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Thrilling Moments of The Chicago Marathon

Many half marathoners and marathoners are in the heart of training for their fall races.   Staying motivated and focused on race goals can be tough during the extreme heat and humidity.  If I read one, then I read twenty posts over the weekend where hugely committed runners are wondering how they’ll make it to race day.

Start_through_the_fence I'm no different, so lately I’ve drawn some inspiration from a handful of past Chicago Marathon experiences and some thrills I’m looking forward to at this year's race:

  • Warming up in Grant Park and being part of what TV viewers see of the pre-race spectacle from the aerial view
  • Lining up with tens of thousands of runners who have spent months planning, training, dreaming of the challenge and adventure of running 26.2 miles through Chicago
  • Standing in the corrals waiting for the race, feeling like both a gladiator and a captured animal at the same time.  I reflect on the hundreds of training miles, drink last gulps of water, and manage negative thoughts about running for the next several hours.
  • Running the early miles through downtown Chicago—very fitting running through the business district where the early marathon miles really mean business—requiring  attention to pace, navigating around  runners and saving the right amount of energy for later.
  • High_five Soaking up the euphoria of Chicago's spectators; bursting with enthusiasm, noise, almost devotion. They spill into the street forming a tunnel for runners to pass through.  At every corner, it’s as if the crowds are yelling, “We’ve been waiting for you marathoners to arrive!  We’re your biggest fans!”
  • Sticking out my hand and high-fiving little kids on every block.
  • Returning back into downtown Chicago from the North Side.  If you drive the course the day before the marathon, you see common streets and buildings.  On Sunday morning, the course is transformed into a carnival of people, signs, color, cheering, clapping, bells, horns, whistles—it is electrifying!
  • Dancing_at_marathon2 Passing through the dozen neighborhoods that turn out to showcase themselves with music, dancers, banners, and costumes.  The smell of ethnic food as we run down the streets doesn’t make a runner hungry, but it defines where we’re running.
  • Moving through the later adventurous miles, actually paying careful attention to running, monitoring stride, breathing, and overall energy.  Am I overdoing it or not pushing myself enough to stay on course?  Are my legs sore or just tired? 
  • Looking_at_watch_2 Looking at my watch at mile 16 and realizing that the winner—no matter who it is—has already crossed the finish line.  Amazing!
  • Running through magical Chinatown to the throng of fans, chants, drum beats and gongs.
  • Running the demanding final miles and wondering what effort it will take to finish.  The last miles require as much inner strength as muscular strength, plus a little luck. There’s a strain to each mile that’s different from the previous mile.
  • Thick, thunderous finish-line crowds in Grant Park raving like every finisher is an Olympian.
  • Crossing the finishing line, arms raised, beaming with pride and awe...
  • A volunteer draping a medal around my neck and saying congratulations like she means it, as if I’m the single-most important runner she was waiting to congratulate.
  • A finish area celebration with more revelry than Times Square on New Years Eve, confirming to me that the Chicago Marathon is one of the most satisfying, rewarding, renewing running experiences.

Admittedly, I'm a bit of an ambassador for the Chicago Marathon. 

Setting that aside, I hope everyone getting ready for a destination race—whether it’s a return to a favorite marathon or your 5k debut—try tapping into your running dream images.

By the way, is there a Chicago Marathoner’s blogroll anywhere?

High Fives on Flickr by Pigolin Colorado

Marathon Start on Flickr by Vivek Vaid

Dancers & Runner on Flickr by Senor Codo

Checking Watch on Flickr by Sarasita


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Oh man, that makes me excited for the race! I've never run Chicago before so this October will be my first time -- I can't wait!


I'm getting more pumped for the race! I've forgotten just how exciting it is and how much easier the task is when there are so many distractions!


Great post. You covered the essence of a marathon run through a great city. So much to see, so much different scenery, so many spectators, everything.

You made me wish I was running the Chicago Marathon.


I ran Chicago in 2005 and your post brings back memories and make me look forward to running it again this year!


Wow! Now I want to run Chicago, too! Sounds like you're really psyched about your upcoming race, Tom. Keep up the great training, and thanks for the motivating post.


Last year was my first marathon ever - debuting at Chicago - and it was awesome. Unlike anything I had ever seen before. Last year I was so focused on "just finishing" I forgot to look around and enjoy. This year, I'm going to soak in the sights and sounds.

Those first 14 miles fly by with all the wonderful crowd support in Chicago!


Jess, Gretchen, and David: Thanks for the comments. Sounds like you can appeciate the excitement. It just felt right to capture some of the high points that make running Chicago so incredible.

Brian and Sandy: Consider joining us next year. If you do, we'll meet and celebrate!

Nitmos: You're right about the first 14 miles. You'll take in so much more your second time around.

Keep up the great running and posting everyone!

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