About time I get back to some race reviews, right? Well this isn’t exactly a race review per se. The Chicago Area Runnners Association (CARA)’s Ready 2 Run 20 Miler isn’t a race, but rather a training run positioned exactly 3 weeks before the Chicago Marathon.
Described as a “fully-supported 20 mile run with a unique point-to-point course along Chicago’s lakefront” it is geared primarily for participants in CARA’s summer marathon training program, but is really great for anyone willing to take on the challenge. The event is open to all. Although for CARA summer marathon training participants (and therefore many, many charity runners) the registration fee is included.
The course offers the only organized and supported opportunity to run the length of the Chicago Lakefront. The start is at the Montrose Lakefront track, with hydration, porta-potties, gear check, and in a good year, lights. Given that runners begin assembling an hour or more before the 6:30am start and official sunrise was only about 5 min prior to the start, well, let’s just say it was hard to get good pre-run photos without a flash. Some snafu with the Chicago Park District created the darkness which was overcome by bright smiles all around in anticipation of the journey.
Everyone assembled according to pace group and each group had numerous official CARA pacers who have been leading group runs at one of CARA’s nine Chicagoland training sites (3 city, 6 suburban) all summer. Since the Lakefront Trail is only 18 miles, the course first goes north to Foster Beach before starting the trek southward. The changing scenery along Lake Michigan as the sun was rising was just breathtaking (as it always is).
There were 10 aid stations with water and Gatorade Endurance, and around the half way point, also gels. It does it’s best to simulate much of the marathon experience and ready participants for the big day. From my own personal experience in two Chicago Marathons, the only thing this training run lacked was crowd support. But that’s okay. Everyone needs the time to work out their race strategy and then the crowds on Marathon day will be a welcomed bouy.
Construction along Du Sable Lake Shore Drive and the Lakefront trail near Jackson Park, the event’s destination, called for a detour to the west and a pass by the Museum of Science and Industry. No complaints here. The course was pretty. It was also a nice flat straight stretch to the finish (the previous course had a climb out of an underpass and the final yards).
The finish had refreshments (including Revolution Beer), finisher shirts, massages, more porta-potties, and sponsor giveaways. The only thing it didn’t have was a clock. As I said, this wasn’t a race. And to discourage anyone from making it so there was no timing anywhere. Participants looking to monitor their training progress and assess race day goals used their own watches and apps.
Perhaps the best part? Shuttle buses back to the start where the majority of participants left their cars. I got a laugh from those sitting around me when I commented, “this bus ride is really long.”
CARA does a remarkably good job on this event and creates such a wonderfully unique experience for participants. Yes, they could do some out and back course which would eliminate the need for buses, half the volunteer recruitment, and logistics requiring the need for set up and breakdown in two different park locations. But what fun would that be? This event is one of several reasons I highly recommend CARA Summer Marathon training to anyone doing a fall marathon.