Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon

In front of the CIBC Theatre
As race weekend approached, the weather reports called for rain practically the entire time I was going to be in town.  Friday's forecast showed scattered thunderstorms throughout the Chicago area, and that was not going to be favorable for my scheduled flight, especially with tickets to see Hamilton that night at the CIBC Theatre.  I was able to get confirmed on an even earlier flight allowing me to get enough time into Chicago to even head to McCormick Place and retrieve my bibs for my Saturday and Sunday races at the expo, as well as join in on a late afternoon dinner with my Black Sheep Run friends at a nearby restaurant, Seven Lions, prior to the show.  I even had time to stop into Gensler Chicago, the architecture firm where my friend Amy works in order to drop off my backpack as well as see an old classmate from architecture school, Dorothy, in the huge office building they both work at (it takes up an entire floor at the old Carson Pirie Scott and Company Building, a historic landmark in downtown Chicago designed by famed American architect Louis Sullivan.)
Black Sheep see Hamilton!
The Room Where It Happens!
Hamilton was fantastic, a show I'd seen once before on Broadway with the original cast, about three months after it had opened and before it won all of its Tony Awards.  Seeing the Chicago production allowed me to really take in the story more this time around.  And the cast... altogether outstanding, but standouts in a Filipina Eliza Schuyler, Jamila Sabares-Klemm, and a Korean Aaron Burr, Jin Ha.  I left ultimately inspired and mesmerized once again by this fantastic piece of American musical theatre.

The next morning, I woke up early to run the 5K, taking a Lyft down to Grant Park under some cloudy skies.  The air was pretty saturated, and it was palpable that rain was going to come down sometime that morning.  I approached the startline area at about 7am, a half hour before the start, to let the sound folks be aware that I was here.  With Dave Kappas and Creigh Kelley announcing at the start, I sang the national anthem for a crowd of some 2,300 people, and after a representative from lead sponsor Humana and Kathrine Switzer gave some remarks. In 1967, Switzer made history becoming the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry. During her run, race official Jock Semple attempted to stop Switzer and grab her official bib; however, he was shoved to the ground by Switzer's boyfriend at the time, who was running with her, and she completed the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. She was running the 5K and the following day's half with Team 261 Fearless, her global nonprofit that uses running as the means to empower women to overcome life obstacles and embrace healthy living and named after the bib number she was assigned at the 1967 Boston Marathon.

The 5K off and running...
After I sang, we took off, it wasn't long til we crossed the starting line, heading north along Columbus Drive past Maggie Daley Park and Milennium Park under the covered lower level of Randolph Street, then emerged as we passed underneath Lake Shore Drive and turned right along the bike path that took us right along the shore of Lake Michigan southward.  I clocked a nice 9:07 first mile, and we zipped down along the bike path, dodging geese droppings left and right, finally reaching a water station around 1.5 miles in where I took my first quick walk break. People were out cheering us on as we continued further south, finally making a curvilinear turn along the paths directly in front of the Field Museum, then making our way underneath the Roosevelt Road Underpass, as I took a quick walk break, before continuing forward, as we headed northward along the sidewalk back toward Grant Park and the finish line. We passed Buckingham Fountain, and before long, made a left turn onto Jackson Drive, with the finish line in view. I crossed in 29:05 on a supremely flat course with barely any real elevation gain or loss to speak of - 30 feet at most. As I waited for friends to come into the finish, the rain started to come down, and many of us took cover in the merchandise tent located next to the finish line. I called for a Lyft to take me back to Amy's apartment in Lincoln Park some 5 miles north of where we were, but only a $5 shared ride.  Of course, my timing was supremely off... when I finally emerged from out of the tent when it seemed the rain started to dissipate, it decided to come down HARD, and I was fully drenched as I waited for my driver to pick me up, which took QUITE some time.

Frank Lloyd Wright statue in Oak Park
After finally getting back to Amy's, showering, and leaving my wet clothes out to dry in front of a heater, Amy and I were joined by her friend Marc, and we headed out west to the village of Oak Park to grab lunch at Q-BBQ before our 2:20pm tour reservation of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.  In all the years I've visited Chicago, I had not visited Oak Park where Wright, probably one of the greatest American architects of all time, spent the first 20 years of his 70 year career.  We spent the afternoon touring his home, where he raised his family with his first wife Catherine and their six children, which was built in 1889.  It was remodeled as their family grew, and had additions made as Wright opened his studio and workspace, which was later converted into a living space. It is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has been restored, maintained, and operated as a museum by The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, who has volunteer docents that provide the roughly 40-minute tour for interested visitors.  After the tour, the three of us decided to walk down Forest Avenue, where many of his homes (mainly in the Prairie Style) still stand today and are privately owned and can be admired from the exterior.  Before heading back to Chicago, we stopped into Logan Square for a drink at Revolution Brewery, before they dropped me off for my early evening dinner with Black Sheep Run friends at Howells & Hood at the Tribune Tower downtown.
Inside Frank Lloyd Wright's studio
Black Sheep fun at Tribune Tower!
After a lively evening with runner friends with LOTS of photos and gift giving in honor of some of our most valiant and courageous club "members" fighting some tough challenges (lookin' at you, Jamie!) I headed back to Amy's as I needed to get to bed relatively early since the half the next morning was starting at a VERY early 6:30am. I woke up at 4:30 (blecch) and was out the door a little after 5 to grab another Lyft downtown, giving me enough time to stop into the VIP area for a quick bite (despite them not being fully ready) and to drop off my bag before heading to the start area at 6:10.

Me with Kathrine Switzer
Like the day before, Dave and Creigh emceed the pre-race festivities, with a Humana rep and Kathrine Switzer making some remarks for all the racers. The rain, which was guaranteed for the morning, began to fall as I came up to sing the national anthem, a teensy bit slower this time for the 11,000 folks prepared to run either 6.2 miles or 13.1 miles that morning. I had positioned my phone against one of the start tent's legs but failed to realize that where I had positioned it would end up cutting my head off in the video. But still, with the final strains of the anthem, I was able to check off my 48th state to sing the Star Spangled Banner!  Only two more to go... Alaska and Oklahoma, and they were already set in my calendar for August and November!
The start of the half marathon
Just after singing, I jumped into the corrals, and like the day before, we were off! I started in Corral 3, which meant crossing the start mat only a minute and a half after the first corral went off. Like the day before, we proceeded north along Columbus Drive, making our way toward the lower level of Randolph Street.  The rain seemed to come down a little harder as we began, and thankfully had a little break as we ran under the covered street.  We made a right turn, just like the day before, as I passed by the 261 Fearless team, shouting out to their group to enjoy the day despite the dampness.  Before long, we were back under the skies, and turned left instead of right as we made our way up the slight ramp uphill to Lower Wacker Drive. Before long, we were under covered streets again (thank goodness for the double - and sometimes triple - decked streets of downtown Chicago) as we ran westward, before making our first bridge crossing over the William P. Fahey Bridge on Columbus Drive.

Near Lower Wacker Drive
This being my fourth time running the streets of Chicago (after 2014 and 2015 Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathons and the 2014 Chicago Marathon), I knew what to expect when running over the bridges that span over the Chicago River that snakes its way through the downtown. In all my three previous races, carpet was laid out over parts of the movable bridges that had metal grates open to the water below.  This was precautionary, so that runners wouldn't slip from the rubber soles of their shoes.  Except for today, when the weather was messy enough to warrant needing the carpets.  So, I gingerly made my way across this and all the other bridges later on in the race, as the course continued on. Also, unfortunately, as the rain fell, water would pool in some of the sort of "sunken" areas on the bridges, where the grates were filled in with cement, providing for some of the more unfortunate moments where my shoes and socks would get even more soaked.
Going through Chicago's multi-level streets
Soaked in front of the Chicago Theatre
We made our way through the neighborhoods of Streeterville and River North, zigzagging through the city streets - first along Grand Avenue, then southward on State Street as rain continued to fall, somewhat mistily at first, into full on drops, soaking everything.  A few times during the run, I stopped to take my phone out for a photo, carefully removing it from the ziploc bag Amy gave me to keep my phone from shorting from the moisture. Despite the weather, many were out cheering for us, kept dry from umbrellas, raincoats, and ponchos; as we crossed the Chicago River once again, I stopped for a drenched photo in front of the Chicago Theatre a little over 2 miles into the race.  The course then weaved its way through the West Loop (crossing the Chicago River another two times) along Randolph Street and then Madison Street out almost to I-90, before looping right back along Monroe Street before finding our way back to State Street heading south.  Some bakery was baking cookies or something sweet near the 3 mile mark, because the delicious smell permeated the air as we passed through.

Running through Downtown Chicago
We headed down State Street for about five blocks, before turning onto Van Buren Street, where we would run underneath the L for a few blocks, looping out around Franklin and onto Harrison before our long slog along Michigan Avenue southward in the South Loop. The rain was falling on and off, but stopped slightly around this time.  Around the mile 7 mark, somewhere near Cermak, I apparently missed my friend Hanna, girlfriend of my second cousin Mark, who was out there cheering for runners along the route.  I wouldn't find out she was out cheering until after I was done with the race, when she tagged me in an Instagram story taking a walk break. Haha :D

Heading down the South Loop
We passed the Stevenson Expressway, now in the neighborhood of Bronzeville, passing by Mercy Hospital. We finally turned left onto 31st Street at the 8 mile mark, knowing that a roughly half mile out-and-back was ahead of us.  When we reached the turn onto Martin Luther King Drive, I decided I would try to run as much of the out and back as I could.  Along the way, I saw several friends either slightly in front of me or behind me, including Hollie and Tawni. Finally back on 31st Street, the clouds decided to unleash the strongest rain of the entire race, soaking everybody head to toe.  So drenched, we soldiered on, making our way over the railroad tracks and over Lake Shore Drive, to the mile 10 mark as we proceeded along Fort Dearborn Drive, making our way northward for the last three miles of the race.

Lake Shore Drive, downtown in clouds
I met Joan about 1/4 mile before the run through the covered areas through McCormick Place, who had arrived a little late for the 10K race and was feeling down on herself for being so far behind.  I told her not to fret - we were all crossing the same finish line, and joked about "how the sun was going to start finally shining down on us in the final mile of the race, just you wait." As I left her and ran through McCormick Place, I wondered aloud - "it seems much darker through here than the two other times I've run this race!" Chalk it up to the gloomy weather, or perhaps Rock 'n' Roll chose to not light this section of the course as well as in previous years, but I kept on, as I knew there were only a couple miles left.

Victory Headstand at "The Bean"
The course wrapped around the McCormick Place parking lot, as we followed 18th Drive to the ramp onto Lake Shore Drive, where we would run until the finish line only 1.1 miles away.  Barricaded by a line of semis, we finished our final mile as we continued on Columbus Drive, the same road where we started only 2 1/2 hours earlier.  I crossed the finish line in 2:28:00, thankfully done from 13.1 miles of running while being thoroughly soaked. After receiving my finisher medal and my remix challenge medal, I beelined back to the VIP area, where I was able to promptly get a massage to ease out the soreness in my calves, and partake in the delicious catered buffet brunch, which included waffles and bacon!  The rain continued to fall on and off, and I eventually made my way out of the closed streets of the Grant Park area, to take my headstand photo at Cloud Gate, better known to tourists as "The Bean," a polished stainless steel sculpture and the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, which has been a Chicago landmark since its installation in 2006. I grabbed a Lyft back to Lincoln Park, and got myself cleaned up before Amy and I headed out to the movies for a 3pm showing of "Incredibles 2" at the Arclight Theatre in the North and Clybourn commercial district of Old Town.
Chowing down on a Chicago Flag cookie!
Dinner with my cousins and friends
at Barcocina in Lakeview
After the movie, we headed up to Lakeview, where we made reservations for a group of ten for dinner at Barcocina.  I invited some Michigan friends who lived in the area, and a couple cousins and their significant others, as well as my running buddy Hyalker, who used to live in Chicago and moved out to Denver fairly recently, with his two siblings, as we enjoyed a lively evening of catching up with each other.  The evening died down, and Amy and I headed back to her apartment, as we made another early night of it, as I had an flight early (again) the next morning back to New York City.

Bling haul for the weekend!
Another 4:30am wakeup call, and I was out the door headed out to O'Hare for my 6am flight back home, in time for work.  But the weather that had crippled Chicago over the weekend had headed east, so I was saddled with an unfortunate hour-long delay before our flight could take off for me to head home, and off to work.  I made it to the office by 11, and like clockwork, worked a full day like I usually do... but I brought home three new snazzy medals, my 90th half marathon was complete, as was national anthem state #48!  Chicago's always a fun place to visit, and I'm so glad I made it work once again.

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