Is there such thing as an “Elite Spectator?” Trademark, Dave Masterson, All Rights Reserved!
I arrived Thursday morning before anything marathon-related was underway. I stayed in my brother’s hotel, he was in town early to attend meetings for his company. I ate lunch at Portillo’s first (a must!), then rented a Divvy bike for the day. I had a good time by myself reacquainting myself with the city. I used the bikes to see some of the 5k run course, the Lakefront, riverfront bridges, Grant Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, and the Loop. It was sunny weather and cooler than Florida – a welcome change! Dinner was at the Kerryman Irish Pub with John and his coworker, Ken.
Friday morning, I woke up and ran 6 miles around the lakefront and Grant Park area. The race facilities started taking shape, jeez this is a big production. Different than New York and Boston, all start and finish area things are in the same place. That is an amazing logistical feat, so many tents, trucks, and things to support 40,000 plus athletes and many more spectators. I moved our luggage to the Chicago Hilton while my brother, John, worked, this was our base for the weekend. Having a room up high in the race’s host hotel added so much to the experience!
Since I rented the Divvy bikes for a 24-hour day, I rode it to the Expo on Friday morning. It was very crowded! I thought the largest crowds would be Saturday, but Friday had McCormick Place Convention Center full of runners and run fans. I met Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor, two cheery and personable lady running legends. One guy, I believe he was with RRCA, had old photos of Joan from in the 1980s. He gave them to her, I think she knew him from far-gone racing days. The expo had many vendors, this is one of the biggest and best-run shows anywhere. Nike as the shoe sponsor had a huge presence. They have a hip and “now” image, plenty of pumping music and lines around their booth with people waiting to pay for logoed apparel from the event. I left the expo after lunchtime once I picked up my 5k bib for Saturday’s Chicago International race. Last year they had 2710 finishers. This year the race had over 7000 signups, it was a big deal. Early registrants got their home country’s flag on their bib. The packet pickup for this event was way easier than for Sunday’s marathon. Since I registered later, my number was 7000-something. No line for me to get the bib, thank you!
I lingered and walked around near the downtown area until John finished his meetings, then we met at the hotel and both went to the expo for his race things. Surprisingly, there weren’t as many people there, the floor was way easier to navigate. We saw and got a pic with Deena, I think this got John excited for all the people we’d meet this weekend. Once I explained who she was and what she was famous for… he was on the running celeb spotting train!
Our hotel was getting crowded. I went down to the Media Center and met a gal named Tamrin. She gave me an official Media Guide which I really enjoyed. A full digest of the weekend events plus runner bios, race history, stats, everything the local announcers would reference for the audience. So that’s how they know all that stuff! I saw plenty of lean, elite looking Africans milling about in the lobby and common areas. I guess all the top guns stay at this hotel! I got photos of the Winner’s trophy, a large testament to 39 years of male and female past champions. Very impressive!
All the other runners from Florida were arriving Friday after dinner, I knew people staying in different parts of the city. On Saturday morning, I woke up early and went for a strider run outside the hotel. Then I met with Monica and we walked to the 5k start. It was in the middle of downtown. They had roped off corrals, sorted by minute per mile. This was considerably bigger than I thought it would be! I did more warmup intervals on a closed off street near the start, and also tossed in a “gut-check hurdle” of a police barrier. Two others were warming up and we were watching each other, you know, without watching each other. Those high-knees exercises and 50-yard sprints take second to a steeplechase-like hurdle at 7 am. Or so I believe! I then found Jen Rapaport and Chris McKnight in the corrals. It had rained only an hour before the race, so the white painted lines on the road were very slippery. That and puddles. A small kid ran next to me down the first straightaway street until we turned under the elevated railway. He stepped in so many puddles, splashing all who were close to him. I was glad he faded in the first ¾ of a mile. Joan Benoit and Paula Radcliffe were there to start the race, I also saw Carrie Tollefson and Khalid Kannouchi in the corral up front. Big names for a big city 5k!
My race was ok – right at my usual 5k time. I noticed the GPS signals were weird among all the buildings – sometimes I was running 4:35 miles (according to the watch) and other times no readout due to running under Chicago’s famous L trains. A good course, good number of fans out early, and a great finish area scene made this event something I was glad I entered. (5k race recap here) I found Jen and Chris at the finish, Chris’ daughter Laura and then Teresa, Janet and Tom joined us having watched the run. We took a walk to show them “Mt Roosevelt” at mile 26 so they’d know what to expect on race day. I think they benefitted from the reality check of knowing the hill wasn’t a big deal.
Teresa, Kathy and Cecelia and I walked back to the Hilton and had breakfast at Kitty O’Shea’s in the hotel. Before going in, I spotted Noah Droddy, the American “first timer” looking to score a good time at the marathon distance. He had the big mustache, the hair down to his beltline, and the baseball hat on backward. He was going across the street into the park for a run, we got a good photo with him.
Back at the Hilton, John and I had some breakfast then got a ride to River North to meet Christie Brinkley. She was in town to promote Little Smiles charity and also her new line of Prosecco drinks. John went along and we really had great laughs with her and the others that came out. It also made for some amazing photos!
John wanted to minimize his walking around, so we did local things near the hotel. I connected with Monica’s husband to shore up a good strategy for him and the kids to see their mom on the course. It’s really nice to be a part of all the race buzz minus the concern of actually having to run the marathon. I went out with Teresa, Kathy, Cecelia, Teresa’s aunt and Brenda to Miller’s Pub on Saturday night. (Teresa’s first view of it had her saying we should stop at “Killer’s Pub) A few drinks and laughs, why not. Back to the Hilton, where things were quieting down. The big race was tomorrow and most were already in their rooms sleeping or winding down.
evator and recognized him easily. He was with his coach, who John and I saw and spoke with the night before. I asked him if the black fabric bag on his lap contained a certain chrome helmet, he replied, “Yes” with a big smile and I wished him good luck. I received a hat, jacket and Start and Finish Line credentials. AWD athletes were already in the lobby, they know the drill. It takes time to get them and their gear to the start, that was our first role. I walked over with Ernst Van Dyke, a pre-race favorite from South Africa.We had a special tent on Monroe Street where we helped athletes get settled and prepped for the start. I ushered a few up the hill and into the tents, then stood at Monroe and Michigan Street with a Chicago policeman answering questions and helping runners located the entrance to the general corrals. Once 6:25 am came, I headed to the tents and start line area. I helped some of the non-wheelchair bound runners across the start area to the restrooms. I got some great pics of the elite warmup zone. I met Jordan Hasay’s aunt, who was looking for her dad and the elite runners. Press, photographers and running “dignitaries” were all over. I saw Dave McGilvary walking around the starter’s area, Carey Pinkowski, the race director, and Alberto Salazar. The wheelchair athletes were warming up and doing equipment checks, the American athletes in the Development program had an area to wait in for the start, it was exciting to see. The elites had their own tent, porta-potties, and patch of Grant Park grass to warm up on. Jordan Hasay came out early, sat on the start line and adjusted her shoes and socks. I saw Dennis Kimetto, Sam Chelenga, Noah Droddy, Kirui the defending champ, all of them. When Galen walked towards the start area, a coach put his hands on Galen’s head, they bowed towards each other, then Galen blessed himself and got ready for the race. This was the whole show unfolding very close to me. And I took this video – look how calm the eventual race winner is!
All of the runners were in their corrals prior to the National Anthem being played. I couldn’t see the end of the corrals – it was so many people. I was right on the start line for the wheelchair start – getting good photos of the top male and female push rim athletes. A few minutes later, the rest of the runners from Wave #1 were sent out, led by the elite men and women. In between Wave #1 and #2, we moved all of the AWD day chairs and gear to the AWD finish zone. I met Kelly Breen, one of the AWD leaders in Chicago. She explained how it’s taken years for the Achilles and AWD organization to get the prominent placement in and around the start and finish area. The finishing tent was well appointed with coffee, drinks, food and massage tables for the finishing athletes. And private restrooms!
Once the athlete equipment was moved, we got to the Finish line area to begin waiting for the wheelchair finishers. Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden won the push rim races, I helped a guy with an Illinois jersey along with his female teammate back to the tent. I made another run back and forth with a different finisher before waiting at the finish for the men’s and women’s race winners. Galen Rupp sizzled around the final turn and won convincingly, that drew a huge roar from the full bleachers! Turunesh Dibaba was uncontested in her win, but the big deal was Jordan Hasay’s 3rd place finish in a new American woman course record and second fastest US lady marathon time ever. The whole finishing zone was amazing – great sunny weather, all sorts of buzz and great finishes by Americans. I saw Luke Puskedra and Noah Droddy finish strong also. As a group, we kept escorting athletes back to the AWD tent and cycling back to the finish to repeat the process.
I checked in on our locals using the race app. TCS made it very easy for fans to see where each runner was on course, including split times and estimated arrivals. Tom and Janet would be here first, Teresa and Missy not far behind them. My brother and Monica started in the third wave, so they were an hour off gun time. I waited in line to help athletes all while looking for those I knew to finish. I somehow missed Janet and Tom. I saw Jen Rapaport. Then I missed Missy and Teresa. It’s a real challenge to see all of the finishers coming across the line while trying to pick off their faces. It was considerably warmer now than when the first runners came across. It was going to be a long day for the Wave 2 and 3 runners.
I was in the right spot for Monica and John’s finish, getting a short iPhone video of each of them. I helped Teresa with a quick med tent visit, she was tired and dehydrated. The a/c in there was very cold, I think that aided her quick turnaround. Good staff and a personable 68-year-old physician made that a positive experience. Our group met in the Afterparty area, that was also well done by the Chicago Marathon team. Live music, happy runners, and beer flowing. Chicago’s runners had good weather this year. Too warm for some at the end, but most took advantage of it at the after party.
We went back to Kitty O’Shea’s to celebrate after the race – this made for good pics and laughs. I saw Sam Adams 26.2 Brew for sale, that was a surprise. The familiar taste and accompanying good cheer was not a surprise. Today, I saw running history with the Galen win and Chicago’s 40th anniversary of the big race. The course’s back half was very exposed to the sun and heat – but everyone adjusted and made it back – no runner dropouts among our group. I’d race Chicago again – this is a great scene for the runners and the people like me that came to be a part of the event.
We saw more pro athletes in and around our hotel on Monday. Marcel Hug at the coffee shop, Tatyana McFadden walking her dog outside the hotel, and John met Noah by the hotel entrance. He told John that he has 25 marathons in him, not to stop at “21 and done.”
So that’s the advice a first timer like Noah is giving to the mortals?