Sunday 45 thousand marathon runners will take to the streets of Chicago in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. They have trained, sacrificed and now it's time to cheer them on as they journey 26.2 miles to the finish line in Grant Park.
This can be easier said than done. With street closures, traffic and a constant moving target, the last thing you want to do is miss your opportunity to share your love and positive energy with your favorite runner.
Here are a few tips and locations for you to make sure you are able to navigate the Chicago Marathon course and be in the right spot for your athlete.
Kids - A lot of you are planning to bring the kids to the race, which can be a great time or a disaster. While you are running, they are hanging out, tired and looking for something to do. Luckily, there are a few spots to keep them occupied and cheering at the same time, all for free! If you have little ones, I recommend keeping them away from Grant Park in the morning, it's jammed full of people and can be a little intimidating. If you do bring the family to the start, then the "Bean" in Millennium Park which is just north of the start is a great place to have some fun and kill some time.
Option #2 the Zoo! The course goes right by the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is a great place to cheer, have some fun and then make it to the finish line for plenty of hugs and pictures. Plenty of sun screen, water and if possible foldable, light strollers are always good things to have on hand.
Boys Town- For the runners, this is one of the most spirited areas to run through. Drag queen cheerleaders and other "special" things to look at make this stretch a favorite year after year. If you are looking to let your freak flag fly and join in on the fun, Boys Town is the place to be. Costumes are encouraged.
The Fleet Feet Mile- Corner of North and Wells- A stage with Elvis singing, tons of great energy and an aid station make this area a great place to hag out and to cheer on your runner. Bring your fake side burns and join in on a Chicago tradition.
Charity Village- Heading West, right after mile 13, there is a stretch called Charity Village, where many of the charities, set up mini-cheering section/aid stations for their various runners. It is just a little past the 1/2 way mark and where things on many runners start to hurt bad. Being there with a sign, a cheer and even a hug is the kind of fuel that will light a runners fire for the next 13 miles.
WIPES! If you are at Mile 13, having a few baby wipes hands to offer up to your favorite runner isn't the worst thing in the world. We won't get into details, but last year Cubicle Dad could have really used a few wipes in a certain alley!
Chinatown - If you take the Red Line on the "L" (Chinatown exit) you can get to Chinatown pretty quickly and be there for your runner as he or she faces "the wall" or the later miles of the race. It is also another opportunity to have a lot of fun along the way. Chinatown has its own unique cheering section, complete with a Chinese Dragon and drums. It will be tight, but you can hit Chinatown, and make it back to Grant Park before your runner does.
Michigan Avenue- South- Believe it or not the last mile of the marathon can be insanely painful! Once the runners make it up "the hill" on Randolph and they can see the finish line, most of pain goes away and adrenaline takes over. However that last mile can tear a runners body and mind to bits. Many of them are stumbling, walking and even crying at the thought of another step,. yet alone another mile. Have your running shoes ready and your loudest cheering voice tuned, this is where they are going to need you most.
Getting Their Attention and communication-
Talk- It is up to you to make sure they see you. However that being
said, try and lay out a plan so your runner knows where to look for
you. "We are going to be at the zoo, Chinatown and the finish line."
Something that simple will give your runner something to keep them
moving forward. Also ask your runner questions. 'What time do you
think you are going to be at the zoo, Chinatown and finish?" It's not
putting pressure on them to run a certain speed, but gives you a chance
to plan everything within a certain window of opportunity. Good rule
of thumb is get there 20 minutes before and expect them to be 20
minutes later than they said. That way there are no missed
opportunities due to running fast or slow.
Wear Bright Colors!- At big races my wife always makes up bright
colored shirts for our entire family to wear. Making out individual
faces in a crown of 1,000,000 spectators may be hard, but spotting the
neon green shirts with your name on it isn't. Give your runner a
target to look for.
Signs- I am a big fan of the "face sign." These are big cut out images
of the runners head or entire body. Nothing is going to grab a runners
attention quicker than their 3 foot head looking down at them from the
Don't Be Disappointed- Some runners stop and hug their cheering
section, take pictures etc. Others will simply smile, wave or nod
their head. It's not that they don't appreciate you being there, they
do! They are just tired and running. The same runner that nods at you
cheering your head off, will hug you senseless once it's all over.
Public transportation- Learn it, use it. Cabs will work, but you can
get stuck. Thinking you are going to drive your car all over is just
plain silly. The "L" is your bet chance of having a good day.
See you Sunday. Cheer your lungs off and have a great time.