The Connection Runners + weather

2011 Chicago Marathon Spectating Recap

It's 10:02 on Monday, and without even unpacking my Nike duffel bag, I'm sitting down to write this recap.

Even though I didn't run the race, watching my husband and friends and, oh, about 44,995 other runners complete the Chicago Marathon was an exhilarating and inspiring experience.

The weekend kicked off on Friday with a stop in Kalamazoo to meet with friends Matt and Kara en route to Chicago. We had dinner in downtown Kalamazoo with Phish and Shannon, our other Kzoo homies (fyi: Phish's real name is Eric, but it would be ridiculous to actually call him Eric).

Our plan was to wake up early on Saturday, drive to Michigan City, Indiana, and take the commuter train from there into downtown Chicago.

Despite a crowded and sweaty train ride, in which I got a mean case of the pregnancy "I'm going to die due to the heat right now" crazies, taking the train proved to be a cheap (only $8/person) and efficient (read: no Chicago traffic) alternative to driving.

We'd booked a room at The Palmer House Hilton a mere two weeks prior to the event. It was expensive at $299/night, but we took what we could get at the last minute. The Palmer was close to the start/finish lines and near the EL Train (great public transport for getting around town).

Plus, the lobby area reminded me somewhat of the grand staircase from Titanic. But where the hell was Jack Dawson?

After grabbing a quick, tasty Mediterranean lunch at Roti, our friend/amazing ad hoc tour guide, Brandon, graciously schleped us over to the Expo.

To sum up the Expo in a few words: crowded, but overall GREAT organization and ease of movement for a 45,000-runner race. Packet and t-shirt pick-up were quick and painless. Vendor booths were spread out, avoiding the snake formation of booths that so many expos have.

We paused to snap a few touristy-style "Start Line" photos, too.

Oh, hey there, LBA Bump. Glad you could join us for your second-ever race expo.

The remainder of Saturday was spent navigating Chicago and heading to another friend's (Emily) place for a spaghetti dinner.

Sunday's 5 a.m. alarm came all too soon, though, and the four of us - me and Kevin, Matt and Kara - quickly got our acts together to meet friend Kevin for breakfast and a short walk to the start line.

Since spectators aren't allowed in the corral area - a smart move on the part of the race organizers! - Kara and I said our goodbyes and good lucks and parted ways with the fellas.

A good lookin' group of dudes. Me likey.

Morning temps were already in the mid-60's, with forecasts for highs in the mid-70's, which is pretty warm for race day (hence the yellow "moderate" alert flag you see behind the guys there).

Kara and I headed for the start line in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the elites. It was the first, and hopefully only, time I'll get to see those peeps all lined up, so I wanted to snag a photo or two.

Spectators can't get too close to the start line either, so I threw on my trusty 50-250mm lens and fired away, hoping for at least one cool shot of Ryan Hall and eventually ended up with this gem.

There it was: the face of anticipation among world-class runners. Amazing!

After the first few thousand runners passed by in starting, Kara and I began the trek to the first of four planned stops to see our guys along the route.

Spectating tip/lesson learned: Planning out "I'll see you there" stops with your runners is highly beneficial!

We met (said tour guide) Brandon and his wife, Jess, at Mile Two. As we chatted away, we almost missed the guys run by. So much for all that "planning" I just talked about.

They looked great at Mile Two, and we had prime spectating views as we stood along State Street.

As Jess is a marathon vet herself, Brandon has become quite the spectating specialist and directed us to a spot about a half mile past the half-marathon mark for our next stop.

Kevin and Kevin are in front here, with Matt just behind my Kevin. They were holding a nice, steady pace, and were excited to see us again.

My Kevin even stopped to give me and LBA a huge hug and a kiss, and then he whipped off his sweaty tank for me to hold. That's real love, people.

Friend Kevin's girlfriend Cassie met us at this point, and after parting ways with Brandon and Jess, we ladies headed off to Mile 17 for our next spectating view point.

Cassie brought along some sweet signs for us to hold, and they came in handy when the guys rolled through a hot mile over the bridge we were watching from. At this point, the sun was broiling, and runners were sweating everywhere.

Friend Kevin had separated from my Kevin and Matt at this point as the latter two gents weren't feeling all that great.

Still, they plugged away, and we took off shortly after our sighting. Our final meet-up was planned for Mile 25.5ish.

Cassie, Kara, and I made the long walk down Harrison to Michigan Avenue to catch the guys on the home stretch. We'd gotten some text updates with their splits and knew they were running behind their original goals.

Regardless of being in pain, they all looked awesome coming down the road. Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you're going to finish a marathon, and their faces showed that excitement, I think.

We couldn't see them at the actual finish line because it was uber-crowded there, so we planned on meeting at the first aid tent just outside of the finishers' party.

After a long walk up to the reunite area, we tracked the boys down who were celebrating their finish with a post-race beer (and I died a little inside because a post-race beer is always the best beer).

Even though they all ran over their original goal times, they were happy to be finished and we ladies were all so very proud of them.

Our lady friends Liz and Kristen also ran the race, but I didn't get any snaps of them because they were running behind the guys, and we couldn't coordinate it all. (Sorry, L & K - next time I'll solely watch for YOU! ha!)

While I initially felt some resentment because I wasn't able to run the race, spectating definitely gave me a new appreciation for the sport. I was able to witness the things I'd never be able to while competing - funny signs, a girl almost puking, faces showing joy and grief and pain, thousands of runners just wanting to make their mark on the beast that is The Marathon.

And of course, watching 45,000 runners pass me by only intensified my desire to come back next year, stronger and faster than ever before.

Cheers, Chicago Marathoners, to a great race!

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2011 Chicago Marathon Spectating Recap + weather