Chicago Athlete on the Road: Quad Cities

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Chicago Athlete hit the road to run in one of Illinois’ top-rated marathons. The Quad Cities Marathon is always held on the fourth Sunday in September and brings out runners from all over the Midwest and beyond. This event is incredibly inclusive as it offers a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon relay, and marathon to participate in.

Although you could make this a day trip, as it’s only about 3 hours from the city, the race begins at 7am, so it’s easier to make this an overnight trip. This is what I did, leaving on Saturday with my family and embarking to the quad cities. Rock Island, Moline, Davenport, and Bettendorf make up the quad cities, with 2 cities in Illinois and 2 in Iowa. This unique area is home to the John Deere headquarters, the Mississippi River, and several bar and restaurant strips.

Upon arrival, we went directly to the expo for packet pick up. It was located at Vibrant Arena in Moline. I always appreciate when the expo is easily accessible and close to the start line. I like to map out where everything is located so that race morning is a bit less stressful.

The expo was quite large with multiple vendors and races to sign up for. There was even an area full of comfort dogs, where you could spend time petting the adorable pups. We especially were fond of Jo Jo and Bodhi, whose favorite foods were peanut butter and bacon. I love that the Quad Cities Marathon brings in the comfort dogs to help ease the minds of nervous runners.

After the expo, we went directly to our hotel, which is the perfect place to stay if you plan to run this race. The Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center is located just a few blocks from the start/finish line but is not along the course. This means that after you finish your race, you will have no problem leaving the hotel and driving to get food, or in my family’s case, ice cream. More to come on that later, as the Quad Cities are home to arguably, the best ice cream in the Midwest.

Stoney Creek is a chain hotel, with similar amenities in each location. I have high expectations in the hotels we stay at for marathon weekends, and Stoney Creek never disappoints. The rooms are spacious and accommodating for families. We always stay in the bunk bed room, which allows us to avoid getting two rooms. With a tween and teen in the family, it is now difficult for us all to fit in one hotel room and we frequently have to get adjoining rooms. The room also has a medium-sized fridge, microwave, and Keurig, so that I can stay in control of my diet the night before and morning of the marathon.

The hotel has an indoor/outdoor pool, where guests can swim through the barrier to enjoy the outdoor pool area. There is also a rustic hot tub enclosed with large rock scenery, making you feel like you are in a cabin setting. The hotel has a large workout room with a treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike. There is also a full body weight machine, stretching mats, and a foam roller.

Another bonus of this hotel is that it offers free breakfast, an amenity that traveling families should always look for. It saves so much money to be able to feed everyone each morning, plus grab coffee to go.

After a dip in the pool, we walked a few blocks to visit the John Deere Pavilion. It was a purposeful visit, as I also got to check out the start and finish line, which was located right next to the pavilion. The pavilion is free to visit and showcases many of the John Deere tractors and machines. It’s not an extremely large or time consuming attraction, but it’s amazing to see how large many of the machines are. And, you can climb into many of them to get the full impact of what it feels to operate them. It’s also one of the cleanest museums I have ever been to.

You can tell that John Deere is a very important part of this community. One of the local high schools had their homecoming dance on Saturday evening and there were students taking pictures at the John Deere pavilion, posing alongside the massive corn huskers and tractors.

I would highly recommend a visit to the pavilion if you are in town for the marathon, but make sure to check visit times. Both the museum and gift shop closed promptly at 5 pm.

We found ourselves missing home, and were able to find a restaurant in Bettendorf, Iowa, called Old Chicago. The restaurant required a drive from the hotel, but it was only 8 minutes away and allowed me to drive over a bridge, similar to the one we would be running over during the marathon.

The menu was robust and had a lot of healthy options for me. They also had gluten free pizza and wings with several different sauce options. Old Chicago had countless beers on tap and the atmosphere was fun and low key. It was a great restaurant to spend the night before a marathon in. It would also have been a great restaurant to spend the night after a marathon in!

We went back to the hotel after dinner so that we could tuck in for the night and get ready for a big race day. Before going to sleep, I went down to the weight room to foam roll and stretch.

My kids lifted some weights and made use of the aerobic machines before we turned in for the night.

My alarm went off too quickly at 6am, prompting me to get out of bed and head to the start line. Staying at Stoney Creek allowed me to walk out the door at 6:35 and arrive to the start corrals at 6:40 am.

Runners listened to the motivational speeches of several mayors and a leader from the US Army. At 7 am, the marathon, marathon relay, and half marathon runners took off. The race began in downtown Moline, next to the John Deere pavilion under clear skies and 60 degrees.

Although the weather was predicted to stay cloudy, this did not stay true. By about mile 6, the sun was out and vibrant, heating up the course. The humidity was mid-level, but the sun was constant throughout the day. The course began with an out and back 6 miles where runners were treated to flat ground and could get a fast start. We then turned onto the Centennial Bridge at mile 9. Runners climbed up and ran over the Mississippi River. It was beautiful, if you could catch your breath after the climb.

Runners exited the bridge into Bettendorf, Iowa, where we looped through a hilly set of residential neighborhoods. The hills were small, but seemed unending until mile 16-17, where we entered Davenport. We crossed another bridge back into Illinois at mile 18-19. I really struggled with the amount of hills between miles 8 and 19, with the combination of the sun and humidity. I found myself slowing down and trying to find some recovery as we entered the Rock Island arsenal.

This part of the course was my absolute favorite. There was a display of army vehicles and we ran through a National Cemetary. It was an honor to be on the armory grounds and I am so thankful that the Army allowed runners on.

We exited the grounds to finish the last few miles through Rock Island and headed back to Moline to the finish line. Runners were greeted with a medal, helpful volunteers, drinks, and snacks.

The Quad Cities Marathon has some of the best aid stations that I have experienced. There are 25 aid stations that have water and Gatorade. Interspersed throughout the course there is also candy and fruit. At two locations I saw lube stations and wet towels. And of course porta potties are aptly stationed throughout. You can tell that a runner put a lot of thought into the placement and offerings at the race’s aid stations.

While there isn’t a massive crowd lining the course, with the huge number of aid stations, you have course support nearly the entire time. And, there were so many spectators that came out and followed runners around to cheer them on at various points of the course.

I am so happy to have run this race and I encourage you to put this one on your radar for next September. The new course is challenging, but it’s scenic and ever changing. And, there is an incredible amount of course support from the race staff and volunteers. Thank you to the Quad Cities Marathon for putting on a safe and fun event for runners.

After the race, I walked the few short blocks back to my hotel to clean up and claim my treat. The Quad Cities is home to the best ice cream in the Midwest. I was first introduced to Whiteys Ice Cream when I attended Augustana College. This staple was first opened in 1933 in Moline and has expanded to numerous locations throughout the Quad Cities.

The interior has remained largely unchanged since I was there in 2002. And the large menu of offerings is still available to patrons.

If you run the QC Marathon next year, you have to include a stop at Whiteys. With almost 50 different flavors of ice cream, you can’t go wrong. Plus, they are extremely affordable. We got 4 scoops of ice cream for $11! Nothing like ending a tough 26.2 with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.

 

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Mandi has been running for over 25 years and has participated in the Chicago, Detroit, and Boston Marathons. Mandi regularly competes in regional events and enjoys being a part of several running groups including CARA and the Badgerland Striders. She is a co-host on the Ten Junk Miles podcast and looks forward to hosting the Chicago Athlete Podcast. An RRCA certified coach and Les Mills certified instructor, Mandi is also a coach with Chicago Athlete Coaching. Mandi is a local government attorney by weekday and race warrior by weekend.

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