The Chicago Half Marathon has always been a special race for me; it was the first half I completed in 2014. With encouragement from my Chicago Athlete magazine friends, I made a last minute decision and registered for 2018 at the Chicago Triathlon Expo. I figured with my current training load, a month was enough time to prepare for my third running of the event.
Packet pickup was available at the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop on the Friday and Saturday before the race. The outdoor expo featured Yoga, Title Boxing Classes and workouts hosted by Shred415. Parking was free with validation (for up to two hours) offering plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and do a little damage to the wallet. Having the expo at this location provided a hometown feel for citywide event!
Sunday morning was a different story; logistics of Chicago racing can be cumbersome. I left the house at 3:30 am to be at the corner of Randolph and Michigan in time to catch a free shuttle to the Jackson Park. The only parking close to the event is at the Museum of Science and Industry. With 11,500 registered half marathon participants, it seemed smarter to park and take the shuttle from either Millenium Park or the Belmont “L” Station. The athlete guide made it clear if you missed the 5 am, you would likely miss the race.
We arrived around 5:30 which gave athletes about an hour and a half to try and stay warm in a still-dark Jackson Park before the 7 a.m. start. 5k athletes would start 45 minutes later.
The fast and flat half marathon and 5k course passes the historic Museum of Science and Industry before skirting both Jackson Park and the Woodlawn neighborhood. Crowd support is fantastic those first few shaded miles. I was surprised to hear one of my children’s swim coaches, Scott Venus, cheering me on! Truth be told, he was primarily there to support Leah Cardona.
Sadly, with the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, this may be the final time the course takes this route. The 5k diverts back into the park while the half marathoners continue onto South Lake Shore Drive through Jackson Harbor and out onto a 4-mile stretch with fantastic views of the city skyline until the 31st street turn around. This is one of the best supported races in the city and the volunteers staffing the perfectly placed aid stations are amazing.
Around mile 5 or 6, the race leaders were headed in on the other side of the course which always gives the age groupers a boost. Around that time, I heard my name again. It turned out to be Rich Hoskins, a friend from high school! We ran together for a bit catching up and motivating each other. It really is amazing how vast and yet tight knit the Chicago running community is.
A nice addition were live bands every few miles, which were especially encouraging after the turnaround. The last miles flew by with crowds of support lining the sides of the street through the final turn onto Hayes Drive where the gleaming bronze Statue of The Republic towers over the finish line where athletes receive enormous medals, water, Gatorade, Bomb Pops, chips and bananas. A live band, Lagunitas beer and Home Run Inn Pizza was also highlights of the finish festival.
This race proves why Chicago is a great city in which to run. While the course may be crowded, it is full of support, and that’s the main reason I come back to this event again and again.