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.
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).
I also saw some yoga in action at 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.
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).
The wait was worth it. I had an amazing burger with a fried egg on top.
I also got front row seats of the burger-making action.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.