“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams…”
Thursday 5th October 2017
Well, where to begin?….Just short of twelve months in the planning, the day for departure is here. Today I am leaving to head to the States for the first part of the adventure and I’m not coming home for seven months. Seven whole months, just me. Be right back…just got to go run around the world and get me that six star!
The time seems to have flown by in these past few weeks since selling and packing up my house, car (RIP Martha 😥) and moving in to the ‘Bouquet Residence’. Lots of final bits and bobs to sort out, you know the usual- vaccinations, currency, insurances, packing, wills and funeral plans. Yes, it was on my checklist, much to my nearest and dearest’ delight but I like to be all about the organisation and well, fingers crossed they’re not required but you just never know…so maybe slightly morbid but essentially sensible all round me thinks.
When I first started to share my plans (which inevitably grew arms and legs by the day), some people thought it was amazing, some thought I was brave, some thought I was bonkers, some probably thought I’d lost my mind, marbles (or both!). But it has been quite overwhelming just how encouraging, supportive and kind people have been to me in the build up to ‘the off’. Thank you so much for all of your lovely words, kind wishes, good luck cards and thoughtful gifts to help me on my way. I am so grateful and feel so very lucky to have the opportunity to do this. I say that not out of self-indulgence, to be patronising, or over the top but just more that I genuinely can’t believe this is actually happening….to me!
The two weeks since Berlin have been jam packed with lots of catch ups and ‘last hurrahs‘. I did unintentionally appear to be milking it towards the end and although I’m rubbish with goodbyes, they were merely extended ‘cheerios’, ‘Merry Christmases’, ‘Happy Birthdays’ and ‘see ya next years’! Lots of lovely coffees, lunches, dinners and drinks were enjoyed. oh and the small matters of a lovely Spa day at Stobo Castle and an overnight at The Old Course with Bryan McFadden and Rory McIllroy (well, ok they weren’t exactly in our company but you know, they were there for an important golf tournament in the form of the Dunhill Cup…same thing really).
Kit for two hemispheres packed in to one bag, all set to go! Special thanks and love galore to Richard and Hyacinth for letting me be your roomie for the past few weeks…absolute heroes of life!
Final farewells and hugs at the airport were always going to be a wee bit emotional, no matter how excited I was about heading off. Thankfully we had tissues at the ready and the lucky ‘sign’ of ‘The Gambler’ playing in the background (what were the chances?!) to help get the job done. Thanks guys….here goooeeees!
First flight Glasgow to Reykjavik, 2 hours, fairly painless and a quick stop over of an hour before connecting flight, part two, Reykjavik to Chicago. I made it through Customs quite quickly and my backpack was the first piece of luggage on the carousel….phew! All of my Marathon kit was in my hand luggage (just incase) but it’s always a relief to see your bag at the other end. An hour on the CTA (train) to downtown Chicago and a short cab ride later, I made it to my hotel, The Drake, just off Michigan Avenue (aka ‘The Magnificent Mile’) on East Walton Place.
Chicago is 6 hours behind GMT so although it was only 9.00pm Chicago time, my body clock was at 3.00am. A little walk to stretch the legs and time for bed after what had been a very big day.
Friday 6th October 2017
“I just blew in from the Windy City and the Windy City is mighty pretty”…
Name that tune!
Funnily enough the term Windy City has Hee Haw to do with the weather but in fact, according to local legend came around because of the ‘hot air‘ reported to be bellowing from politicians back in the day. Useful information incase you’re ever asked in a quiz!
Race Expo fun today. There was a free shuttle bus from Nike Town to Lakeside Centre at McCormick Place.
Naturally filled with runners, there was a nice buzz about that part of the city in the morning. The expo was super well organised. I was so impressed with the lack of queues, huge signs everywhere to direct you to where you were going and all round friendliness of everyone there. Paula was back on the stage along with Bart Yasso (another hero of the running world…Yasso’s 800s, need I say more?)
I was picking up race packs for both the Marathon and the 5K race on the Saturday morning. Registered and numbers collected, obligatory photo opportunities and souvenir purchasing in the form of Nike official merchandise (my favourite!), it was a morning well spent.
Afterwards I took a little walk further down The Magnificent Mile to do a spot more sightseeing, find the Route 66 sign and do a recce of Grant Park to work out the start and finish area set up and then I grabbed some nice pasta at the Artist’s Cafe on the way back to the hotel for tea.
Saturday 7th October 2017
Races in America typically start early. The International 5K being my first wee taster of this. A 7:30am start made for an early alarm. Although it was fairly easy to get to the start line, there was around a 2 mile walk from my hotel to Washington Street so I had to leave enough time to factor this in too. Similar to the Breakfast run in Berlin, lots of people running the Marathon use it as a wee shake out jog to get the legs and blood moving before the big day. Runners who live outwith the US also had their country name and flag on their bib number, a good way to spot where everyone was from. The run followed a gorgeously scenic route taking in a few streets in the city first and then on to Lake Shore drive towards Grant Park for the finish. As well as the lovely medal and goodie bag with fruit and drinks galore, finishers had a token to redeem a rather cool finishers scarf. A first for me at a race. Although it was expensive to enter for what it was, I’m glad I had added it in as part of the plans. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, because it is the 40th anniversary of the Marathon, we were in good company. Five running legends were towing the start line with us including Paula Radcliffe (is it just me or is she following me around?!) and Deena Kastor, who also had the privilege of firing the gun to get the whole thing started off.
Strange to be all finished just after 8.00am! Back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast before taking the Architectural River Cruise Tour in the afternoon. A good way to do some sightseeing and still rest the legs at the same time.
The usual pasta dinner routine on route back to the hotel, flat lay of the kit (and no porridge to prepare in a mug this time round, lesson learned from Berlin, thank goodness!) alarm set for 5am, time to try and get this body clock sorted out and get some sleep.
Sunday 8th October 2017
Marathon number 6…Major number 3 and only two weeks since the last one. No matter how many races you do, or the distance, there are always the pre-start line butterflies. I was a little more anxious about this one today, just to see how my body would hold up. The event organisers had emailed us and issued warnings at the expo about the predicted conditions as part of their ongoing Event Alert System; moderate, less than ideal conditions for marathon running, prepare to slow down, prepare for worsening conditions!…..perfect!
Windy City was not living up to its name as we were on for a very hot day, well very hot to us Scots. 26.2 miles in 26C and very high humidity, far from ideal but I was hoping the early start would still help with this a bit and similar to Berlin, I wasn’t on for a time today so no pressure on that front.
Walking down to Grant Park, even at 6am, it was far from cold. Maybe this early start wasn’t going to be too much of a saviour after all. I love to observe everyone’s pre-race rituals and walking to the start line is the perfect place to do it. These things used to freak me out a little, as everyone is doing something different. They’re eating this, should I be doing that? Should I be doing those stretches? But now I just like to watch and take it all in. I’ve got my own little routine that I know I’ve rehearsed with and most other runners will be the same but it’s still fun to watch all the banana-eating, gel-guzzling, water-drinking and caffeine-shotting as you wait.
Chicago has to be the most well organised of the Majors I’ve been to so far (even in comparison to my beloved London). Strict security checks at the start, although always planned, a little more thorough in light of the awful, recent events in Las Vegas and the start corrals and baggage areas were really well spread out too so there wasn’t lots of congestion trying to get to your designated start zone. I was in Wave 2, corral F and was due to start at 8.00am. Organisers suggest being in plenty time ahead of your start time as the corrals close 15 minutes before the gun. A nice time to make the finishing touches to the start plan and calm oneself before we get going.
10, 9, 8, 7….
I love the sound of the final countdown, everyone cheering, heart rate probably through the roof with excitement, the slow walk-shuffle to get over the start line…. and we are off!
The streets of Chicago are really wide, which makes it so easy to keep moving. Not too much in the way of weaving to get around people. In the early stages of the race, I tried to stick to the blue line (lines painted on the road to indicate the shortest Marathon route of the measured distance) however with the heat, this quickly changed to trying to a stay in the shade as best possible meaning the old Garmin reckoned I’d run close to an extra 2 miles by the time I’d finished. With lots of tall buildings and skyscrapers, sometimes that was easy as you were pretty sheltered from the sun, but along a lot of the route there was no escaping it. The organisers were well prepared for the conditions though. In addition to the aid stations at pretty much every mile marker on the route (medical help, water, where I think as much went over my head as what went in my mouth and Gatorade (the American Lucozade)) they had paddling pool like pits filled with ice cold water and sponges that you could use to help cool you down, as well as big chunks of ice that volunteers were handing out and grateful runners were putting in the most weird and wonderful of places. The fire department had also set up lots of shower spray stations along the edges of the course that you could run through. You’d think getting your clothes wet would cause all sorts of unpleasant chaffing and rubbing (which I’m sure for some it did) but in actual fact it was just lush and helped to instantly drop the heart rate.
I’m realising that every Major is going to be special for a different reason. In Chicago the Volunteers and supporters absolutely made it for me….boy do the Americans know how to throw a party?! I couldn’t help but smile from beginning to end (well almost), literally hundreds of thousands of people, complete strangers on the course wishing you well, it’s really quite hard to describe and do it justice. The number of crazy but incredibly kind Americans that were yelling from the top of their lungs “Go Kiiiiiiiiiiiimm” or, “Kiiiiiiimmm, you got this Girl!” was just unreal, but I am grateful for every cheer. Having your name on your top is such an advantage in that respect. Each time I got some water from a volunteer at the aid stations (which although involved cups again were waaay better organised and far less chaotic than Berlin), they were exactly the same in terms of motivation; smiles galore and so much encouragement, “You goin’ strong girl”, “C’mon Kim, you got this!”…. said in my best Downtown Chicago accent. And the banners on route were fab too. A couple of personal favourites being, “You’re running better than our Government” and “Toenails are for losers anyway”.
Throughout the race, I somehow bizarrely felt a little stronger than I did in Berlin. I knew there would still have been some fatigue in my legs but the endurance is slowly building so I didn’t seem to break down quite as early in the second half by comparison…we are getting there. The heat made the last 8 miles tough and naturally the longer you are out there, the warmer it gets. But just when you think you’re broken, come mile 22 when I’m telling myself there’s only one more Parkrun plus the ‘glory mile’ to go, comes the second wind. 1 mile to go, 800m to go, 600m to go, 400m to go… they don’t half love a count down. And then you can see it… the finish line! The finish area in Grant Park was fantastic. The volunteers were all lined up a bit like a guard of honour on both sides of the finish line, clapping and cheering every runner as they took that final step, Something Inside So Strong playing in the background, cue the goosebumps and perhaps a wee tear, it’s just such a special moment, there really is no feeling like it. So happy it’s over but at the same time, can’t wait to do it all over again!
As well as your finishers medal, goody bag and freebie beer (apparently it’s very good for recovery, so you know rude not to), you got one almighty bag of ice to help cool you down. Lots of people were visibly struggling with the heat and what looked like heat stroke as well as some pretty awful looking sunburn. One of the problems being the sweatier you get, the more the sun cream comes off, just lovely! It will make for some interesting tan lines tomorrow for many, I’m sure. So in Chicago…take note…we beer and we ice! Otherwise you just look out of place. Honest! Everyone was doing it!
There was a post-race celebration in the form of The 27th Mile Party; live music, food, drinks and sunshine!
Eventually time to walk back to the hotel, I went via Millennium Park….compulsory photo at The Bean, more formally known as The Cloud Gate. New city, new star jump and all!
And in the evening the perfect recovery meal….the city’s best Chicago Town Pizza. You’d think you’d be starving? Wrong! I never really am. Though it tasted sooooo good, 2 slices and I was done! I’m sure the hunger will catch up tomorrow!
Goodnight Chicago and thank you. To quote Bon Jovi, ‘Whoa…we’re half way there!‘
Monday 9th October 2017
Surprisingly less stiff than I thought I might be, I was looking forward to enjoying the city today without worrying too much about how much I was walking around or how much time I was spending on my feet. I hadn’t realised that our hotel was being used this morning for filming, for the American hit show Empire, all very Hollywood with lots of cameras and equipment in the lobby and crew ssssssshhhhhushing you left right and centre.
I eventually made it downstairs for breakfast and then I had a lovely walk along Lakeshore Drive to Navy Pier, Oofo recovery flip flops in tow. It was fab, lovely views of the city, Lake Michigan and the iconic ferris wheel. There are lots of restaurants, museums and shops around this area and it’s pretty busy with tourists so a nice place to spend the morning. A fair few blue finishers tees (in addition to my own) were also on parade. And right beside the pier was a little beach, who knew in the middle of the city…perfect activity for post-Marathon recovery!
Tuesday 10th October
Bag repacked with a few less items already, foam roller ditched thanks to picking up “The Stick” at the race expo and the first package with all Marathon memorabilia on its way home, I was ready to take the train back to O’Hare Airport at lunch time to catch a short flight to Louisiana.
Windy City you have been wonderful. Thanks for the bling. I hope I’m lucky enough to come back some day.
Now to get to New Orleans…maybe minus a visit to the House of the Rising Sun!