My friend Kaitlin read my marathon recap and said, “That’s it?” She was surprised by how short my post was after all those months of training and wanted to know more about the race. Though I’m not going to give you a play-by-play of my physical status at each mile, I will present to you this list of 26 things I loved about the 2015 Chicago Marathon—even though it was hard to pick just 26! (And no, it’s not 26.2 things long because that just doesn’t make sense).
1. The “L”
I love good public transit, especially when I’m trying to keep my legs fresh for a big race. I stayed with a friend in Logan Square and jumped right on the blue line Sunday morning. It was fun to see all of the other marathoners up early with their plastic gear check bags, crammed onto the train cars just like me. Better yet, I followed their lead all the way to Grant Park.
2. Chicago carbs
Pizza, people! Is there a better city to carbo-load in than the Windy City? My marathon eve dinner at Reno was exactly the fuel I needed. Kale salad with avocado tahini dressing, cavatelli pasta with truffle oil and gouda, plus a thin-crust pizza topped with scallions, crimini mushrooms and chorizo. (P.S. You should try their breakfast bagels sometime, too.)
3. The expo
I made as quick an appearance as I could because I hate weaving through crowds, but the ease of packet pick-up was impressive. In and out, just how I like it! My favorite part was the video of the course, which fast forwards through each mile. It gets you excited to run through the streets of Chicago and prepares you for what’s to come at each turn.
4. Lots of porta-potties
Hey, it’s a big deal. There were enough of ’em to keep lines down. I only had to wait 10 minutes or so to use the bathroom one last time before heading into Corral E. (Nevermind that I thought my bladder was going to burst once I was in said corral.)
5. Staggered start times
Because otherwise you would be trampled. Even though I was at the tail-end of wave 1, I appreciated this. Here’s a dorky and unflattering selfie I took of myself while waiting to cross the start line around 7:45 a.m. OK, I crossed it at 7:46:12, if you want to get technical.
6. Magic carpets
Well, not actually magic. But the red carpets covering the metal grating on the downtown bridges keep you from tripping and falling on your face in front of thousands of spectators. I appreciated them.
7. Dancing bananas—with boomboxes!
Seriously. Whoever I saw dressed up in a banana costume blasting 99 Luftballoons, you made my day.
8. Long gatorade and water stations
Don’t stop at the first water cup you see—it’ll likely get snatched up by another thirsty runner, and there are plenty more to follow anyway. And don’t forget to thank your volunteer/savior!
9. Cup rakers
You know, those poor volunteers stuck raking thousands of paper cups off the course as runners herd through the water stations. We owe you so much.
10. Chafe stations
AKA slap-and-go vaseline boards at aid stations. I lucked out and didn’t need to use any, but I imagine this was a godsend for some.
11. High fivers
And all the nice spectators out there! The whole course was bursting with cheering fans. My favorites are always those hoisting “Touch here for power” signs, because I swear they work.
12. Orange slices
Lots of adorable little kids were handing them out. Even though I didn’t eat any, I appreciated the natural fuel option.
13. Stan’s Donuts
Because let’s be real, these were what I was really craving. As I passed by one of the shops and smelled that sugary goodness in the air, all I wanted was one of Stan’s Nutella pockets.
14. The Elvis impersonator
He’s around mile 10, and you can’t miss him. There’s something about that bedazzled white jumpsuit that brings a smile to your face, even if your hip’s already hurting.
15. Kilometer markers
They keep me sane while ticking off miles till the finish line.
16. Cheer zones
17. That skyline
Lest I forget one of the best things of all, Chicago’s skyscrapers and distinct neighborhoods set the perfect backdrop. If you’re gonna run 26.2 miles, you might as well do it in one of America’s coolest cities.
18. No hills
Only a few slight inclines. The only thing that resembles a hill is your last turn up into the finish chute. Revel in that flat midwestern landscape!
Ah, the colorful murals, maracas shaking in time to pop music and the spicy smell of Mexican food. If you can’t tell, this was my favorite neighborhood to run through. I loved all of the motivating “Sí, se puede” signs.
20. Gummy bears
Tastier than fuel gels, right?
If you’re running (and you’re a mere mortal), you won’t get a chance to see them race. But it’s pretty cool to follow in their footsteps.
22. TV cameras
Maybe it’s just me, but the presence of cameras on the course kept me looking strong. Race face snapshots are bad enough, but videos are on a whole ‘nother level.
I loved passing through the red Chinatown gate around mile 22 and seeing people dancing in flashy dragon costumes amid the clatter of cowbells. A little extra motivation to get you through the great 23-mile wall ahead.
24. The finish line
You get a medal! You’re done! Congrats!
Even better than the medal, in my opinion. That cup of Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat at the finish line does a body good. But you have to finish it before heading into the post-race party area.
Last but not least, a HUGE thanks to all of the sweet volunteers who woke up early to cater to all of us crazy marathon runners. Even though the Chicago Marathon is a giant race, everything moved along so smoothly.
Two thumbs up, Chicago! Even though I’m only giving one in this pic from the expo.