) and so I dropped to a walk next to my Dutch buddy and decided to march my way to the end keeping her company.

We did have a laugh (Marijke not shown)

And that is exactly what we did, bursting into a run from time to time when we saw a photographer and finally the finish, chatting away, and realising just how badly people are at judging distances. We pass the 20 mile marker, keep going for a good KM and then someone shouts “just 7 miles to go!” We pass the 800M to the end sign and one of the marshals calls out “just over half a mile!” Asshats.


And then we did it. We crossed the last bridge over the railway and into Grant Park, turned left and, after 45K if her Garmin can be trusted, we completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.


I did it but I am disappointed a little with myself. I am not fit, I am still injured and the gastro issues had wiped me out so I had little or no energy reserves. It did measure long. I didn’t like the naked running. But I was very glad to have met up with Marijke and was happy to slow to her pace to get us both through it and up our morale.

Still, all said and done that was job done, marathon or above number 14 of the year, 3rd major and number 45 towards the 100 Marathon club in 48 months. Bosh! ‘Ave it! Free beer at the Goose Island Mile 27 stand too!

Scores on the Doors

And there you have it, in black and white. Top of the pile and officially my highest rated marathon in the world. Despite doing badly, or not doing myself justice timewise, and completing it with broken feet, it hit all the marks. It was superbly organised, the medal is great and, given my architecture boat tour the day before, I knew what I was looking at every time we turned toward the city’s landmarks so love that I know the woman atop the building in the centre of the medal has no face. I didn’t like the overcrowding at times, but with 45,000 people it was inevitable, and the crowd encroaching when there were no marshals or police to order them back was annoying. Other than that, it was top drawer.


As I said, shows the architecture of the city. Tick! And a free can of Goose Island too. Tick! If you do any one touristy thing in Chicago do the #1 on TripAdvisor architectural boat tour. I did it the day before the race and so it put the city into perspective for me. I knew the buildings I was seeing when I turned here and there, that one was Ferris’ dad’s office building, that one is 9 separate towers, the Hancock Tower, the Sears Tower, the pencil shaped one is only 30 ft across the base, as we headed back toward the downtown area from whichever neighbourhood we went through (apparently in 26 miles we went through 23 neighbourhoods). And I am glad the buildings are on the medal. The boat tour still fresh in my memory I know the building in the middle was the tallest in Chicago when built, and that the statue of the lady has no face. I also know that there are 2 theories behind this: 1, that the architect knew there were no buildings the same height planned so there would be no one to see her face, and 2, it was art deco style where the lines are all vertical not horizontal so, much like the Oscar trophy, he could not create a face that would be in-keeping with the style.


To paraphrase Ferris, “races move pretty fast, if don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss a friend.” I am, luckily, observant, or was at least observant enough to catch Marijke out the corner of my eye. It did change the race for me. Taking my ear buds out and stopping the music I was using to drown out the crowds I now experienced people cheering us on as we went through different Latin American neighbourhoods. I grabbed two Goose Island beers and handed one to a homeless person who I caught saying he wanted to get him one of those. The last 17K of the race was a different one to the first 25. when I ran I enjoyed the race, but my gastro had clearly wiped out my energy levels. Still with Gatorade, and bananas every mile or so, and then shot bloks and gels from time to time, I could supplement that with little and often.

I did love seeing the city, the architecture tour was clearly a bonus, as when I saw one of the buildings from the tour in the distance I could picture where it was in relation to where I needed to be and that gave me hope when my watch died and my hip went.

It was a great marathon, deservedly one of the world majors. It had 45,000 people running it and there must have been hundreds of thousands cheering you on. There was only a few parts with no support, in the old meat packing district for one, but mostly the crowds urged you on, mostly in Spanish from what I could tell, but also as you went through Italian neighbourhoods, China and Koreatown. I am glad it went how it did, and Marijke completed yet another amazing test. But I do need to come back and I need to do myself justice with a much better time. It has PB potential, despite the size of the field, the width of the course allows you to constantly run. There is no real bunching. You just need to watch for those extra KMs.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE CHICAGO MARATHON? – YES, the ballot opens next week. DO IT!!!

WOULD I RUN THE CHICAGO MARATHON AGAIN? – YES, I need to go back and better my time.

Listen to the “#45 Chicago 13th October 2019” podcast here


You’re still here? It’s Over. Go Home. Go.

Bow-bow! Chick-chick-a-dick-ahhhhh.


One Comment Add yours

  1. cavershamjj says:

    Wow you are clocking up some serious miles! Great race report, good to hear about a huge marathon in the US, thanks for sharing


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