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Illinois

Updated: Feb 11

LIFE TIME CHICAGO SPRING HALF MARATHON

Chicago, IL


I ran the Life Time Chicago Spring Half Marathon on May 22, 2022, and decided to check Illinois off my list since it was one extremely short flight away. I landed at O’Hare International Airport the day before the race, and checked in at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco downtown. My hotel was chosen based on its extremely close proximity to the start/finish line, and if you are thinking of staying in downtown Chicago for a race weekend, be sure to book your room at least six months in advance since everything sells out quickly and prices skyrocket the closer you get to the weekend of the race. On race morning, I was very thankful my hotel was only a couple of blocks away, and I was able to walk to the start/finish without worrying about catching an Uber on race day or renting a vehicle for the weekend.


I really love downtown Chicago. The vibe reminds me of a more relaxed New York City, which is where I spent a lot of time while I was growing up, and will always consider “home.” So, Chicago feels familiar and welcoming with its big city energy, but with way less people. No matter how long I live in a small town, I'll always be a big city girl. I was very intentional in choosing the Chicago Spring Half Marathon for my Illinois race for this reason – I love big cities, and I wanted to experience one of the bigger races with thousands of runners in one of America’s biggest metropolitan areas. It’s a completely different type of excitement and energy.



Life Time Chicago Spring Half Marathon: The Happiest Race on Earth


The race started and finished on Monroe and Columbus Drive in Maggie Daley Park, which is traditionally where the HOKA ONE ONE Chicago Half Marathon in the fall starts and finishes. The course consisted of a one-loop half marathon course through Chicago’s historic and scenic museum campus alongside Soldier Field, finishing at Maggie Daley Park. More details about the course to follow in the sections below.


The temperature on race morning started out at 53° F, and warmed up to about 58° F by the time I reached the finish line. Throughout the race, there was a gentle breeze at a consistent 7 to 10 mph wind speed – and this was the most PERFECT race weather. Humidity was relatively low, and by the time I started to feel even slightly overheated during the second half of the race, I was quickly cooled off by the breeze while we ran along Lake Michigan. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day for a run. Typically this time of year in Chicago – also known as the “Windy City,” – you can expect anything from a torrential downpour to high wind speeds, and “spring time” in Chicago is considered to be the 15 minutes between winter and summer. To say we lucked out with our race day weather is an understatement.


With the 7:00 A.M. race start, runners were required to be in their respective start corrals between 6:30 A.M. and 6:45 A.M. I was assigned Corral G. Prior to walking down to the starting line and entering my corral, I swung by Starbucks on the way to pick up my customary pre-race cup of black coffee and plain toasted bagel with butter. I consumed my fuel in plenty of time to make it to my start corral with time to spare, and enough time to stretch. Here is an exclusive peek from the inside of Corral G:


When I first received information from the race organizers about the corrals and wave start, I was a bit apprehensive, since I have heard horror stories from runners participating in other races who did not have a good experience with corrals and wave starts. I was pleasantly surprised to find the corrals and wave starts for the Chicago Spring Half were extremely organized and stress-free. To lessen course congestion and to provide each participant with a quality experience, the Chicago Spring Half Marathon decided on the corral wave start.


Since I was assigned Half Marathon Wave 2 (Corral G), I had to enter my corral along Monroe Street, east of Columbus Drive. I felt like we were a very large group of racehorses being herded into the fenced-in corral as we all filed in, ready to bolt as soon as the horn went off for us to cross the start. The corral promptly closed at 7:05 a.m., and when the gate swung shut, anyone who was not in the corral was not allowed to start the half marathon and had to be moved to the 10K race.


By the time my corral was released to start the race, it was somewhere around 7:20 A.M. While we waited, there was music and the volunteers made the wait entertaining. One of the race photographers jumped into the corrals to take photos of runners, and we consistently encountered the photographers along the course. Photos were available to download approximately 24 hours after the race, and our race results were available to view almost immediately after the race concluded.


I can’t say enough about how much I loved the energy of this race, and I’ve nicknamed it “the happiest race on earth” because the volunteers and race organizers were phenomenal and ensured we had an incredibly fun experience. There were flowerpot stations in Maggie Daley Park where you could take home your own potted spring flower arrangement, a post-race buffet for finishers, photo stations and high-quality free race photos included with registration, and many vendors ready to welcome finishers at the Spring Market Finish Festival with treats and swag. I browsed the Spring Market Finish Festival when I finished the race, and made my way over to the buffet tent, made visible by a giant sign reading “ATHLETE FOOD.”


Each of our bibs had a buffet ticket and a beer ticket. The buffet consisted of breakfast tacos, hash browns, some packaged muffins, fruit cups, and orange juice. At that point, I was suddenly overcome with a wave of nausea, and the nausea hit as soon as I scooped eggs onto my plate. I found a spot in the grass near the festival entrance and downed a salt packet, continued drinking water, and slowly ate some of the eggs until the nausea nearly subsided.


I wasn’t able to finish the entire plate and all I could concentrate on was my unsettled stomach and the hot afternoon sun beating down on my back, so I decided to put eating on hold and walked across the street to Millennium Park, where I took a touristy finisher photo at Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean,” and sat on one of the park benches to rest for a few minutes.



When I felt well enough to attempt to eat a meal again, I walked from Cloud Gate to Wildberry Pancakes & Café on Randolph Street and treated myself to a huge stack of banana chocolate chip pancakes. I was so full I could barely walk back to my hotel. I rounded out the afternoon with a two-hour nap, and drank the Gatorade that I packed with me for the trip to immediately replenish electrolytes. After waking up from my nap I felt great, and headed out in the evening to have dinner on the Riverwalk and stretch out my muscles with a decent amount of walking downtown.


Course Scenery & Elevation/Difficulty


The Life Time Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K courses began on Columbus Drive, south of Monroe. Most of the course traveled along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, which the race advertises as “extremely flat, fast and incredibly scenic.” I agree with the “incredibly scenic” part, however, “extremely flat” is debatable. The scenery along the course was breathtaking, giving way to stunning views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan... but it was definitely no walk in the park! Some of the little hills that snuck in were super unexpected!



There was one final steeper hill during mile 12, and a gentleman running beside me had the pleasure of listening to me complain about it and ask rhetorically, “Why is this hill here?!” since we were less than a mile out from the finish. We were advised to keep right while running on the course, since the course remained open to the public and there was public traffic sharing the trail with us. There were so many bicycles. SO. MANY. BICYCLES.


Along the race route, we had the opportunity to see some of the renowned Chicago sights and attractions— such as the Navy Pier near the starting line, running on the trails that run alongside Lake Shore Drive southward down to the race turnaround point, passing the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field, which is the home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears. For the first 6 miles, we stayed on the Lakefront Trail and headed south along Lake Michigan to the turnaround point at Morgan Point, which looks out onto Morgan Shoal. Many runners stopped here to take selfies and photos with their friends in their running group. I took some photos and videos as the Chicago skyline started to come into view on the water.



At the turnaround point, we headed back north along the lakeshore, passing the 31st Street Harbor, Burnham Harbor and Monroe Harbor, passing the Chicago Yacht Club, and continued all the way to the finish line at Lake Shore East Park and walked to the finish festival in Maggie Daley Park. In the last half mile, we ran through a dark tunnel under a bridge, which I was absolutely not a fan of, and I could feel my heartrate increase and my panic level rise with sudden feelings of claustrophobia.


I kept frantically looking around me to make sure other runners were near, in case the boogeyman decided to make an appearance. It definitely pushed me to get to the finish line faster just to get out of that tunnel. Thankfully, the finish line immediately came into view once we came out the other side of the tunnel.


T-Shirts/Swag & Expo/Packet Pick Up


There were a few dates and times offered for packet pick up, and I chose to pick up my packet when I arrived that Saturday. It was made clear that there would be no packet pick up on race day, so after I got settled into my hotel, I walked down to the Chicago Athletic Association located at 12 S Michigan Avenue, where the race expo and packet pick up were being held. Each runner was given a tote bag with our race bibs, swag, and a corral wristband that corresponded with our assigned corrals for race day. We were instructed to wear the wristband to be permitted to enter the corral.


The expo was pretty standard, with several different vendors with tables set up, offering free samples, pamphlets, and brochures for local businesses. We also had the opportunity to preview the race medals, and view our corral start times. A light rain began to fall while I was picking up my packet, which caused me to feel a bit of pre-race weather anxiety – however, those feelings quickly dissipated on race morning with the perfect weather we ended up having. After visiting the expo, I stopped at Remington’s for a turkey burger, and it was the absolute most amazing pre-race meal I could have had. If you’re visiting Chicago for this race, or for any reason, I highly recommend a visit to Remington’s.


So, below is a photo of the contents of my swag bag, my race gear, and a few notes about running races in the Midwest:

  1. When in doubt, pack an umbrella.

  2. Also pack gloves, a hat/ear warmers, a rain coat, rain/snow boots, flip flops, a set of warm weather clothes, and a set of cold weather clothes.

  3. If you're still uncertain about packing an umbrella, and you think umbrellas are stupid, see #1.

Having lived in the Midwest for at least the last 10 years, I knew better than to not bring an umbrella to Chicago when it's “spring time.” I ended up needing it, actually, and having my rain coat when I stepped off the plane also was something I ended up patting myself on the back for. It poured rain continuously right up until I woke up on race morning. I also did something different this time, and packed a travel Gatorade, because my slow runner paranoia told me that there might be a shortage of Gatorade at the finish during a big city race by the time I got there. It ended up not being the case, because there was plenty to eat and drink at the finish – however, the extra Gatorade did me a world of good when I was feeling under the weather after the race and in desperate need of more electrolytes.


By the way, this was THE. COOLEST. SWAG. BAG. It included this high quality moisture wicking T-shirt, a package of Gone Rogue turkey bites, Propel electrolyte mix, and Charlotte's Web CBD Sleep gummies! I was especially excited about the sleep gummies, since I forgot my melatonin while I was packing. I ended up not having a CBD gummy the night before the race, because my steadfast rule will always be nothing new on race day, and nothing new nutrition-wise the night before a race.



Aid Stations


The support for this course was absolutely phenomenal. Medical assistance was available at each aid station along the route, and there was a medical facility located near the Finish Line. There were a total of 10 aid stations throughout the course, as well as aid stations at the start/finish areas, all together boasting an aid station at pretty much every mile of the course.


I felt spoiled, because I’m typically accustomed to aid stations every two or three miles on a course. Each station included water and Gatorade, Gatorade Endurance energy gels at mile 4 and mile 8, and porta-potties at nearly every aid station. The lines for the porta-potties were pretty long during the first half of the race, so I waited until mile 7 to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, even then, I ended up waiting a bit longer than I wanted, and I’m sure it added as much as five minutes to my finish time.


Medical Assistance


Medical personnel, first aid supplies and AED equipment were available at all nine medical tents on the course and at the main medical tent in the finish area. Medical tents on the course were easy to identify by their red canopies and were conveniently located next to an aid station. Race guards (First-aid certified volunteers) participated in the race and could be identified by their red bibs labeled MEDICAL affixed to the backs of their shirts. In addition to medical volunteers running on the course, I noticed some of them passing by along the route on bicycles. Mobile medical (EMS and BLS) units were stationed throughout the course to effectively respond to emergency medical situations.


Know Before You Go: Parking/Access


The race venue is hosted in the heart of downtown Chicago. Due to existing traffic congestion, as well as road closures throughout the venue, participants were discouraged from driving to the event. Instead, ride share, biking, or using mass transit was strongly encouraged. I flew in from out of state and ensured my hotel was within walking distance from the start, and I opted to Uber back and forth from the airport. I didn’t need a vehicle during my entire stay, as everything was within walking distance (shops, restaurants, bars, coffee, etc.).


LODGING:

Kimpton Hotel Monaco Chicago

225 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60601


Thank you for reading!


Happy running and safe travels,

Stefanie




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