There’s something special about running the Chicago Marathon. The fall weather that can swing warm or cold. The spectators, your neighbors, cheering every step of the 26.2 miles. The magic of running on home turf—or maybe it’s just the running in general. I should know—I’ve run the race 13 times (14 come Sunday). What was a one-and-done turned into a yearly ritual that I thought I’d stop after five, then 10. But I've hit those and I'm still running, so maybe 15 is my magic number (but can you really stop a streak?).
It’s the course, the crowds and good ol’ Chicago that bring me back again and again, even if I get less fired up to race almost every time I toe the line. The flipside: fewer nerves. Plus a lot of finisher medals and tours of Chicago neighborhoods I only run through once a year. And a scrapbook of photos mostly of what I missed while I was running, like Paula Radcliffe’s world record performance in 2002, the crazy costumed runners who are faster than me, and the wheelchair and elite leaders.
Call it an effort to fire myself up for Sunday’s race, a “throw back Thursday,” or a trip down memory lane, I dug through the photo archives (confession: I begged my mom to do it) for this collection of Chicago marathons past.
I don't remember much from my first Chicago Marathon in 2000 except that my parents dropped my friends and me off at Grant Park so they could park at Soldier Field. Then I didn't see them again until around mile 12. LaSalle Bank was the title sponsor at the time, you didn't have to register in February and watch the race sell out in hours, and my parents (who've been at every race but one) found one of their favorite viewing spots at what was still called the Sears Tower.
Then: 2001 and you had to arrive early or know how to weave through a crowd so you wouldn't start at the back of the non-seeded pack. Now: We're still packed into the starting corrals but have two waves and several seeded corrals.
Has anyone seen the marathon banners around town this year? I think my mom takes pictures of these every year to see how more than just the date changes. Paula Radcliffe set the women's marathon world record in 2002, and her accomplishment was celebrated near the finish line while most runners were still miles from the finish line.
I didn't remember that 2003 was a warmer weather year for running until I saw these pictures and saw my tank and shorts in the jumbotron photo (lower left).
Runners, runners and more runners in 2004. First heading west on Adams toward "happy halfway," and then in two spots that I'm guessing are near Halsted and Jackson based on where my parents eat breakfast (Lou Mitchell's) and where they currently stand in Greektown (though I didn't think they started going to Greektown until after marathon No. 5). That's what I get for only remembering that my shin aches almost the entire race.
The Hilton Chicago offers a really cool vantage point of the marathon's finish line. After I finished in 2005, we went to the hotel's presidential suite where I had tickets to some sort of VIP area. We could watch the replay of the television coverage, rehydrate and refuel, and stand on the balcony that looked down on Grant Park. Runners streamed into the finish line, and Buckingham Fountain was where runners reunited with their friends and family.
After looking at these pictures, and the early-year ones I didn't want to post (I spared you from seeing me step out of a porta-potty or standing with a space blanket wrapped around me) and the more recent ones I have yet to post, maybe I am ready to race on Sunday. Or just get it over with so I don't have to run long again until the next training cycle...next year.
Note: a version of this post originally appeared on RunChi's blog.