To all overseas visitors heading to the Chicago Marathon

I’m no runner but I’ve just started finding my feet in Chicago after moving here over two years ago. So if you’re from overseas and are on your way to this Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, here are my very tongue-in-cheek (ie Irish) suggestions for all those necessary pre-event preparations.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

For a short, intense work-out – Forget running up a hill. There aren’t any. But Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and many of the buildings which constitute the city’s amazing downtown skyline double up as hotels. So what better way for a short, intense work-out than to eschew the elevator and take the stairs to your 46th floor Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons.

If after that, you still need to get your pulse racing, why not visit some of the area’s many haunted houses. It’s that time of year and in America, there’s no such thing as half-hearted at Hallowe’en – unless, of course, it’s literally half a fake heart lying around.

This is what awaits you - taken October 7, 2015

This is what awaits you – taken October 7, 2015

For a gentle pre-event run – my overseas visitors, without fail, all say the same thing upon arrival in Chicago – ‘you call that a lake?’ The amazing expanse of water that gives Chicago its air of openness and freedom (OK, and wind) cannot be captured in a photograph. Believe me, I’ve tried. In real life, it feels like an inland sea – without the salt. Which is a huge plus as you’ll find when you return in the summer. Which you will. But the real gift bestowed by Lake Michigan is it can be enjoyed by runners, walkers, cyclists etc all year round. You can jump in and out of its 18-mile long Lakefront Trail as and when you choose, so it’s perfect for any length of gentle warm-up run. Amazing views are guaranteed throughout, and it’s not part of your route on Sunday so there will be no sense of déjà vu.

For those looking to visualise the course – you can wait in the everlasting line at the Willis Tower (at least it will give you some practice ahead of the loo-queue on Sunday). Or you can take the inside track and head to the John Hancock Center. The Hancock Center’s viewing deck (now called 360 Chicago) is closer to the lake front and on a clear day, you can see 80 miles and 4 states. So no problem then being able to see your approaching private hell of 26 miles and 385 yards that make up Sunday’s course.  And your own 4 states – trepidation, determination, debilitation and exhilaration (or commiseration). At least there’s a espresso bar up there to give you a much-needed shot of caffeine when you fully appreciate what you’ve taken on. And alcohol.

For those looking to load up on the carbs – Chicagoans know how to eat well, very well. And I’m not talking about ketchup-less hot dogs, deep pan pizzas and over-sized, over-budget steaks. Chicago is the city that introduced me to Mexican food, and taquerias here are as numerous as pubs in Belfast. Or Chicago for that matter. Word of advice, people are as passionate about their tacos as they are about their sports teams, so don’t expect a short answer if you ask where to find the best one. And I know this will be seen as a travesty by all lovers of Mexican food, but we have the country’s first Taco Bell to serve alcohol.

Chicago is also home to what is regarded by Food Network as the best burger in America. This rarified beast can be found in the stables of ‘Au Cheval’ and potential diners are happy to hang around for three hours or so just to sink their teeth into this three-patty wonder. Now wouldn’t that be an incentive if they delayed the start-time of the marathon until the restaurant opened – get a friend to put your names down and then aim to be finished in time to snag your well-earned table.

For those looking to rest up their feet – Chicagoans (and in fact every American) will laugh at this one but there is one spot in Chicago I’ve visited recently with my visiting non-natives that has earned rave reviews and repeat visits. A perfect place to put up one’s feet after a hard day’s shopping, sightseeing or pre-marathoning. A place where the lights are dimmed, the seats soft and spacious and the drinks seemingly come in bottomless cups. Where is this magic space? The movie theatre. Or rather the movie theatres with those magical reclining chairs that those of us not born in the US have only seen in episodes of ‘Friends’. They truly reduce world-weary, blase teenagers and young millennials to excited toddlers. Especially when those (of-age) toddlers realise the contents of their sippy-cup have grown-up, thanks to the addition of a bar in some cinemas.

For those looking to get maximum sleep – don’t worry, people go to bed here early. You’ll get more than enough. Or you could try watching a movie in one of the reclining chairs I’ve just described. Seems to work every time with my husband.

And for all those hoping for a great time – you’ll get it. It’s no coincidence Chicago’s called the Windy City. In my view, it will blow you away.

For the more serious planners, here are a few websites I use for living in the city and also for when I have visitors. I’m hoping any commentators will add their favourites to help give you a real flavour of Chicago.

chicago-eater.com – great guide to what’s happening in the bar and restaurant scene

thrillist/chicago – restaurants, bars, neighbourhoods, and a fun take on almost everything Chicago

choosechicago.com – the city’s tourism bureau

chicagotribune – the paper I read everyday. And if nothing else, you should read this great article on restaurants offering Marathon specials.

divvybikes – Chicago’s excellent bike sharing scheme. Particularly welcome when that planned 18-mile run along the Lakefront Trail turns into a 10 mile one. Great phone app for finding the nearest bike or returning slot.

dnainfochicago – if you like getting under the covers of the city you’re sleeping in

curbedchicago – you ARE blown away by the city, you wonder what it would be like to live here and more importantly, you wonder how much it would cost. Well, here’s your answer.

chicagonow – of course. What Chicagoans are really thinking about.    

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