On the Run: Crazy Chicagoans carried me
Bright orange and red trees, parks abounding and real grass interspersed amidst the coldness of the sidewalks. This is not suburban Vermont, but rather my first views of downtown Chicago. Is this the windy city, the hub of activity that produced legendary machine politicians like Richard Daley and hailed as the meat- packing center of the world? Surely I was in the wrong place.
This unexpectedly warm town I found myself in last weekend was a welcome surprise to the fast paced, unfriendly mass of steel, brick and stone I expected to find upon my first visit to Chicago.
While Chicago has not been the best town to hail from as a sports fan lately, it hosted the La Salle Banks Marathon in grand style. Though I had not run a full marathon before, I had enough races under my belt to know what to expect along the course. On Sunday, however, I was in for a race experience like no other I have seen or imagined.
Not only was the course lined with spectators, cheering on runners long after the “real race” had been won, but at many of the race stations, racers were treated to a view of what Chicago neighborhoods are really all about. In Little Italy, traditional Italian songs and shouts could be heard, while mariachi bands came out in Pilsen to spice up the tempo of tired runners and spectators alike. These spectators sacrificed sleep on a Sunday morning to catch the excitement of one of the country’s largest foot races. At the fourth aid station, runners could get so much more than traditional race fare of gatorade and petroleum jelly, for here a squad of men dressed like cheerleaders with colored wigs held pom-poms and cheered nonstop from the time the first elite men sprinted by, to the six hour stragglers who lingered behind.
At mile six I actually witnessed runners break stride and dance in the streets. Shouts of “high-ho the merry-o, 20 more miles to go” were enough to make even the most serious of marathon runners grin. Imagine a 20-foot tall cardboard cutout Sonny and Cher, saying “Babe, we got water, babe.”
The Chicago road-runners club constructed its own version of Letterman’s “Top Ten List” that posted the ten worst aspects of running a marathon on large signs every quarter of a mile. My favorite weres No. 2 – “spectators saying ‘you’re almost there’ at mile six” and No. 7 “it’s hard to bum a Marlboro from fellow runners.”
The athletes could not help but get caught up in the sights and sounds of the streets, as everyone was laughing and even taking pictures while running. Of course this is similar to the walking and chewing gum syndrome, and many a runner bumped into a neighbor as they were taking in the excitement of the crowd.
For me, this is what made 26.2 miles a rather enjoyable experience, though I must say the change in altitude helped a little – hardly the test of sheer will that the Lake Tahoe course posed for its participants. It was four hours that I would not trade for anything in the world, except maybe a full body massage right about now, and the people of Chicago made it a unique experience from start to finish. Unique and crazy – just what a marathon needs to be. Oh yeah, nice and flat helped too!
Lara Mullin is the sportswriter for the Sierra Sun.
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