half marathons, running, travel
Comments 5

10/50 – Illinois: Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon

Obligatory bean photo

I completed state number 10 of the 50 states challenge this past weekend (wooo double digits!). Thank you, Chicago, Illinois.

What did I know about Chicago before I left? Truthfully, not too much. The last time I was in the Windy City was November 2007 to celebrate a friend’s birthday. It was a short weekend trip. I remember a lot of cocktails and snow on the ground. I don’t remember much else, probably due to said cocktails.

I had heard great things about Chicago — one being how nice it is in the summer. Other than that, I was pretty clueless about the city. My colleague, Erin, lived in Chicago and absolutely loves it. After my second visit there, I can see why. It truly is a beautiful city with great architecture and a vibrant food scene. And summers there are indeed lovely.

Skip to race recap here

I arrived in Chicago Saturday morning at 6:20 a.m. (bright and early!).

I took a cab to my hotel, the Westin on Michigan Avenue, located on the Magnificent Mile and overlooking Lake Michigan. The plan was to drop my bag off and explore the city until it was time to check-in. I got lucky though was able to check-in way ahead of schedule. I was in my room at 7 a.m. (major points for Westin!)

Since I was able to check in early, I took a power nap before heading out. I was tired from the early wake-up time to catch my 5 a.m. flight and still feeling sick from earlier in the week. The nap was much needed.

First stop was Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (aka the giant bean).

Reflection at Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

Reflection at Cloud Gate (aka the bean)

Obligatory bean photo

Obligatory bean photo

Under the bean

Under the bean

I also saw some yoga in action at the park.

Yoga in the park

Yoga in the park

Second stop was the Health and Fitness Expo to pick up my race packet. The expo was at McCormick Place. The set-up was similar to all of the other Rock n Roll races.

The Health and Fitness Expo at McCormick Place.

The Health and Fitness Expo at McCormick Place.

Rock n Roll Chicago race course

Rock n Roll Chicago race course

I didn’t linger too long at the expo. I wanted to get to my next stop: lunch at Au Chevel.

Erin recommended it and suggested I get there early if I decided to go. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. I arrived at 10:45. There was already a super long line outside the door. I ended up having to wait about 45 minutes for a spot at the bar, which wasn’t too bad (some parties of 4 had to wait more than an hour).

Front of Au Chevel -- I know, terrible photo

Front of Au Chevel — I know, terrible photo

Waiting for a spot at the bar

Waiting for a spot at the bar

The wait was worth it. I had an amazing burger with a fried egg on top.

Check out this beauty!

Check out this beauty!

Same burger (with the top on)

Same burger (with the top on)

I also got front row seats of the burger-making action.

Watching the magic happen

Watching the magic happen

I was stuffed by the end.

My next stop was 360 Chicago, formerly the John Hancock Observatory Tower, conveniently located right across the street from my hotel. The John Hancock Tower and the Willis Tower are popular spots where tourists get those amazing views of the city from the top.

Gorgeous view from the top

Gorgeous view from the top

View from the other side

View from the other side

And another view (wish I could have been on one of those boats)

And another view (wish I could have been on one of those boats)

Afterward, I debated between an architectural boat ride tour of the city or heading back to the hotel to relax. I chose the latter because I was absolutely exhausted. Good thing I did —it ended up storming as soon as I got back to my room.

I napped again. And then headed to the hotel restaurant for an early dinner (salmon burger and fries). The restaurant was called The Grill, a casual upscale American spot with pricey entrées and a mediocre beer and wine list. Service at the bar was excellent though. The bartender was on point with his beer suggestions.

I didn’t stay out too late. The start time for the race was 6:30 a.m., so I made sure to make it an early night.

I was in bed by 8 p.m.

Race Day

Rock n Roll Chicago bib and shirt

Rock n Roll Chicago bib and shirt

The alarm went off at 4 a.m. I snoozed until 4:30. Despite two naps and an early bedtime the previous day, I wasn’t feeling very refreshed.

I chugged some coffee, forced down a protein bar, got dressed, stretched a bit, and then headed out the door around 5:50.

It was about a 20-25 minute walk to the start line in Grant Park — a nice little warm-up to get my legs going.

Heading to the start

Heading to the start

Runners at the start

Runners at the start

As with all Rock n Roll races, the event was huge — thousands of runners, all organized by corrals that stretched down the street and around the corner. Start time was 6:30 a.m., but I didn’t actually cross the line until around 7 a.m.

Waiting for my corral to cross the start line.

Waiting for my corral to cross the start line.

I was feeling pretty good at the start. The coffee kicked in, and the walk over left me energized. I was hoping to PR this race.

That did not happen.

The course is fairly flat, with the first 9 miles going through the city. After mile 9, the course heads out to the parks along Lake Michigan, going past Soldier Field, Chicago’s Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and through the southern end of Grant Park before finishing in front of the Buckingham Fountain.

Not only did I not PR, I didn’t even finish close to my average time. In fact, I came in about 10 minutes slower than usual.

Why?

I think it was the heat and humidity. I was cruising up until mile 4, but then it hit me. It was pretty hot out there. I was double-fisting cups of water at each water station. I kept losing my running groove. I struggled a bit the second half of the race.

When I realized I wasn’t going to PR, I hoped I could at least make it under 2:30.

Nope. Didn’t happen.

I finished in 2:34:56.

Ohh well.

I was happy to finish.

Overall, I thought the course was nice. The weather was just too hot. And the 1.7-mile walk back to the hotel was long (but shady, at least).

I celebrated with a shower.

10/50! Thank you Rock n Roll, for a great race.

10/50! Thank you Rock n Roll, for a great race.

My flight wasn’t until 7 p.m., so I had some time in the city. I considered going on the architectural boat tour, since I didn’t do it on Saturday. But in the end, decided against it because of the heat.

Instead, I went to Gino’s East for some Chicago-style pizza.

Gino's East was a couple of blocks away from my hotel.

Gino’s East was a couple of blocks away from my hotel.

I was expecting a small hole-in-the-wall type of place, but the restaurant was bigger than expected, with two levels and funky graffiti as décor on the walls.

I ordered a small deep-dish — half BBQ Brisket, half Meaty Legend.

My first Chicago-style pizza

My first Chicago-style pizza

It was good.

It was good.

I’m more of thin crust pizza fan, but when in Chicago… (you know)

It was delicious.

I was stuffed after the second slice (there were four slices).

I boxed the rest up and gave it to a homeless man outside. I think it made his day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon window shopping and then relaxing back at the hotel before my flight (Westin always gives me a late check-out).

Chicago was a lot of fun. Hopefully it won’t be another eight years before I return.

Chicago, you are a beautiful city.

Chicago, you are a beautiful city.

Race details

Name: Chicago Rock n Roll Half Marathon
Date: July 19, 2015
Cost: Part of Rock n Roll Tour Pass ($199/3) = $66.33
Race day weather: Hot and humid, mid to upper 80s

Race start time: 6:30 a.m. CT
Course description: Fairly flat, going through the city and parks along Lake Michigan
Race organization: Well-organized
Finish time: 2:34:56

Other costs:
Airfare: $390.20
Hotel: $250
Food and drinks: about $65
Cabs: about $70
Total = $841.53

This trip ended up being pricier than expected, likely because of the higher airfare and hotel. One of my goals for 2016 is to keep the cost under $500 per race, which sounds doable, but clearly, it will be a challenge for me.

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5 Comments

  1. Congrats on completing 20% of the states 🙂 Great recap and I am SOOO excited for October. The temps were bad this past weekend, you did really well considering the humidity.

    • Thanks, Jen! You’re gonna have great weather when you go! Note from my co-worker who used to live in Chi: she said Lou Malnati’s deep dish is better than Gino’s (in case you’re thinking of eating Chicago-style pizza there). Hopefully you’ll have more time for activities than I did. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Lessons learned from running 8 half marathons and 1 full marathon in 2015 | Running the States

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