The Interwebs Comes to Life – Chicago Marathon Weekend, Part 1

If you know me, you know I don’t really take vacations. I travel a lot, yes – in fact, if I’m home one weekend a month, I consider that to be a success lately – but I don’t really take vacations. It’s not because I don’t like them so much as it is that I am hoarding my vacation days for the cross-country travel to and from marathons and I generally consider anything else to be a “waste” of time. However, back in February, AJ and I decided that we would take an actual vacation and go to Chicago the first weekend in October. Obviously, the Chicago Marathon is that weekend, but instead of flying in right before and out right after, we were going to actually spend some time in the Windy City. Of course, a vacation with me is not particularly relaxing. We have to do ALL THE THINGS.

So AJ and I flew into Chicago and then began navigating the vast public transportation system, which is definitely not my area of expertise. I find public transportation intimidating at best, creepy at worst, but we had no alternative as our hotel was downtown and there was no need for a car while we were in the city. So we got to ride the famous “L” train…to a bus stop…and then take a bus to our hotel. At the risk of sounding snobby, I do not take buses to things. My mother told me that’s where people get kidnapped and I’m pretty sure it’s also where homeless people sometimes will pee on you if you’re not careful. Nonetheless, I sucked it up, all the while feeling a bit like Mitt Romney when he tries to pretend like he understands the middle class.

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Putting on my brave face for public transportation

AJ and I checked into our hotel, which was a super sweet Crowne Plaza, and I was informed that because I am a Platinum member of their points club (read: I travel for work every week and oh yeah, run marathons too and always stay in this chain of hotels), we had been upgraded to a suite and one of the nicest and biggest rooms in the whole hotel. The best part? I had used hotel points I had accumulated from work travel to pay for this entire weekend, meaning our hotel room was free in the first place and now it was a suite! Baller.

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Our view from the 16th floor. Did I mention we had two bathrooms? Because we DID.

Going to Chicago meant I was also going to meet some people I “know” through the blogging world, but have never actually met in real life. I refer to them as my internet friends. It’s a little weird when you’ve spent months communicating with someone via the interwebs and then you actually meet them in person. On Friday night, I got to meet Otter, who has been a regular commenter on this blog and has entertained me greatly with his quest to run at least one mile and drink at least one every day for a year. I promise you will find him entertaining as well. He introduced himself to me as Dan, though, which I found quite unsettling, as I have already cemented his identity in my mind as Otter, and it’s going to stay that way. We met up with him and Kristen after having dinner at the local brewery that was only two blocks from our hotel. What can I say? I’m a planner.

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I neglected to take a picture of my encounter with my new real life friend, so here’s one of me and Kristen instead.

In the latest edition of Adventures with Kristen, she had managed to lose her driver’s license within 6 hours of arriving in Chicago, meaning the our bar options were extremely limited. I guess it also meant that it could potentially be challenging for her to be allowed through airport security to catch her flight home, but you see where my priorities lie. This mean we ended up in a dive bar with a juke box, drunk women singing Journey at the top of their lungs, and me eating a brownie with whipped cream instead of drinking because I do what I want when I want. Sorry I’m not sorry.

On Saturday morning, my coach had scheduled me to do a 3 mile shakeout run before the marathon the next day. I absolutely love running in cities in the early morning before everyone is awake. You get to really experience how big and beautiful they are without all of the crowds, and it is so peaceful. I can honestly say that my early run through downtown Chicago that morning was one of the best runs of my life. It was cold and I was fast – every mile was 8 minute pace or faster, and I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop. I ended up running 5 miles instead of 3, and I ran it in 40 minutes. While stopping and taking pictures. I was on a roll.

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Geeking out every 5 seconds

I had such a huge smile on my face that people were looking at me really strangely. It probably did not help that as a group of construction workers walked past, I smiled at them and yelled “Y’all are SO LUCKY TO LIVE HERE! I LOVE THIS CITY!” They stared at me like I was from Mars, but I think that’s fair.

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Good morning, Lake Michigan!

After my run, we got our lives together and headed over to the Expo, since it was sure to be crowded later. I was going to be meeting up with Kelsey at the expo, who became my forever friend when we survived the Med-City Marathon together back in May. The expo was absolutely huge. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before – even bigger than Disney, with really cool vendors and easily the best race merchandise I have ever seen. Normally I don’t buy things at expos anymore because I have way too much running stuff, but I couldn’t resist another pair of shorts and another singlet. On the plus side,  I talked myself out of getting the jacket since I live in South Carolina and it’s literally cold enough to run in a jacket approximately 1 day per year here.

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It makes me sad that this is blurry. Hi Kelsey!!

Up next on the agenda was the Chicago Beer Festival, better known as AJ’s version of a marathon. For $40, you could drink as much craft beer as you wanted from 30 different vendors over the course of 3 hours. With my stomach being so screwy, I knew I shouldn’t drink too much, so I was faced with the often awkward task of either asking for “just a LITTLE” beer or pouring out the stuff that was really bad.

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The festival was held in Union Station, which is an extremely cool building and way too nice to have been a train station.

With college football being on, we headed back to the hotel for awhile to watch the Gamecocks absolutely massacre Georgia. Did y’all see that? It looks like the Gamecocks are for real this year. Our dinner reservations were during the game, so it was nice not to have to worry too much about the score since Carolina was playing a great game! We were headed to Quartino’s for dinner, where Otter had somehow secured 7:30 pm reservations at an Italian restaurant the night before a huge marathon. That takes some pretty serious dedication, in case you’ve never tried. We enjoyed an absolutely delicious (if not slightly chaotic, since the tables were made for children apparently) dinner, where I got to meet another of my internet friends!

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AJ, me, Otter, and Kristen

Dan is one of Otter’s best friends and is also a frequent commenter on this blog. He’s also a super fast marathoner who happens to live in Chicago too, and although he wasn’t running the marathon the next day, he stopped by dinner to say hello. Another internet friend becomes a real life friend, and I fail to take a picture yet again. Go figure. See you at Route 66, Dan!

After dinner, the pre-race anxiety started to set in. My stomach had been upset all day, and I was really worried about logistics. My legs were killing me from walking around all day in boots. What time would I need to wake up? How would I get to the starting line? Our hotel was 2 miles away from the start, but would there be cabs? What should I wear? What would I eat for breakfast? Would my planned fuel work this time and keep me from getting sick? How would I find my friend JC, who was supposed to pace me, in a crowd of 45,000 people? Would I be able to run under 5 hours?

Meh. Why worry when you can sleep? I needed all the rest I could get if I was going to attempt a sub-5 in the morning on tired legs.

Leave a comment: Have you ever worn yourself out the day before a race by sight-seeing too much? What happened?

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