I qualified to run Chicago Marathon three years ago and had to wait all this time before joining it, because of the travel restrictions due to the pandemic. So it was with that goal in my mind that I packed my bags to prepare for five days in the city. Tried and tested shoes. Carbs shake. Recovery PJ. No high heels. All I want is to run! I thought.
I didn’t know that I would fall in love and that Chicago cast a spell on me. Here are six things I learnt – and adored – while staying in the windy city.
1- It’s The Most American of All American Cities
My first impression was that Chicago is a quintessentially American city. Being big, beautiful, in the middle of the country, and the financial and cultural capital of the region, Chicago represents America at its best.
2- It’s Cleaner Than New York
Chicago looks very similar to New York. It is, however, much cleaner. Unlike New York (where trash is put on the curb), Chicago is a city of alleys, so trash and debris is placed out of view, then regularly picked up, while streets are regularly swept.
3- Chicagoans Are No Weather Sissies
The windy city’s brutal winters are well known, and dealing with them is a chore. However, you will always see some local wearing shorts even in the middle of a snow storm. Chicagoans are no sissies, and especially no weather sissies – the message they want to give by walking around wearing light clothes is clear. Knowing how harsh conditions can be makes Chicago mild season even more pleasant – I probably got to experience the city at its absolute best.
Painting: Niagara Detroit
4- The Best Building is ” The Big Willie”
It’s probably cliché to say this, but the most massive, muscular and Chicagoan building in town is Willis Tower (aka Big Willie for locals, formerly the Sears Tower). At 443 meters, it was the tallest tower in the world for many years. Its Skydeck on the 103th floor is absolutely spectacular – but not a particularly good idea if you’re afraid of heights.
5- 20% Of the World Freshwaters Start Here
Chicago is a city of 2.7 million people, head of a region of almost 10 million, and is spread along the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan.
I’m going to say something obvious, here, I know. But The Great Lakes are…big.
If you’ve ever strolled down the Lake Michigan shoreline, you know how impressive the Great Lakes can be. Cognitively, you understand it’s just a lake – a landlocked body of usually fresh, not salt, water – but the breadth and majesty of it might as well belong to an ocean.
That’s exactly the impression I had: was this really, only, a lake?
Carved by ancient glaciers, these lakes contain approximately 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh-water supply and 95 percent of the surface fresh water in the United States. Yes, you read that well: 20 percent of the whole world.
6- Chicago Marathon Shows You Something You Would Never See
Almost 45,000 runners gathered in Grant Park on Marathon day at about 6 am, cold and sleepy, to get their gear checked and reach their respective gates and corrals, to run Chicago Marathon. Countdown, gunshot, go! The amazing Chicago tourist tour of 42 km started. The first thing I noticed was the incredible amount of people on the streets, encouraging and cheering runners in the most creative ways. “Run like Trump just asked you to be his lawyer” said one hand made sign. “You run this city better than the Government”, said the other. “I’ve been eating carbs for a week too!” read another one, held by a beautiful – and chubby – woman. Hundred of different signs greeted us for the whole length of every single km (or, better, mile), cheerful and enthusiastic people screamed at us, played music, threw candies, confetti and soap bubbles at us. There was no mile without cheering people, something I’ve never seen in any other marathon – not in such a quantity and density.
From an architectural point of view, passing through different districts was also lively and full of contrasts. We run in the middle of skyscrapers, and we saw the Chicago-style bungalow homes.
There are about 200,000 in the city – out of more than a million dwellings – and they are the quintessential single family housing type in the city. Mostly built between 1910 and 1930, they are an architectural marvel – adaptable, spacious homes designed for comfortable urban living. (The Guardian)
Bridges were partially covered in red carpets so runners could avoid any sticking metal or hole. Numerous aid station offered everything from drink to food, high-fives, hugs and kisses.
It was with a heart full of emotions that I heard my name on the loudspeaker when approaching finish line.
WELCOME IN, BEATRICE FROM SWITZERLAND!
The speaker announced.
I was on top of the world. Everybody around me – thousands of people – was thrilled and happy for their finish. I felt tears coming. Why am I always so dramatic, and need to cry even if I’m happy? It must be the Chicago spell, and I must be a sissy. Thank you Chicago Marathon for letting me wait – and intensively enjoy – so much.
Shoes and running gear: On-running