Simply put, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best Marathons in the world and definitely one of the best races I have ever ran. I has some of the best features and qualities that runners, spectators and professionals look for in a race. Between the 1.7 million spectators cheering you on, and the huge expo and the adventure of running around the city on such a beautiful day, there is not much that could improve on this experience.
Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race. Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.
Race Organization: 19/20
This is my second Marathon Major that I have completed (first was NYC Marathon in 2013) and my 6th marathon overall and I feel comfortable saying that it was the most well put on race that I have ever had a number for. Throughout the months that I was registered and selected for the race I received multiple e-mails from the race about the progress of the planning, the schedule and any events that had recently happened involving the race. Lastly, I was so impressed that I received the participant guide in the mail before the race. This would make any runner feel more comfortable and, as a runner who has never ran in Chicago before, I felt much better going into the race that I would have otherwise.
The expo took place at McCormick Place and this convention center is a wonderful host for such a large expo. The only negative part involving the McCormick place is that it is just tough to get to. There is no mass transit station near the convention center so the traffic around the center was chaotic. Not only was the center hosting the race convention, there was also a large convention of plastic surgeons that was taking place at the same time which just added to the number of cars and people trying to enter the convention hall.
Once I arrived at the expo I was simply impressed. I have been to large expos before, including at Boston and New York City but the Chicago expo was the best. The race implemented a lot of new technology that greatly quickened the check in process. They used a QR code on my participant guide that they mailed before the race to scan it and get all my information. I quickly went to my corral to get my bib and was quickly able to move to the back of the hall and get my t-shirt. After getting my shirt my friend Kathleen and I walked around the expo and looked at some of the best displays I have seen at any expo. Every major company had a display and many were offering special deals exclusively for that race. I will go over some of the things that I got in the extras section but overall I had a blast walking around the hall.
Course/Race Experience: 20/20
If you read my run review you can tell what I thought of my race experience. The volunteers were great, the crowd was the best that I have ever seen, and the course was one of the best that I have ever ran. The course was flat, the weather was great and the energy was electric. All of these characteristics allowed me to set a PR by exactly 26 minutes! Although I thought the course had a few to many turns, I would not change anything about it. The course, much like New York, allowed you to see the whole city and experience the neighborhoods around the city. I have been to Chicago dozens of times but some of these neighborhoods were ones that I had never been to and I loved being able to experience the personality of these many neighborhoods.
Post Race: 16/20
Every runner cannot wait for the post race celebration, because that means that the race is over. After I ran through the finish line and relaxed after having post run high and made my way, slowly, to the post run area to meet up with Kathleen. Going into the area I quickly found that there was not much available. Although there was the obligatory free post race beer, and some refreshments for sale, there was not much else. I found that it was mostly full of families waiting for runners to finish, or waiting for the runner to recover before they could leave. Kathleen and I waited here for a while until two other friends finished up and were able to meet us before heading to a great post race dinner.
Every big race has great extras and this one was no exception. While at the expo I saw many products that had Chicago spins including a couple that I had to purchase. A couple of these extras were given to me. I am a member of Nike + and just for being a member Nike gave me two extra gifts. These gifts were a phone cover with the course on it. Although the cases were only available for Samsung S4 and the IPhone 5 it still makes a great souvenir and one that I will definitely hold onto. Also they gave away a black bandana that included a map of the course. Although these are not expensive, they show the care that the sponsors took in the runners.
The coolest extra I have ever seen, before Chicago, was in Boston where I saw that Samuel Adams had a special bottle opener for the race. When at the expo I saw that Goose Island had a special bottle opener and I had to buy it. Not only is this opener a unique gift from a Chicago company for a Chicago event but it really shows the love that the city has for the race.
MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 91/100
The Chicago Marathon is a great race and no matter how many people or other blogs told me that before the race I had to experience it for myself before making a judgement. Now that I have experienced all there is to experience about the Chicago Marathon I agree with everyone’s assessment. The race is a great race and I know that I will do it again in the future. Leaving Chicago the night of the race I knew that not only did I have a great time at the race but I was lucky enough to experience another great race. Chicago was my 7th Marathon but it was my favorite. Not only did I get a great time, I also had a great experience, and was able to really feel happy about the whole race. I encourage EVERY runner to run in Chicago and I hope to see you there next to me in the future.