Last November, while still on a high after finishing the NYC Marathon — my second marathon in 7 days — I was really craving another marathon visit to another major city. As luck would have it, the Chicago Marathon drawing was open right then so I threw my name in the hat.

I mean, why not? I had only ever been to Chicago once and that was 19 years ago when I was a senior in high school and what better reason than a marathon to return. So I entered figuring that a few years from now, I would be selected … I mean, it took me six years of attempts to get into the New York City Marathon. A few weeks later, I got the email — I was in on my very first try!

Now that it’s over, let me just say that logistically this was seriously the best run large marathon I’ve been a part of. I stayed in a hotel that was a mile from the start — and since the start was also the finish — and the finish in Grant Park. Easily walkable on both ends. They also ran free shuttles from sites all over the city to the Expo both Friday and Saturday. The city itself is so easy to navigate. The subway system runs all the way out to both major Chicago airports and in my down time I rented the Divvy bike share bikes to get around.

Race morning, I met my friend Tam and together we walked to the start. Because we haven’t seen each other since January, we had lots to chat about and before we knew it we were standing in the insanely long port-a-john lines right in front of the beautiful Buckingham Fountain as the sun came up over Grant Park.

Then, it was GO time — 8:30AM start time and I was off headed north, back toward the hotel where I saw my friend Liz who had traveled to Chicago with me to be my on-course support.

At mile 2, I also saw my friend Danielle, cheering me on from the sidelines. Feeling good. At this point, I was settling into a nice effort so I checked my pace — 8:08/mile … that can’t be right. It wasn’t. My GPS watch had picked up an extra ½ mile already. So I just kept trucking along with the goal of maintaining a pace that was “comfortably quick” since I clearly couldn’t rely on my watch to pace me correctly.

It was a gorgeous day, clear blue skies, not a single cloud in sight. And at about mile 6, I was wishing for some cloud cover. The sun reflecting off the buildings and no shade in sight — it was really heating up. But I managed to stay in the zone, taking in the amazing city and the incredible crowd support.

At mile 12, Liz was shouting for me from the sidewalk — a really nice surprise since I didn’t expect to see another familiar face for a few more miles. I was pretty warm but still feeling pretty comfortable, cruising along at a nice consistent pace — even if I couldn’t tell exactly what that pace was.

Near mile 17, I started scanning the crowds for signs of my friend Danielle again. This was my last chance to see a friend on the course until I finished. I had already run a little past her when I saw her standing along the course with a sign that read “free hugs & high fives”.

I veered off the course and practically pounced on her.

She offered me stuff from her bag of goodies and I was on my way again — 9 more miles to go.

I don’t remember much between miles 18 and 23 except the bees. There were bees everywhere — flying at my face as I ran, hanging out on the Gatorade cups, everywhere. I’ve never seen anything like it. During that stretch, I just remember telling myself to run “comfortably quick” and (for the love of God) DO NOT swallow a bee.

At mile 23, it was time for a bathroom stop … ugh, the worst. It took me about ½ mile to get my legs going again in any real rhythm. It didn’t help that by this point, many of the runners on the course with me were now walking through the aid stations and they started to get super congested … plus, you know, the bees. Most notably, I started to feel that my shoulders and face were sunburnt.

In the final few miles of the race, I was able to get myself going at a consistent “comfortably quick” pace again. And when I hit mile 25, I felt really strong so I started to pick up the pace again. At mile 26, I was moving — even when we started the slight climb to the finish line (the only real hill I remember in the entire course).

I came in with a time of 4:25 and some change — not too shabby considering I really hadn’t trained for speed at all this year. This super flat and fun course definitely worked in my favor.

When I decided to enter the lottery for this race, I truly didn’t expect it to be one of my favorite marathons — but it totally was and for so many reasons. I highly recommend this marathon for its big city race amenities with a supportive spectators and midwestern charm. I, for one, would love to have the chance to do this one again.

It was an amazing race in an even more amazing city. Thank you, Chicago.

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