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My Kind Of Town

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Route 16 Running and Walking
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The Chicago Marathon 

 

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By Sandra Madden

 

10/9/16 – Chicago

I placed my bid for the Chicago Marathon at the end of winter. Historically I’ve experienced a lack of lottery success in any arena. But I harbored a bit of optimism as I was born and raised in the Windy City and frankly, I felt entitled.

The lottery gods clearly agreed.  I received a notice of acceptance to run the 39th Chicago Marathon, one of the World Marathon Majors. My reaction was expected; immediate joy and crazy happiness. I was returning to my home town in an entirely different capacity than daughter, sister, cousin or niece. I was returning as a 65 year old runner who would be retracing some of her childhood and young woman footsteps. But much wiser and stronger with very different goals.

My family was thrilled for me and supportive of my visit. My two sisters offered transportation to the Expo and race. Naively as it turned out, as all of us were initially clueless about road closures and traffic. Friends and work colleagues were equally happy for me, but added a warning; “Don’t get shot!” Chicago had become a high crime rate city and the daily newscasts were reflecting violent events. But, hey, I lived in Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s and could effortlessly and safely cross a busy intersection without looking both ways. Big city girl am I.

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Sandra and Paul

My brother, Paul, accompanied me to the Abbott Health and Fitness Expo. He’s embraced the running culture recently and has completed two half marathons. He’s never experienced the fever of a large Expo and the amazing quantity of vendors. I eagerly guided him thru the aisles of food and gear. The amazement in his eyes made the Expo all the more fun for me. Seasoned big sister nonchalantly guiding younger brother thru the maze of racing humanity. I had no doubt this Expo would result in the creation of yet another marathon hopeful.

At an information booth, I received great instructions on how to use the subway system. My plan was to catch a ride to Midway Airport (I was staying in a suburb 30 miles west of the airport), and grab a line that would take me within a few blocks of my destination, Grant Park. I was assured that the airport would be a popular dropping off place for runners. I was relieved to find this to be true.

I was dropped off at the station at 5:30 AM and the sky was still pitch black. Somewhat daunting. But as predicted, runners began filling the station at a fast rate and soon the train cars were filled. Non-runner riders were enveloped in a sea of infectious adrenaline. Then like lemmings to the sea, runners exited the cars and trooped out to the streets of downtown Chicago.

In the eerie morning pre-dawn light, runners headed to their assigned gates in Grant Park toward the start corrals. The organization of over 40,000 runners was fantastic. Dozens of volunteers directed us to the gear drop and corrals. Of course, security was strict and all bags were searched. Those not wearing their bibs were escorted away from the park entrance.

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Sandra

The beauty of the race was the early start. Wave 1 start time was 7:30 and Wave 2 at 8AM. Weather at the start was in the 50’s, so not too chilly, but still, it was great to not have to mill around for hours waiting your turn.

The oddest experience for me was, while waiting in my corral minutes prior to the start, runners began shedding their warm clothing and water bottles right where they were standing. Typically this is done prior to entering a corral, perhaps saving one article of clothing to toss after the first mile or so. As we slowly began approaching the start and as speed increased, I was dodging hoodies and gloves and sweaters and plastic bottles. Trip material!

The Chicago Marathon was once dubbed “a peoples race anyone can come and enjoy”. And so it was. The race boasted 1.7 million spectators as it wound through 29 neighborhoods.

My eyes darted back and forth as I tried to recognize my old stomping grounds. Old Town and the Irish bars my friends and I frequented. Where’s Rush Street and the disco lounges? I think my apartment was right around the corner! But too many years have passed and infrastructure morphed. I recognized very little and decided to just enjoy my run.

Aid stations were every 1-2 miles apart. The crowds were exuberant and their cheers spirited us along the miles like a leaf in the breeze. The sun was shining as the temperature hovered in the mid 60’s. Perfect.

Immediately prior to making the last turn toward the finish line, a giant screen hung well above the runners. I didn’t know if we were being televised but I knew if someone was going to see me turning that corner, less than a half mile from victory, I was going to look good! So I projected myself in that screen waving my arms and grinning and that awesome experience carried me through across the 26.2 finish line and back into Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain.

Of course, goodies abounded. Fruit and chocolate and water and chips, and yummy power bars. Goose Island Brewpub was handing out free cups of beer, filled to the top, which added to that post race high.

It was on to the gear check and back to the subway station for me. During that 4 block walk, my finish medal exposed, I was congratulated by all those I passed.

My finish was especially elegant as I was able to celebrate with my family that evening. This was a first and their support was heartwarming and inspiring.

 

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Chicago Marathon Finisher

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Brother and sisters reunion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I relaxed in that post marathon glow and wondered if anyone I  knew from the past, over 30 years ago, had participated as a runner or spectator.

No matter. I was proud to have completed this marathon, in my home town, with memories of the past, like a pacer, running beside me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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