Race Review: Run Mag Mile

Race Review: Run Mag Mile

This race was included on my list of must-do Chicago races in late 2019, although I had yet to run it. I had every intention of checking it off my list before the end of 2020, but… we all know what happened to the 2020 race season. In spite of my inexpereince, Run Mag Mile made the cut based on Kurt’s first-hand knowledge and recommendation. What appealed to me was that it is the only race which runs up and down Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue.

The start

The race takes place the Saturday after Labor Day each year, so September 9 this year (I know, I’m a little behind in my blog posts). The event is organized by Ventures Endurance Events (formerly RAM Racing), who also organize several other local events that make up the Run This Town series. Runners who complete four of the nine qualifying races will receive an additional commemorative medal. These events have traditionally also had excellent swag. Some, including Run Mag Mile, have their own finisher’s medal which was enough for me this year. We completed only two of the series events for 2023.

Run Mag Mile includes both a 5k and 10k. The start is on Ida B. Wells Drive, just west of Columbus. The first half, which includes the trip up and down Michigan Avenue is the same for both. As the course comes back into Grant Park, the 5k makes a left to the finish on Columbus. Theoretically, if someone who signed up for the 10k decided they bit off more than they can chew, they could make the decision at that moment to cut down to the 5k. Not saying someone did that, but it could be done.

The 10k goes right on Columbus from there heading towards the Museum Campus where it does a loop along the lakefront trail and back on the bike path parallel to DuSable Lake Shore Drive, back under the underpass near the Museum Campus and north on Columbus to the finish. The second half of the race was hotter as temperatures climbed in the early September sunshine, and that’s something everyone should be aware of going into this race. Hydrate and dress appropriately (like I’m thinking those who wore the fleece-lined quarter zip race giveaway might have regretted it).

The first-half stretch on Michigan Avenue was indeed spectacular. I enjoyed running over the river, past historic landmarks like the Chicago Tribune building which has personal significance, and seeing the Water Tower and Hancock building up in the distance as we reached the turnaround. I do wish the course went all the way up to Delaware Place, rather than turning around at Superior, so we could take in those sites more closely. However, I understand that race directors aren’t miracle workers and have a bunch of legitimate reasons for what they do.

Coming back south on Michigan Avenue over DuSable Bridge

One nice added surprise was that with the Taste of Chicago event being bumped from its usual time slot by NASCAR this summer, they joined forces with Run Mag Mile. All race participants received two tickets to use at any participating booth. Additionally, there was a post race brunch featuring waffles, sausages, Eli’s Cheesecake, and beer. Interesting combo.

With Kurt at the post-race brunch

The only thing I might say could be done better was race photos. I thought there were several photo opportunities missed along the course, particularly coming south back over the DuSable Bridge with the Tribune Tower in the background. But that’s it and they were free, so that’s something. Registration was easy. Packet pick-up was conveniently at Fleet Feet South Loop where there is access by public transportation and free parking with validation (there was a mail option too). Event day parking was effortless. We used the Millennium Park Garage, but Millennium Lakeside and Grant Park North and South Garages were also convenient options. There were no issues that I can think of with gear check, porta-potties, at the start, on the course, or finish. I enjoyed this event and would do it again.

Mark your calendar for the 2024 event: September 7, 2024. Registration is open.

Free race photo, that’s the Art Institute in the background
My Chicago Marathon story and why everyone should run for charity

My Chicago Marathon story and why everyone should run for charity

It’s Chicago Marathon weekend. Maybe a good time to share my Chicago Marathon story. New York City was my first, way back in 1997. Yet it’s the Chicago Marathon that is uniquely special to me. My Chicago Marathon story is one of hope and healing and ultimately survivorship and fulfillment.

I trained through the winter of 2014 for the New Jersey Marathon which was to be held that year on April 27. On March 19 with just 5 weeks left of training I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I did what anyone would do at that point. I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. I figured if I wasn’t able to run New Jersey, surely I would be back on my feet for Chicago in October. The 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon gave me hope.

I did get to run New Jersey that year. I ran sub-4, a personal best that still stands today. I had my surgery 10 days later and decided to defer my Chicago spot to 2015 so I could focus on my treatment. That wound up being a more important decision than I realized.

The Monday before the 2014 Chicago Marathon, October 6, my husband died – by suicide. His funeral was on Friday, the day I would have been on a flight to Chicago for marathon weekend.

In the year that followed, I used marathon training to help me heal. I decided to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Typically, because I’m a professional fundraiser, I always chose a charity to make the whole marathon experience more meaningful and help provide inspiration during difficult training cycles. Usually I raised money for the organization for whom I worked. This was different. It took me until a month before the marathon to start fundraising. Finding the right words; finding the strength to tell my story took time. I raised $6000. The 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon providing healing.

Determined to create a new life for my daughter and me, once she finished high school in 2018, we moved to Chicago. She had been accepted into a college here and I had re-connected with an old work friend who had relocated to Chicago 25 years ago. I also knew the CEO of Gilda’s Club since I had been her counterpart at the NJ Affiliate a decade earlier. By the summer of 2019, I was coaching a small group of cancer survivors to run a 5k as a volunteer with Gilda’s Club, and was training for the marathon and raising funds as a member of Team Gilda. The 2019 Bank of American Chicago Marathon made me feel like a survivor.

Although, that was the last time I ran Chicago, my story of course doesn’t end there.

My search for a permanent full-time position in Chicago brought me to Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. They were looking for someone to manage their Heroes Endurance Fundraising Team. I would be working with a team of 300 runners for the marathon. Ultimately, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon provided fulfillment.

Now, Chicago Marathon week is an 80-hour work week and I love every minute, even though I don’t get to run. The work to recruit for next year’s team starts the week after the current year’s marathon and last through the spring. Summer is spent helping our runners navigate the training plan and reaching their fundraising goals – all for the ultimate purpose of giving Chicago’s children in crisis the tools they need to recover from trauma, catch up academically, and plan for a brighter future.

While I would love everyone to run the Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero, my advice to would-be charity runners is choose a charity that is personally meaningful to you.

A lot of runners run for charity as a means to secure a bib in a sold out or hard to get into race. I think everyone should run for charity, even if they don’t need to – it certainly makes the miles more meaningful and may even provide hope and healing for not just the beneficiaries of your fundraising, but for you too.

Grant Park, Chicago. October 2015
My 25th Anniversary New York City Marathon

My 25th Anniversary New York City Marathon

It’s been three weeks, so here’s my overdue reflection on the 2022 New York City Marathon.

November 2, 1997. That was the day I crossed my first marathon finish line. It was a cool and rainy day in New York City. My family – Chris, his mom, my parents, my boss, and my friend Kevin – out on First Avenue. On the west side of the street, just above 66th Street. Wet and cold, jockeying for position at the barricade in order to have a front row seat for the 30 seconds or so it would take me to pass by.

This year it was overcast, humid, and unseasonably warm. When there were a few rain drops, I longed for the heavy downpours we experienced in ‘97. Although I knew that would not be good – especially for spectators. In ‘97 my dad had worn a brand new red corduroy shirt and when he got back to his hotel room and took it off, his white undershirt was pink.

This year’s cheer squad consisted of my 22 year old daughter with friends at around mile 11 in Brooklyn and Kurt on First Avenue at 77th Street (mile 17) and again in Central Park (40k mark, close to the conclusion of mile 25).

So much has changed in 25 years besides the make-up of my crew…

  • Marathon Expo at Jacob Javitz rather than the Coliseum (now the location of “The Shops at Columbus Circle”)
  • Chip timing!
  • “The TCS New York City Marathon App”
  • Better clothing, GSP watch, and “fast” shoes
  • Fueling with Maurten’s gels rather than Chuckles
  • Running with a phone/camera…and not a disposable camera with actual film
  • Texting my family afterwards to regroup (how the heck did anyone find each other before texting?)
  • Following it all up with pictures, stories, and reels on social media and a blog post!

I’ve learned to have throwaway clothing I can discard when I get warm; rather than tying a jacket and a long sleeve cotton (cotton?!?) tee tied around my waist for miles. I’m also quite certain no one had a big Sony Walkman – complete with wired headphones – at this years marathon, and I’ve learned to run without music, taking in what the course has to offer.

The last time I ran New York – 2005 – I was overwhelmed with sadness when I passed 66th Street on First Avenue and thought about my parents having been there for my first, and yet at the time they were still very much alive, although it was age that kept them home and I guess I sensed what was to come. But this year, long since my parents passed, I was filled with nothing but gratitude for lives well lived including my own. It’s also been more than 8 years since I sat in that church on First Avenue and 66th Street when I was early for an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering. And the Fred’s Team cheer zone on the course on that block, I took in as my own.

This marathon wasn’t my fastest, actually it was my slowest. Even slower than last year’s muddy marathon on the Delaware Canal Towpath, but there are a number of things for which I am very proud. My miles had meaning by doing a small fundraiser for Mercy Home, an organization with whom I am now employed after 25 years of trying to combine running and fundraising. I also gained my entry to this marathon with a qualifying time – a World Major at that! And in spite of the warm weather, my lack of consistent training, and advancing age, I still finished comfortably and got to both the start and finish healthy. Finally, and maybe what I am most proud of, is who I have become as a runner and marathoner in the past 25 years.

A first marathon is magical because for us non-elite athletes is about personal achievement, sticking with the training, perseverance, endurance, and victory in simply making it to the finish line. Your time doesn’t – or shouldn’t – matter. It’s about proving to yourself that you can cover the distance, and maybe setting a benchmark for the future.

Since ‘97 my mantras have change. “You got this.” “Keep moving.” “Trust your training.” “You are strong.” “You are fast.” To this year’s, “No one cares.”

Not that I believe for an instant that no one cares about what I am doing – judging from responses to my social media posts , greetings on the course, and donations to my fundraiser – clearly all the right people cared that I was running a marathon. What they didn’t care about truly was my time. They wanted my time to be whatever I wanted it to be. For marathon number 12 – a victory lap of sorts, in New York City, celebrating 25 years where it all began – I simply wanted my time to be fun.

And it was. I high-fived kids in Brooklyn, was shot by a confetti gun, read the funny signs, stopped for photos, saw a guy running while balancing a pineapple on his head, was overcome with emotion coming off the 59th Street Bridge into the roaring crowds on 1st Avenue, got some “ridiculous support” from my New Jersey running crew staffing a hydration station in Harlem, and ran, walked, jogged, and shuffled my way through a 26.2 mile party.

I don’t recall exactly when it was, but I remember telling Kurt that if it ever took me longer than 5 hours to complete a marathon I was done. That maybe that would signal my marathoning days we’re done. Of course there was also that time after my 2nd marathon which took me 2 minutes longer than my first that I thought I was done… and that time at the 2018 New Jersey Marathon when I called Kurt from mile 19 to say I was done right there and then!

When I crossed my latest marathon finish line in 5 hours, 42 minutes and 11 seconds, the furthest thing from my mind was that I was done. Although admittedly I need a break. I want to get rid of the Covid weight, get strong again, and recommit to training. But I’m not done. Next marathon: BQ in my next age group. After all, I get another 15 minutes!

The most important thing that I’ve learned in 25 years of marathoning is that the marathon is whatever YOU want it to be. While the definition of success varies for each individual, it also varies from one year, one race, to the next. Goals are personal. What remains the same is the distance. It’s 26.2 miles. There are no shortcuts.

Victory lap. Central Park, New York City. November 2022.
Race Review: Carrera de los Muertos

Race Review: Carrera de los Muertos

A coach I was working with once told me that a fast 5k during your marathon taper was a good distraction and a confidence builder. So, with the New York City Marathon 8 days out, I toed the start line at the Carrera de los Muertos 5k in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood last Saturday.

Although I had yet to run it, I included it on my “Must Do Chicago Races” which I published in early 2020. We all know what happened to race season in 2020; this was my first opportunity to finally do this iconic Chicago race.

The race website promoted the event as “Chicago’s Most Unique 5k Race. Amid the lively colors and culture of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, runners and walkers come together to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)!” This years race marked 15 years, or it’s quinceañera! 

Carrera de los Muertos is Spanish for “Race of the Dead” and many participants and their fans were dressed in colorful festive costumes and donned skeleton make-up. Kurt and I joined in. Although next year we’re going to do it so much better. “Day of the Dead” (November 1-2) although somewhat related to Halloween, isn’t meant to be scary, or solemn mourning, but rather a celebratory remembrance of departed family and friends.

Although Dia de los Muertos is a predominantly Mexican tradition, November 2 in my Catholic school youth commemorated the dead as “All Souls Day” where we simply acknowledged our loved ones with their names listed on a donation envelope as far as ai remember.

I was introduced to Dia de los Muertos watching the Disney Pixar movie Coco with my daughter. It’s an incredibly fabulous tradition and such a positive way to retain relationships with our departed loved ones.

The 5k race – a loop through Chicago’s predominately Mexican neighborhood was a celebration – costumes, music, dancing…and running! It was a well organized event. Registration, packet pick-up, staging, course, we’re all executed flawlessly from my perspective.

The field of vendors was an added bonus. My only complaint? They ran out of churros! Our bibs had a ticket for a free churro and they ran out. Kurt was on the injured list, so he was walking the course. When I finished, I stuck around the area to see him finish and then there were no more churros. I know, I’ll survive. But let’s just say seeing the perspective of the back of the packers is educational.

Finally, yes, the “fast 5k” – not my fastest, but fastest in a long while – achieved my personal goal of creating a distraction and building my confidence going into my Marathon. Bring on the Big Apple!

Review: CARA’s Ready 2 Run 20 Miler

Review: CARA’s Ready 2 Run 20 Miler

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.

Some of the 2022 Mercy Home Heroes highlighted with a flash

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.

With fellow “Hero” with 7 miles to go.

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).

Museum of Science and Industry

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.