Race Review: 2018 Chicago Spring Half Marathon

Sunday was the Chicago Spring Half Marathon (and 10k). “Spring” is a relevant term. According to the official race results, the temperature at race time was 59 degrees. They lie. According to my Garmin, it was 46 degrees. While I was running, the wind chill felt closer to 28.

So, I learned a really important lesson about running in Chicago. Even if the calendar says “May,” pack gloves and a hat, and arm warmers, and maybe even rethink shorts and a singlet as being appropriate spring running attire.  All that said, and factoring in that I was 3 weeks post marathon and didn’t do much training in between (and that personally, I had a tough race as a result), it was a nice event.

The start (and finish) was on Columbus Drive near Maggie Daley Park. We drove down from Lake County that morning. In spite of race organizers urging participants to take public transportation to the 7:00am start, parking at the Millennium Garage at Randolph Street was easy and hassle free ($37).  It was a quick walk over to port-a-potties, bag check, and start corrals.

New York Road Runners have a strong hold on the New York City area race scene directing 85 racing events annually including 15 events of 15k or greater (including the New York City Marathon), kids races, track and field events, and cross-country races. Chicago has a much more diverse group of organizers. While RAM Races organizes close to 30 races in the Chicago area (as well as more in several other states), The Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle are organized by Chicago Event Management, which only manages a small handful of events.  The Rock N Roll Series (5k, 10k, Half coming to Chicago in July) is managed by Competitor Group which manages races in 29 cities all over the world. But the Chicago Spring Half (which also includes a 10k) and Chicago Half (in September which also includes a 5k) are managed by Lifetime,  two of only three events they have in Chicago (of only 13 in total).

Diversity in race organization is not a bad thing, but an outfit like New York Road Runners is just a much more well-oiled machine. While I will try my best to refrain from constantly comparing the organization of New York and Chicago races, I will say that the one thing the New York Road Runners does for large races like this that I wish all race organizers would adopt is putting the port-a-potties in the start corrals. After waiting on line and then handing in our bags, we just made the 6:45 cut off to get into the corral. By that point it was like trying to board a Tokyo subway car. The race started close to 10 minutes behind schedule and given the temperature, made waiting around in the crowded corral a little more unpleasant.

The course went south from the start (this is the opposite direction for anyone who has run the Marathon or Shamrock Shuffle) moving off Columbus at the southern end of Grant Park where it picked up the Lakefront Trail. It continued south and around the Shedd Aquarium which was spectacular. For most of the course, race organizers where able to take advantage of additional trail that was added to separate bicyclists and pedestrians and safely maneuver runners in both directions on this out and back course.  There were a few places where the additional pathway was not completed and there were a large volume of runners competing for space, going in both directions, on a path that was probably only about 10 feet wide. Although I think there could have been some better course marshalling here, runners navigated it well and cooperated with one another.

After the turn-around the wind got fierce and although the rain was holding off, runners were getting a little wet from the spray of the waves on the lake (see photo). There were still about 6.5 miles to go. If one could keep their mind off the cold and wind however, the views of Lake Michigan and the skyline shrouded in low-lying cloud cover was breathtaking. The final miles ran between the lake and Lake Shore Drive until the underpass at Randolph and back up onto Columbus to finish about where it started.

In one last comparison to my experience with big New York City races, there is something to be said for starting and finishing in about the same spot. The New York City Marathon, NYC Half and Brooklyn Half are point to point races that can present logistical challenges for participants. Although New York Road Runners manages it all – especially shuttling checked baggage from start to the finish – admirably well, I loved that everything about this race was contained within close proximity of the start/finish area.

Baggage claim took a little longer than it seemed it should as I was still thinking I might have frostbite and was in desperate need of a few more layers. There was a really nice post-race event celebration with a breakfast buffet and beer garden (yes, I just said breakfast and beer in the same sentence). I passed on the beer, but the breakfast was delicious and hot! And best of all we weren’t far from the parking lot – and the rain didn’t start until we were back on the Kennedy Expressway heading home.

So aside from the weather, which was beyond anyone’s control, and my own inadequate preparations, this was a good event. Three things kept me going for 13.1 miles: my wonderful boyfriend who stayed with me the entire time offering words of encouragement; the simple fact that if I kept running it would be over sooner; and finally, the kick-ass finisher’s medal with a replica of the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier that actually spins around. Since I am also running the Chicago Half in September, I will get two more medals – an additional one for having completed both of the races in the same year. Sometimes it’s all about the hardware.

If you’re planning to visit Chicago as a race destination, I’d recommend this race – among others (Shamrock Shuffle 8k, Soldier Field 10 Mile too!). Just check the weather forecast. And plan for 20 degrees cooler.

Lakefront Trail. Chicago, Illinois. May 2018

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