A Chicago marathon sandwich

by - 13:25

I remember opening the email to say I had been successful in the ballot for Chicago and thinking wow. I never thought I would be successful in obtaining a place, yet here I was looking at this email and feeling how lucky I was to receive it. The logistics came next, a family weekend in Chicago was booked.

I don't think I quite believed I was actually going to run the Chicago marathon even when we arrived in Chicago. I had booked a hotel that was walking distance to the start line, to make things a little easier and it really was in the perfect spot. The hotel was a 45 minute ride from the airport and could not have been better. We stayed at the Omni, for those interested, and they went out of their way to welcome the children. They  were each handed a little drawstring bag containing games, puzzles, crayons, activity book and binoculars! The girls loved this, and I thought it was a great touch. We opened the door to our hotel room and the girls had each received a letter welcoming them to the hotel and wishing them a nice stay.

Straight to the expo to collect the race numbers, I worry until I have that number in my hand so wanted to get it out the way. Opposite our hotel was the Nike shop and a block down was a free shuttle bus to the expo. This got all 3 children very excited, a ride on the bus. Funny how children love the really simple things like a bus ride. Only this time I was quite excited too as it was an American school bus, one of the yellow ones! How cool!


The expo was huge, not quite as big as Berlin but bigger than London and of course there were plenty of deals to be had. I found an amazing deal on a watch but it was still a fair amount of money. My youngest loved that people were giving her free sweets and I think my eldest was just amazed at all the running gear! I now had my marathon number and t shirt and also mine and my daughters 5km numbers. It still felt very surreal, was I really about to do this?

Perhaps unsurprisingly from a 9 hour flight and a 6 hour time difference all the children had fallen asleep by 6pm. It had been a busy day. My eldest and I had an early start as we were running the Chicago International 5km in the morning.

Early to bed meant early to rise, all children were awake by 4am, never mind our race started at 7.30 and we needed to walk to the start and be there by 6.30. We left the hotel ready for the walk to the start, then the rain came. The rain was relentless. Heavy, but warm rain. Thunder and lightening. My daughter started to panic about getting struck by lightening. We took shelter under a building with a few other runners. The start was delayed in a bid to let the worst of the weather to pass.


By now we were soaked to the skin, wet shoes from the many puddles. My daughter was certainly not very happy and did not want to be put down. The rain cleared and we were called to the start line.


The race was so much fun. My eldest was running really well and at one point I was pretty convinced I might have got a PB on the course. We had covered 3.5km in 20minutes! The streets of Chicago were well supported and my daughter seemed to like that people were cheering for her. She couldn't quite understand that we were running on the actual road. The last 1.5km though I think the wet shoes finally got to her and she was starting to get cold. It took 7minutes to get to just over 4km and with it my PB was no more, but there was still a chance for her. 

I was encouraging her to keep going, the other runners keep cheering for her and she really tried. It took another 10minutes for us to reach the finish line. Then she did what she always does when she spots the finish, starts sprinting. We had a sprint to the finish line. We were handed a medal, goody bag and a hat. The smile on her face was fantastic. Grinning from ear to ear. She loved it but was just annoyed about wet feet. On our walk home we stopped at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, well it had to be done!

My daughter was buzzing with excitement so a quick stop to dry her shoes and pick up her siblings from the hotel and we were straight back out to explore the city. It hadn't gone 10am yet and so many of the shops were still shut. We simply walked around looking at the architecture. The buildings in Chicago are stunning. The weather was bad, cloudy and raining so we decided not to climb the towers as the bad weather would have restricted the views. Instead we took shelter in shops and walked around the city when we could. 


Our adventures took us to the Navy pier. This was all indoors and just perfect for the bad weather. There was so much to explore and do and the girls loved the interactive wall.


After lunch and a little bit of shopping we headed into the Children's museum, it was amazing. I wish we had found it earlier in the day because we really could have spent all day there, in fact we ended up getting kicked out because they were closing and we hadn't gone round all the exhibits.


We started in construction where my eldest designed and made a chair from scratch. Even working out how to overcome stability issues. My youngest built a thingy, I have no idea what it was but she took great pride in building it. Little Man however let his OCD go into overdrive. He had to collect up all the screws and neatly place them in every hole. 


The museum is divided into sections. A water play section, where my youngest discovered water painting. A section on emergency services, where you could have a go at escaping a room filled with smoke, and this section was about animals so there were areas to climb and tunnels to scamper through.


I quite enjoyed the dinosaur section where we had to use tools to uncover the hidden dinosaur bones.


Little Man seemed to enjoy the village area, as he could drive a bus and a car. He likes his vehicles!


Time flew by as before we knew it staff came and said the museum was closing and we had to leave. Little Man really wasn't very happy by this idea and to be honest neither was the girls. It was however dinner time and time therefore to start our walk back to the hotel. 


As a special treat on our way back to the hotel we stopped at Dylan's candy bar. I don't think I have ever seen the girls quite so excited. They really were kids in a sweet shop. Every single type of sweet you can imagine. Every flavour chocolate. There was candy floss that was almost as big as the girls. It was amazing and the girls wanted everything. 


When we arrived back at the hotel the girls made signs so they could cheer me on the next morning. I found the route in a magazine and the girls helped me draw on the hotel and worked out places they could stand to cheer me on the run. All that was left to do now was get my running kit ready for the morning.

It perhaps goes without saying that I didn't sleep very well that night. I kept waking up to check the clock. That nervous panic of missing your race. 

An early start, it was still dark outside, I opened the blinds and saw the rain. The tough decision of should I take a coat or not began. I opted to take one knowing I would be seeing my family on route and I could always pass it on to them. It was a short walk to the start line and as I got closed the number of runners increased until slowly it became a sea of runners nervously all walking in the same direction.


I found my starting block and went through several levels of security in order to enter the runners area. I don't think I have ever gone through so much security before a race, although I can fully understand it was a slight surprise. The temperature had dropped and I was starting to get cold. A fine mist was covering the tops of all the buildings and rain started and stopped. It was almost perfect running weather, almost.

The wait in the starting pen seemed to take forever to begin to move. We heard them start the elite runners but there were no screens to watch any of the race like their had been in Berlin. Eventually we began to move forward and it was our time to start. I was here on the start line of the Chicago marathon.

Crossing the start line didn't feel real, it was a total out of body experience. Here I was running the Chicago marathon. I knew the girls and Little Man would be somewhere on course within the first 3 mile and so I kept my eyes open looking for them. Experience now tells me to set off steady, and I have a mini laugh as I watch others set off far too quickly around me. I know full well I will catch them later on. 

The streets were lined with people. All cheering and clapping, the support was amazing especially considering the weather. I felt good and I could see a 4.40 pacer behind me. I wondered how long I could keep them there for. 

The weather was rubbish, cold and raining but in some ways it made running a little easier. I spotted my children just after the mile marker seeking shelter in the underpass and it was great to get some high 5s from them. I knew they were out and so I kept looking for them on the way round. The road travelled up and out towards the zoo. The signs were rather amusing 'Run fast, we haven't yet located the missing Lion' and similar signs. It made me chuckle and running felt good. In fact it felt great, the best I have felt in a long time. 

The different districts brought about different music and different types of people. All cheering and all supporting. I loved the change in scenery it kept things so interesting and it also gave you a sense of Chicago. Drink stations were really regular, it seemed to be every mile or thereabouts. Each had water and Gatorade. I was a little disappointed that the only flavour available was orange, I rather like the lemon and lime gatorade!

At half way Gatorade also had chews which I also really like so took a packet to keep me going, but I was feeling good and taking in the scenery. An almost out and back followed which the turn around seem to take forever but once again the crowd support was amazing and really got you through. At mile 20 we hit a dance station and the vast majority of runners, myself included, started doing the YMCA. I mean why not!!

My favourite sign I have ever seen was on a dog near here, it said 'Run as if I saw a squirrel' I mean you can't argue with that. China town saw the only real incline in the whole race, just a shame it is near mile 21. Then it hit me. I went really dizzy and a wave of nausea came over me. I couldn't shift it. I steadied myself and started walking in the hope it would clear. The smell of the fried chicken place near did not help. I panicked that I would not finish. I had come so far and was doing so well. I felt shocking.

One foot in front of the other that's all I had to do.

I kept going and around mile 23 I started to run a little. Although slowly. I had to finish this.

One of my favourite Instagram accounts and an amazing runner was waiting at mile 25. My plan was to get to him and then all that was left was the final mile home. Streets were becoming more crowded now and people were out cheering, clapping and making noise. It was utterly amazing. The atmosphere was buzzing. I was approaching mile 25 and looking for a person who I had only ever met online. I thought I saw them, I ran to them and gave them a hug. Turns out it wasn't them but I did make a random strangers day and it gave me a rather funny boost to get me through that last mile. 

It seemed to work. I turned a corner and I was back near the start again, in fact I could see the finish. A lady behind me was crying in pain and I told her we could both do this, the finish was there in sight, almost touching distance. I ran, or at least I tried to. The finish getting closer and closer. 

Relief.

Pure and utter relief that I had crossed that line. Relief that I hadn't collapsed when I came so close to and just pure relief I kept the contents of my stomach in!

I had done it, star number 3!

I started walking over to where they were handing out medals, joined a queue and then heard two girls say 'Aren't you a famous runner?' I looked up and laughed to myself, as the lady responded 'I used to be an elite athlete' I then almost kind of answered for her in a oh my goodness look who gave me my medal kind of way.


I did wonder at this point if I had actually collapsed and this was some kind of weird dream and did actually pinch myself to make sure!

I wandered through the sea of people. Tired runners. Family members looking for their loved ones and out the park. After a 5 minute walk I found my family sat waiting for me. They hadn't seen me again on course, and hadn't seen me finish but at least they were close by.

After a walk back to the hotel talking to the girls about all things running, followed by an ice bath and a change of clothes we headed out for dinner at the House of Blues. Which was the perfect after marathon treat. Our flight home was in the morning and I was said to be leaving Chicago, it is a truly beautiful city.

Before leaving I collected a newspaper with a special marathon edition print, well I had to check to make sure it really happened!


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