More than Virtual: the 2020 Chicago Marathon

Last weekend was Chicago Marathon Weekend. Although not really. There was no Expo at McCormick Place. There was no gear check, no crowds of runners with nervous anticipation along Columbus Drive. There were no start corrals, or music or cheering fans. Another cancelled event. Another reminder that this is a year like no other.

Although for many in this city, race day gear was still laid out before an early bedtime, alarms sounded in the darkness, and without any fanfare they began a lonely 26.2 mile journey on a course of their choosing. They were the committed – committed to their goals, to their training, to the charities and personal causes from which they found inspiration. And they got it done.

I watched in awe as I saw people I knew complete long training runs for this race that was going to be far from their vision when they registered close to a year ago. Last year, I wrote about my immersion into the Chicago Running Community in 2019 and how special it was to be part of that community as we all trained together. We’re all in it together was the theme of several blog posts last October.

Togetherness was energizing. Imagining a virtual race of that distance was difficult for me. I wondered to myself throughout the summer what it would have taken to keep me engaged. After all, it was the people that got me up at 4am on Saturday mornings for long training runs. It was knowing I was going to be part of a movement more than 30,000 strong.

As I watched the 2020 race weekend unfold, I realized just maybe the experience would be very special nonetheless. The personal fans along the course were still there. Families and friends donning masks for safety packed personal finish lines and held a tape for their runner, who in a race against only themselves, would break it as the lead runner.

Organizations like CARA, staffed hydration stations along the lakefront all summer long and on race weekend to provide support. Running groups like 3Run2 assembled (social distant) cheer squads at the intersection of their members’ routes to share that race-day energy for which they are famous.

As Strava recorded the mileage and the times, it became apparent that there was nothing “virtual” at all about this 26.2 mile journey that countless Chicagoans made last weekend. It was their race, their marathon, their achievement. And it was epic. It’s a story that will be passed down for generations as we talk about our resilience: “In the middle of the pandemic, your great-grandmother ran a marathon.”

Congratulations to all of you who got it done! You have an achievement like no other of which to be very proud.

Solo Run. Vernon Hills, Illinois. October 2020.

One thought on “More than Virtual: the 2020 Chicago Marathon

  • October 19, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Cheers to everyone who did it anyway… despite the challenges!


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