Although it’s not a timed race, the Chicago Area Runners Association’s Orangetheory Ready to Run 20 Miler is an event to flag for 2019.
When training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, or any fall marathon, the 20-mile run marks the start of tapering, but is often the most anticipated part of any training plan as it is the longest run before the actual event. After months of training and miles put in, most runners are more than “ready to run” 20 miles, but doing it with a couple other thousand people always makes it easier.
CARA’s annual event takes place downtown, and arguably one of the biggest selling points is the point-to-point course. All throughout training, athletes run multiple loops in the same area to hit their mileage, so this course takes that monotony out of the longest run, and gives many runners a change of scenery.
The run starts at Montrose Beach, which is extremely convenient as there is a ton of free parking. CARA also offers gear check with shuttles taking the gear to the finish area, and hydration before the run begins. Runners are assigned a start corral based on their pace, and if they train with a CARA summer marathon training group, they are placed with them as well.
After heading north for about two miles, runners loop back around Montrose to head south down the lakefront trail for the remaining 18 miles. Temperatures and humidity were already high at the 6:30 a.m. start, and with limited shade along the lake, conditions were not ideal. However, CARA had nine water and Gatorade stops along the way, all with smiling and encouraging volunteers to help runners make it to the finish safely.
Because runners start with their pace group, which can be 40-50 people big, the path does feel a little congested at first, but I noticed it started to spread out around mile six. Also, the path isn’t closed for the event, so the thinning made it easier for others wanting to utilize it without feeling bombarded by large packs of runners.
After passing Navy Pier, runners are taken towards Grant Park, and eventually down to Museum Campus. While shade was lacking on the front half of the course, the sun really seemed to beat down through the second half, especially as it got later in the day and temps neared 80. I think a lot of runners realized they weren’t properly hydrated, myself included, and started taking two or three water cups at each station to avoid heat-related issues. While this makes for a miserable last couple of miles, it just teaches everyone to really focus on hydration in the days leading up to race day!
The finish line was in Jackson Park, where runners received cold, wet towels (that were much appreciated), water, their finisher t-shirt and a complementary cold beer. There also was some food and other vendors in the finish area, but most runners headed to the shady area of the park to stretch and mingle. Even if the weather made the run harder than expected, the overall energy at the end was positive as everyone was proud of their accomplishment, and looking even more towards race day.
For those parked at the start line area, there were busses available to shuttle them back.
CARA frequently refers to this event as a dress rehearsal for race day; aside from figuring out logistics of getting downtown in the early morning hours, this allowed me to really feel how all of my gear and nutrition will work on October 7, so I’m really glad I took advantage of this opportunity. For my first marathon, I need all the practice I can get!