This weekend I attended my first Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a media member. While it was not my first time viewing the race as a spectator, being there as a reporter forced me to be way more observant, and what I noticed was pretty incredible. I had several “proud parent” moments as I walked around the city that I have known for 22 years, which ultimately led me to the conclusion that The Bank of America Chicago Marathon weekend is by far, the best weekend in Chicago.
Moment 1: Let’s start with Thursday; my coworkers and I attended the press conference where we heard race director Carey Pinkowski and others affiliated with the race talk about the race’s impact on the city. Much of this was already-known information, as the Chicago Marathon had recently announced that the 2015 race brought $277 million to the city, and obviously bringing in more than 50,000 people is bound to make an impact on our economy.
However, when Pinkowski recognized the seven men who have run every Chicago Marathon since its beginning, I almost had chills – not only have these men ran 38 marathons, which in itself is very impressive, but they continue to run into their 70s because they love the feeling Chicago’s race gives them. And, despite their age, they all looked really good! If these individuals are not an inspiration to anyone who thinks they can’t run a marathon, I don’t know what is.
Moment 2: After the press conference on Thursday, we headed to the expo to set up our booth (which is why I didn’t write a column last week). Although the expo still required a lot of work, I could already tell that the energy inside the building was optimistic – I did a quick scan of the other booths, and noticed that companies from all over the United States, and even from other countries, had come to be present at the Chicago Marathon expo. This is when my coworker told me that this expo was the biggest in the country, even bigger than the New York City Marathon expo. This made me feel like a small fish in a big pond, but a very proud fish to be in that pond.
Moment 3: Saturday morning, I ran the debut International Chicago 5K, and to say I didn’t do it for the awesome hat would be a lie. While I knew that the title indicated it would be an international race, I guess I didn’t really take that literally. Once I arrived to the starting area though, I noticed runners sporting shirts from dozens of different countries. On the course, spectators were yelling in all different languages on the sidelines, and the announcer broadcasted the different countries represented on the finish line. All of this together gave Chicago the feeling of unity and diversity, ultimately achieving the goal of the international race theme.
Moment 4: After the 5K ended, I was walking down Michigan Avenue to where I parked my car, and literally almost got trampled by a group of runners. I didn’t ask what they were a part of, but it was more than likely a running club, doing a shakeout run together before the marathon. There must have been 30 of them, all smiling and talking, helping each other prepare for what they were going to tackle the next morning.
This group wasn’t unusual, either – basically everywhere I looked, I saw people running, or walking with their race packets, anticipating the next day’s activities, and smiling at those they passed with a seemingly unspoken bond. I didn’t feel like I was in Chicago anymore, I felt like I was in a secret club where only runners have the password, and when I stopped for coffee and told the barista I wasn’t running the marathon, I was disappointed because I wanted to be a part of that club.
Moment 5: Finally, it was race day. It had been a long weekend until this point, and I was exhausted. I’ll even admit I was looking forward to the end of the race because I knew it was going to be another long day, and all I wanted to do was lay on my couch watching Gilmore Girls. But, as the theme of the weekend continued, my mind was quickly changed. Much like after the 5K, when I got downtown before the marathon, the city was overflowing with runners. I saw one person, just one, who was obviously not aware of the marathon’s occurrence, and they actually looked frightened, that’s how intimidating it was on Michigan Avenue that morning.
But again, I was in awe – as I wandered down the streets by myself, admittedly not sure where I was even supposed to go, I just looked at everyone’s face. Expressions of apprehension and excitement filled the crowds, but I took it as a sign of motivation, that these 40,000 people were finally going to accomplish what they have been waiting and working towards for so long. It appeared to be a similar feeling I felt before my half marathon, but observing it from the outside almost gave me more inspiration than I had standing on any start line.
Moment 6: During the race was no different. Instead of seeing expressions of nervousness, I witnessed some of pain, some of competitiveness and some of pure blankness. What got me most during the race, though, was the spectators. I immediately went to mile two to take pictures, and was not the only one who had that idea; for about four blocks, the streets were jammed with people holding signs and waiting for their runners to pass. But the best part was that nearly everyone was constantly cheering – whether they knew the runners or not, they showed support and maintained a positive persona for probably hours. That can be just as hard as running.
I then headed towards mile 13, and while I knew I’d be waiting a bit, I wanted to see the elites pass. Shortly after I arrived, the wheelchair athletes started coming around the corner, and I will admit, I teared up when the scarce number of spectators started cheering. Not one of us could relate or understand what they were going through, but knowing how difficult it must be, almost made these cheers a lot more meaningful than to the ones for the runners. So, quick shout out to all of the wheelchair athletes, you truly amaze me.
Moment 7: The best part about being a member of the media is all of the VIP treatment. I was able to go into the hospitality tent, get some free, delicious food, and relax before getting a prime spot at the finish line to take pictures of the finishers. Can’t get much better than that, right? Wrong.
Once I made my way to the finish line, the elite athletes were about a minute away. First, Abel Kirui crossed, and immediately broke out into a celebratory dance. The first female finisher, Florence Kiplagat, did the same, and came back out moments later to welcome her sister who also competed, rather than resting. I’m thankful I had my camera covering my face, so none of the other photographers would know how much of a sap I was being. This pattern continued throughout the rest of the morning; people finished while cheering, smiling, hugging and celebrating with others around them, while myself and other reporters documented it, as if the entire city of Chicago were celebrating together.
Moment 8: When I went to bed Sunday night, I expected everything to go back to normal the following morning. However, coming into work on Monday, I noticed that our social media had completely blown up from pictures and videos I shared, and I had a few contact me about their race experience too. Throughout the rest of the day, I saw so many posts and pictures, and shared more of our own, and seeing our readers be so excited about our content was the ultimate #MondayMotivation.
Chicago truly transformed into a different city last weekend; not once did I have a conversation about the current election, or about anything negative at all, and it was really refreshing.
Even if you are not a runner, I think everyone needs to experience the Chicago Marathon at least once; there is not one ounce of negativity, and no matter where you go, everyone looks genuinely happy to be where they are. Being involved in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon weekend in some way is being a part of something so big, so incredible and so positive at one time, and nothing, not even Lollapalooza or the Taste of Chicago, can live up to it. But, we will have ourselves a tie if the Cubs win the World Series.