09 October 2013

My Kind of Town, Chicago is...

"Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose."
-Nelson Algren
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park
Before I was a mountain girl, I was a big city girl -- a culture-making type of big city like New York, Boston or London. I am more at home in the city than anywhere else. I love the energy, the diversity of cultures, the ease of public transportation, the variety of eateries, the museums and seeing really great performance art (music, theater, dance). I know it's hard for many of my ultrarunning friends to understand, but I love big cities, even more than mountains.

Back when I was 27 and a road runner living in Nashville, I made two goals for myself prior to turning 30: to pay off all my debt and to run a marathon. It took three years to complete the first goal; using Hal Higdon's novice plan, training for a marathon took just 4 months from a 3 mile base.

I chose the Chicago Marathon as my debut marathon, probably because it was easy to fly there and it was FLAT. I had never visited Chicago and with Lori, Marianne, Kerrie, Mike & Tony for company & moral support, I ran it in 1998 in a time of 5:09. As with any first-time race distance, I just wanted to finish and I was happy with my time, slow as it was.
Kerrie, me & Marianne after my finish
I loved the crowds and energy of the people cheering as we ran through more than 20 different neighborhoods, each with their own flavor. It felt like the whole town had gathered to cheer on 30,000 of us runners. In some places, people would stand several deep, kids with outstretched palms for a high five and the Rocky theme blazing from the second story windows of brownstones. It was a beautiful day in every sense of the word.
Getting 45,000 people across the start line is like herding cattle 
Start of the race!
Chicago Theater
The spectators are the best!
Mariachi Band
Old Town
The Finish
I ran only one other official marathon after that -- The Disney Marathon -- and converted to trails in 2002. I did PR on a homemade course back in 2009 (4:45) when I had a sudden urge to run a marathon just before getting pregnant with child #2. My long runs were only 6 miles, so I just doubled that distance two weekends in a row and mapped out a looped course near my mother-in-law's house. Taught me how little training is needed to actually finish the distance. 
Terria & I at Disney 2000 where I finished in 5:25, thanks to nausea 
The final lap of my Mother's Day Marathon 2009
The best aid station table ever & cheering squad
My finishers wreath made by neighbor Laurel
I'd been considering a return to Chicago for a few years now, thinking that a 15th anniversary run was in order. I own the Spirit of the Marathon documentary and it always jazzes me for running a road marathon with tens of thousands of people. I've been curious to see how I'd do with trail running (now ultrarunning) legs, assuming that with my high-altitude lungs, I'd smash my current PR by at least 30 min. So I joined the 45,000 people that flooded the Active.com servers last February and managed to register, despite the server crash that led to a lottery for those that couldn't on Day 1. 

My year of ultrarunning then exploded with opportunity and by this summer it was apparent that I would be attempting my first 100 miler just two weeks before the marathon. So, with the effects of running/hiking/walking 85 miles still felt on my legs, I'm headed to the Windy City this Friday. Since I'm still fatigued and haven't training specifically for it, I'm not expecting my best time, but still hoping to finish in the 4:15 - 4:30 time frame. 

Regardless of my time, I expect it to be fun. Two of my dearest friends of the last 20 years are joining me for a girl's weekend and we'll enjoy the sights, some good food & likely some hilarity together. 

When I think of Chicago, I think of architecture, hot dogs, deep dish pizza, comedy & the blues. Here's a little Clapton & friends for your enjoyment. You're welcome.

Happy Trails,


*All marathon pics shamelessly pinched from the race website archives


  1. So basically in your earlier life you were Lisa Douglas in 'Green Acres'. Please tell me you have heard of 'Green Acres'.

    1. After Googling this and reading the Wikipedia entry, yes I would say I have a lot in common with her. Followed my huz to the Springs for the job of his dreams and it ain't nothin' like Boston, that's fo sho'!

  2. Ha! Love the Lisa Douglas comment, that was one of my favorite shows growing up ;-)

    Hope it went well, Shelby! I'm running a half marathon next weekend!

    1. Oh Steve...it was tough running hard for 4 hours! I'd much rather lollygag for 30! But I scored a 14 min PR despite being inadequately prepared. I hope your half went well too.