Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

How to avoid slipping on icy winter runs

icysidewalkIn this post I’ll share a few options to help you gain some traction on those winter runs on icy and snowy roads. So you can hopefully do a few less runs on the dreaded treadmill.

I wrote a blog post reviewing my Kahtoola Microspikes which are great for winter trail running on snow packed trails but not suitable for winter road running. I got a lot of great suggestions on solutions for winter road running when I wrote the post so wanted to expand on those suggestions and share what I learned, if only because this is helping me evaluate alternatives for my own use 🙂

I would not run in these every day in winter. But for those 5-10 runs each winter when the footing is slick due to ice or packed snow on the road these provide better traction than trail shoes.

I’ll share the solutions from cheapest to most expensive.

Sheet Metal Screws (< $5)

Take a pair of old running shoes, grab or borrow a drill and a nut driver and buy yourself some hex head sheet metal screws to make your own cleats. The lip on the head of the screws gives you traction. (Thank you Daisy for sharing this picture of the exact package you use for this purpose). There’s a wintersheetmetalscrewsgood video with tips on how and where to drill them into your shoe.  There is also a good article by Skyrunner on how to create a ScrewShoe. Expect between 100 to 150 miles of traction before the screw heads are too worn down to help anymore. When you go shopping you want:

  • Hex head screws
  • Size #8 or #6
  • Head width of 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, or 1/2 inch

Nordic Grip Mini Traction Aid ($15 USD)

winternordic-grip-mini-18

If you are looking for something to just give you a little more grip without drilling holes in your shoes, check out the Nordic Grip Mini Traction Aid. It slips over the toe box of your running shoe.  This will not provide as much traction as any of the other solutions, as it only provides two studs on the toe. It has the advantage that you if you start the run on icy sidewalks and then reach a stretch of clear pavement you can take it off and put it in your pocket or you can carry it in your pocket and if you start on clear pavement and conditions worsen you can put them on as needed.

It comes in two sizes Small and Large:

  • Small Fits Shoe Size: 3-8
  • Large Fits Shoe Size: 8-14

Ice Spikes  ($30 USD)

wintericespikesSimilar to sheet metal screws, Ice spikes are also spikes you drill into an old pair of running shoes, but, they are designed specifically for drilling into shoes as traction. There’s a great article by Blaine Moore comparing Ice Spikes to Sheet Metal screws as a solution. The article concludes they both do a good job with traction, but the Ice Spikes do a better job if you actually run over ice, and the ice spikes are more durable (i.e. you will get more mileage out of them). The writer also recommends using a drill to insert the spikes not the hand held device provided when you order them.

YakTrax  ($40 USD) and NanoSpikes ($50 USD)

YakTrax and Nanospikes are rubber and metal traction devices you slipover your existing running shoes.

The advantage over spikes is you can use them on any pair of running shoes and you can take them on and off as needed. So if you wear Goretex shoes in winter to keep your feet dry you don’t have to drill holes in them for traction on those icy days.

The disadvantage vs spikes is they add weight, how much weight depends on the size.

Brand Weight Spikes
YakTrax 9.7 – 11.7 oz per pair Carbide Steel
Nanospikes 7.2 – 9.0 oz per pair Tungsten Carbide

Because you pull them over your shoe it’s important to order the correct size, if you put them on a pair of shoes too big, or try to pull them over winter boots which are generally larger they may snap and break.

YakTrax offers 4 sizes vs 5 sizes in the Nanospikes so there is a less precise fit but Yaktrax can handle bigger shoes than the Nanospikes

YakTrax sizing

SMALL – W 6.5-10 / M 5-8.5
MEDIUM – W 10.5-12.5 / M 9-11
LARGE – W 13-15 / M 11.5-13.5
X-LARGE – W 15.5+ / M 14+

Nanospikes sizing

winternanospikesizing

Running shoes with built-in spikes ($80 USD +)

They aren’t cheap, but there are a number of brands who produce running shoes with built in metal spikes including: Inov-8, Solomon & Icebug.

This is the simplest and priciest solution. You only want to wear these shoes for slippery conditions. The click click click of the spikes on pavement does get a bit annoying. Not an issue if you have to cross a road, or hit a clear patch of wet pavement during a run, but if the roads are bare pavement, you won’t want to run in these shoes, any more than you would put Yaktrax on your shoes for a run of pavement.

I’ve compared a few models below. here’s a few things to consider when selecting a spiked winter shoe:

Warmth – if you will be running in temperatures around 0C/32 F you probably don’t need to worry about technology to keep your feet warm. If you will be running in -20 C/-4 F or lower you may want to invest in shoes that have something windproof to keep your toes warm.

Water proof vs water resistant – trail runners often prefer NOT to get a waterproof shoe, because if you do step in a creek and get water inside the shoe it does not drain. Road runners tend to prefer waterproof shoes because if you run in slush your feet stay dry. It is less likely for a road runner to step in water deep enough to get inside the shoe.

Fit – Check the size of the toe box, and check the heel to toe drop, ideally you want to try them on to make sure they fit well. But the challenge here is that not many running stores carry these shoes, so you may have to order online. So compare the technical specs of these shoes to your current running shoes.

Stiffness – Winter shoes designed for trail running often have very stiff soles.

Spikes – Most of the shoes I found use carbide for the spikes or at least for the tips of the spikes, and have similar numbers of spikes, Any of the shoes listed below is going to give you improved grip on snowy/icy roads and sidewalks. I would focus on the other factors when deciding which shoe is right for you.

Inov-8

 

Solomon

IceBug

All the Icebug shoes with BUGrip have built-in spikes. Models availability seems to vary from country to country and I couldn’t find a site listing prices in USD, so I used the price from the Icebugs Canada website. Generally $1 CDN is about .80 USD, but exchange rates fluctuate.

Shoe Price Weight Spikes Notes
Inov-8 Oroc 280 $104 USD 9.9 oz/ 280 g 18 Carbide Metal Spikes Orienteering/ Off trail shoe

Water resistant

Narrow toe box

Inov-8 Arctic Talon 275 $80 USD 9.625 oz/ 275 g 14 tungsten carbide Spikes Winter trail running shoe

Narrow (a touch wider than Oroc 280)

Inov-8 Arctic Claw $120 USD 10.5 oz/ 300 g 16 tungsten carbide spikes winter trail running shoe

wider toe box than Oroc series

Solomon Speedspike $126 USD 10.8 oz/ 305 g 15 carbide spikes Training and racing shoe for winter conditions

Stiffer than the Inov-8 shoes

Waterproof Climashield membrane over forefoot

Icebug Anima 3 BUGrip $150 Canadian Not Specified 19 carbide tip steel studs lightweight all terrain shoe
Icebug Pytho 4 BUGrip $199 Canadian 325 g 17 carbide tip steel studs designed for long distance running (wider toe box)
Icebug Oribi3 BUGrip GTX $230 Canadian 261 g 14 carbide tip steel studs Lightweight winter running shoe

Goretex (i.e. waterproof)

Summary

Be safe out there. I think most of us who train through winter conditions have had at least one run or fall which made us aware of the risk of injury. My worst fall I had reached a smooth wet icy patch on a trail. It was a warm day and the ice patch was melting. The water on top of the ice made it especially slippery. I had stopped running and was carefully walking over the ice and suddenly I found myself lying on my back having just hit the back of my head on the ice. I was very lucky to not have a concussion, only huge bruises on my elbows which caught the brunt of my fall.

There are solutions for every price range, I have met at least one runner who has successfully used every solution listed above (that’s how I found out about all these options). Thank you to each of the runners who shared their stories with me (David, Randy, Mary, Jane, Andrew, Daisy, James).

Now I have to decide which of these solutions I personally want to try! Let me know if you found a different solution I should include as an option.

If you are interested, I have other running related posts

 

 

 

 

Winter running – review of Microspikes and suggested alternatives

In this post I’ll share my experience with Kahtoola Microspikes ($69.95) for running on snow packed trails.

You are ready to go for a run but the roads look like this:

IMG_20190101_111918

Normally that means your view for the next hour or so would be this:

Treadmill

Microspikes to the rescue? Time to find out…

I live and run in Ottawa, Canada. We get all four running seasons. In spring, I run through puddles and grumble about winter dog walkers who didn’t scoop the poop. In summer, I lose about 3 pounds a run in sweat. Fall is a magical 3 week window for setting personal bests, it’s cooled off and the footing is great. In winter, I check the weather forecast obsessively trying to find a running window between snowfalls and freezing rain, and trying to convince myself -28 C windchill won’t freeze my eyelashes shut.

I am a road runner, but I enjoy running on trails through the woods. I don’t notice the mileage because I am too busy trying to make sure I don’t trip on that rock or log. Most of my “trail” running is on local walking trails. I am NOT a trail runner, but I am happy to do a 5 km trail race or to join a friend for a 10-15 km trail run, because it might be fun!

Once the snow falls, I am driven to the roads and the treadmill. My local trails are a mix of snow and ice. Trail shoes can get you through the snow, but the ice can be a problem especially on the hills.

IMG_20190101_151222

On a recent run, my friend Chris told me he and his wife, Karen, trail run in winter with Microspikes .I was intrigued. My sister (a fellow runner) picked me up a pair from Bushtukah as a Christmas gift. I went out two days later to try them out with Chris & Karen. We ran 14 km on a partly groomed trail (Trails #66 #67 #68 from P1 in the Gatineau Park) designed for snowshoers and fat bikers (the tires are fat not the bikers 😉). The trail was packed snow with occasional patches of ice.

MicrospikesOldAndNewI wore my Goretex running shoes (Asics GT 2000) to keep my feet warm and dry. I did not wear Gaiters (essential accessory for running snowshoes). When we got to the parking lot, I took out the Microspikes and put them over my shoes. Chris & Karen have a slightly older pair with a metal rod across the front instead of rubber. They said the metal rod occasionally digs into the top of their toes. I did not have that problem with the current design which has replaced that metal rod with rubber. We started to run, and after 500 meters or so I basically forgot the spikes were there. I ran normally, confident on my footing regardless of whether it was snow or ice, uphill or downhill. I had some fun on the dowIMG_20190101_151215nhills letting gravity take over with complete confidence the spikes would give me the traction I needed. (This run was in the Gatineau Hills of Ottawa, so it was an actual trail run). You occasionally hear a bit of a jingle from the chains, and they add a little bit of weight (169 g each according to my kitchen scale), but all in all I just trusted the spikes to give me a good footing. I was pleasantly surprised.

Now as awesome as they were, they are not the magic solution for all winter runs.

When Microspikes are the right option

  • You have a snow packed or groomed trail, dirt patches on the trail are fine
  • You have a light snowfall over the top of a snow packed or groomed trail

When Microspikes are the wrong option

  • Trail has a lot of rocks  – the spikes are long enough to be awkward on rock
  • Trail has a lot of mud – the spikes are slim so don’t help as much in mud
  • 2-6 inches of fresh snow – time to break out the running snowshoes
  • 6+ inches of fresh snow – time to go cross country skiing
  • You are going for a road run and some of the roads or sidewalks are snowcovered and slippery. The spikes are too long for road use. Time to find a route that is well sanded and salted, or hit the dreaded treadmill! If you are going to be road running and the sidewalks are a mess check out my post evaluating different products designed for road runners on icy roads.

Sizing Microspikes

If you do purchase a pair, you do need to get the right size for your shoe (or boots, they can be used over winter boots as well). My Winter runners are a women’s size 10. I have the Medium Microspikes (recommended for Women’s size 9-12). I don’t have any trouble pulling them onto the shoe. Its a little harder taking them off after the run.

SizingChart

So if you have a favorite trail that is walkable with good boots, but not runnable in the winter, it might be time to splurge on a pair of Kahtoola Microspikes and take back the trail!

FYI – those pictures at the start of the post were from this morning. Today was one of *those* days. It was beautiful and sunny, but the roads are an icy, snowy mess! I broke out the Microspikes and ran on a neighborhood walking trail which is I’ve never been able to run in winter before because it’s too slippery with just my runners. I won’t use them every day, but today the Microspikes came to the rescue! I’ll take this view over the treadmill every time!

IMG_20190101_120446

Happy winter running! Stay warm out there!

If you found this helpful, I have other running related posts

Garmin 645 Music – Listening to music on a run without a phone

645MusicIn this post I’ll talk about Garmins that store and play music and share a review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music as a wrist GPS for those who want music without carrying a phone.

  • Which Garmins can store and play music
  • Which music apps are supported
  • My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music including: Size and appearance; Using Spotify on the 645; Bluetooth headphones; Battery life; How do I update/add Spotify playlists on my 645; What could be better?
  • Summary

When I first got into running, I needed music to get through the long runs. I had an iPod mini loaded up with tunes. In winter, I kept the iPod in a jacket pocket. In summer, I had to pick up an arm band. As time passed, two things happened:

  • I found myself doing longer and longer runs without music
  • I bought our family a subscription to Spotify and stopped using iTunes.

Recently I found myself wishing I could listen to music on my runs again. There were several challenges to overcome:

  • My phone was so full of Candy Crush versions and running selfies that I had no storage space for Spotify playlists
  • Canada is the land of overpriced cell phone plans, so streaming music on your phone costs about the same amount as a guaranteed entry to the London marathon
  • Phones keep getting bigger! In summer, I’m lucky if I can find a pocket in my women’s running clothes that will hold a car key.
  • My flip belt can carry a phone, but I have a tendency to sweat when I run, so that only works if I put my phone in a Ziploc bag.
  • My smaller running belt can only hold my phone if I take it out of the case, no proCarryingPhoneOnRun.jpgblem unless the day it’s not in a case is the day you drop it on the garage floor (do you like my spider web screensaver?)
  • My water belt has a larger pouch, but for long runs I can either hold my phone or my supply of Tap Endurance Gels (shots of maple syrup as my nutrition, what could be more Canadian).

I was at the Chicago marathon race expo with my sister Judy. Judy is my source of information for new running gadgets because she works at Bushtukah, a locally owned sports store. She told me Garmin had a wrist GPS that could store and play music. Garmin had a booth at the expo, the perfect opportunity to check out my options.

Which Garmins can store and play music?

There are several models of Garmin which store and play music.

All the models store up to 500 songs.

Model Price US$ Diameter Thickness Weight Battery Life with music
Fenix 5S Plus $699.99 42 mm 15.8 mm 65 g Up to 4.5 hours
Fenix 5 Plus $749.99 47 mm 15.8 mm 86 g Up to 8 hours
Fenix 5X Plus $1049.99 51 mm 17.5 mm 96 g Up to 13 hours
Forerunner 645 Music $449.99 42.5 mm 13.5 mm 42.2 g Up to 5 hours
Vivoactive 3 Music $249.99 43.1 mm 13.6 mm 39 g Up to 5 hours

Which music apps are supported?

When I wrote this post the following music services were available on the 645:

  • Spotify
  • Deezer
  • IHeartRadio
  • KKBox
  • Runcasts (for Podcasts)
  • AWA
  • Line
  • MiguMusic

My review of the Garmin Forerunner 645

My previous Garmin was the Forerunner 735 which I bought with dreams of triathlons since it tracks indoor and outdoor swimming. I decided to stay with the Forerunner series and bought the black Forerunner 645 Music with Rose Gold hardware.

When I bought it, Spotify was only supported on the Fenix, but the Garmin rep told me the software update for Spotify on the 645 was coming out in the next 3 months.

Size and appearance

Garmin Forerunner 735 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music

Forerunner 735 and Forerunner 645 Music on wrist for  comparison

The 645 was smaller than my 735, and the rose gold was, well, prettier, than my 735. So I switched over to my 645 even though I didn’t have music yet. I got a number of compliments on the watch. Unlike the last two Garmins I have owned, the 645 doesn’t scream Garmin when you see it. I can usually spot undercover runners and triathletes at work at about 50 paces by their Garmins.

Let’s be clear, it’s not a dress watch. It looks out of place when I wear it with an evening dress (one day maybe I’ll replace the dead batteries in my actual dress watches but since I wear my Garmin 365 days of the year, that seems unlikely). Taking it off in the summer risks blinding everyone with the thick white tan line across my wrist. But, general opinion among my runner friends was this was the nicest looking Garmin they had seen. My sister even took a picture to send her store manager suggesting they start carrying the rose gold version.

Using Spotify on the 645

I waited patiently and sure enough in December the Spotify app was available for the 645.  The first thing I discovered was most of the instructions and videos online for downloading music to your 645 do NOT apply to Spotify. All those instructions telling you to download your playlist to your computer and then connect the Garmin to the computer with the USB port do NOT apply to Spotify. Spotify has its own storage format. After watching several videos, downloading apps and playlists to my laptop to no avail, I got desperate and tried something completely insane: I downloaded and read the manual from the Garmin website. 5 minutes later I had downloaded my first playlist to my device. Scroll down for a summary of the steps to get Spotify working.

Bluetooth headphones

All these devices only work with Bluetooth headphones, so I picked up a pair of AirShokz Trekz Air ($149.95 USD). These were recommended by Garmin and conveniently had a booth at the same race expo. I’ll write a separate review of them once I’ve tested them on some longer runs and a wider variety of weather. But I will say, I am happy with them so far and I feel safer with the bone conduction headphones because I can listen to music and still hear traffic and conversations.

Battery life

345972627-too-cold-for-a-runnerSeveral friends who rely on their phones for music asked me about battery life. Winter in Ottawa can result in temperatures that freeze your nose hairs (around -20 C), and even eyelashes (around -30 C but that’s why treadmills were invented). Those same cold temperatures drain phone batteries. I’ve never had a problem with a Garmin battery dying in the cold. I presume the fact it is strapped to my wrist instead of sitting in a pocket or pouch helps keep it warm. I decided to test it on a pleasant -15 C run. I started out with 100% charge. After running 1 hour tracking my run and listening to music I was at 83% battery life. For a marathon runner like me, that means I should not have any trouble listening to music for my longest training runs which max out just under 4 hours. An ultra runner might need the Fenix 5 Plus which promises up to 8 hours of music or the Fenix 5X Plus which promises up to 13 hours. The 645 only promises 5 hours according to the Garmin site.

On a side note, now that I have music on my Garmin, I’ve found myself listening to music more often. I wrote this blog post listening to music from my 645 while riding a train from Ottawa to Toronto with unreliable data connection and wifi. Mental note: download some non-running playlists for travel, I need to save the running playlist for when I want that extra boost (you just can’t run slow to Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones)

How do I update/add Spotify playlists to my 645?

  1. Install the Garmin Connect app on your phone and log in with your Garmin account (create an account if you don’t have one)
  2. Connect Garmin Connect on your phone to the watch (make sure you pick Settings – Phone – Pair Phone NOT Settings – Phone – Find Phone (doh! no wonder I was having trouble getting it to connect the first time).
  3. Connect your 645 to Wifi – FYI – I sometimes get an error that says ‘incorrect password’ when I know the password is correct, I an suspicious that you receive that error message when the wifi signal is weak as well as for incorrect passwords because when I get incorrect password, I usually just try again immediately and it successfully connects.
  4. Install the Spotify app on your 645 from your phone or your computer
  5. Using your phone
    1. In the Garmin Connect app on the phone select Connect IQ store.
    2. Locate and download the Spotify app
    3. Sync your 645 (Press and hold the Light button and choose sync from the menu)
  6. Using your computer
    1. Install Garmin express and use your USB cable to attach and add the ForeRunner 645.
    2. Select Manage Apps
    3. Select Get More Apps
    4. Locate and download the Spotify app
    5. Sync your 645 using the cable
    6. Once the app is installed, press and hold the lower button on the left side of the watch to go to music mode.
    7. Select the … to go to the music options
    8. Choose Library
    9. Go to the music settings, choose library
    10. Select Add Music/playlists to add the playlists you want downloaded to your 645. You Garmin will need a connection to wifi and the Garmin Connect app on your phone to add new music.

What could be better?

The software on the 645 definitely has a few glitches.  Once in a while it freezes, or you go to your playlist and it acts as though it only has one song on the playlist. I just turn it off and on again. On one occasion the power off button wouldn’t work when it was frozen, but after 10 minutes it worked again.

Every now and then the headphones will disconnect and you have to restart the music and reconnect the headphones to the watch. It’s happened to me twice with my headphones, and one of the Seattle Green Lake Runners said she has the same problem.

Summary

If you have Spotify already and you are looking for a way to listen to music without carrying a phone, check out the new Garmin devices with music. Despite the occasional software glitches I am very happy with my Forerunner 645 Music and I’m having fun building new playlists for running. It’s a shiny new toy that does the job, and if anyone (like say your significant other who is not a runner) asks you why you need another Garmin when you already have one, just tell them this one goes to 11! (right Christopher?)

See a list of my other running related posts including race reviews, and some just for fun

Chicago Marathon vs New York Marathon

I had the pleasure of running the New York City Marathon in 2017 and the Chicago Marathon in 2018. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide. I also have posts comparing Chicago to Boston and New York to Boston

Getting a bib

Lottery

RegisterForNYCOne does not simply register for the New York City or Chicago marathon.  Because so many runners want to complete these races, they use a lottery to award bibs.

The odds are much better for getting into Chicago through the lottery

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%
New York 2018 105,184 15,640 15%

New York actually does three separate lotteries from all the entries received.

  • NYC-metro area applicants (residents in and within 60 miles of New York City)
  • National applications (US residents)
  • International applicants (Non-US residents)

New York selects the same % of runners from each group. i.e. if 15% of applicants were accepted, then 15% of international runners who applied were accepted, 15% of applicants from within the US were selected and 15% of runners within NYC metro area were accepted.

Time Qualifier

racetimerBoth New York & Chicago offer guaranteed entry for those who run fast enough.

Time standards are harder to meet for New York and New York limits the number of time qualifier spots for those who qualify at non-NYRR races. They are awarded first come first served. So it’s important to claim your time qualifier spot as soon as registration opens for New York. Those who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time after the qualifying spots available is reached are placed in the general drawing.

Age group New York Men Chicago Men New York Women Chicago Women
18-29 2:53 3:10 3:13 3:30
30-34 2:53 3:15 3:13 3:45
35-39 2:55 3:15 3:15 3:45
40-44 2:58 3:25 3:26 3:55
45-49 3:05 3:25 3:38 3:55
50-54 3:14 3:40 3:51 4:10
55-59 3:23 3:40 4:10 4:10
60-64 3:34 4:00 4:27 4:35
65-69 3:45 4:00 4:50 4:35
70-74 4:10 4:30 5:30 5:10
75-79 4:30 4:30 6:00 5:10
80+ 4:55 5:00 6:35 5:45

New York is quite unique because it also has a half marathon time qualifier

Age group Men Women
18-34 1:21 1:32
35-39 1:23 1:34
40-44 1:25 1:37
45-49 1:28 1:42
50-54 1:32 1:49
55-59 1:36 1:54
60-64 1:41 2:02
65-69 1:46 2:12
70-74 1:57 2:27
75-79 2:07 2:40
80+ 2:15 2:50

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

New York 2019 fundraising targets start at $2500 USD.

Local races

shamrockBoth races provide options to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

New York has the 9+1 or the 9+ $1K program.

If you join the NYRR who either complete 9 score, qualifying races in the year and either volunteer at one NYRR event in the same year or donate $1000 USD to NYRR your and community services program within the year can also get a guaranteed race entry.

Also, if you run the time qualifier at one of the NYRR qualifying races you are guaranteed an entry.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race either New York or Chicago and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the marathon tour partners.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into either New York or Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.runner

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Chicago and New York are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at New York is sponsored by New Balance. There is an incredible assortment of official New York marathon merchandise. You can find the usual running gear, but also hoodies, backpacks, gloves, hats, mugs, and more. Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the New York expo. You will find additional merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

I picked up a pace band at the race expo in New York and ran into an interesting problem. My arms were not long enough :). Apparently I am now sufficiently old enough and sufficiently near sighted that it is difficult for me to read a pace band during the race. In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. The font on the tattoos was nice and big so I was able to keep an eye on my target pace during the race.

Race morning

Getting to the start

New York

LadyLibertyThe New York marathon starts at Staten Island. To reach the start you can:

  • take the ferry and a shuttle bus (estimated travel time 90 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from New Jersey (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from Manhattan (estimated travel time 90 minutes)

Of course you need to add time to get to the bus or ferry and to get on the bus or ferry. Plus the time to get through security (quite efficient did not take long), bag check, find your Dunkin Donuts hat and line up once or twice for the port-a-potty. Luckily the time change is usually the night before the race so your 5 AM alarm will feel like a 6 AM alarm!

If was in Wave 2, which had a 10:15 AM start and the cut-off to drop off bags was at 9:05 AM. I woke up at 5:30 AM, and was out the hotel door by about 6 AM to catch the 6:30 AM ferry. It’s so cool to see pass the Statue of Liberty on your way to the start, it really sets the mood “You are running New York!” But, walking to the ferry, waiting for the ferry, getting off the ferry,a long line for the shuttle bus, riding the shuttle bus, is a lot to deal with pre-race.  I only had about 10 minutes to spare before my bag check cut-off at 9:05 AM.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

In New York the majority of the port-a-potties are in the Open Zone along New York Avenue. The line ups are shorter further away from the shuttle drop off. There are additional port-a-potties in each of orange, green, and blue zones. There are port-a-potties in each of the corrals as well.

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and New York divide up runners into waves, corrals, and colors. This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral.

New York has port-a-potties in the corrals which is nice. Chicago does not and as I mentioned above there were some people peeing beside the wire fences.  But aside from that both races had well organized corrals.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for New York and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

New York

The big climbs in New York are about 20-40 meters in elevation. New York has three particularly tough climbs: the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39. It also has rolling hills through Central Park and a steady climb in the last km to the finish. New York is considered a difficult marathon.

NYCHillProfile

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsNew York has an estimated 1,000,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. I loved the dancing rabbis in New York. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. I had less than ideal spectator weather in both cities, but each only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago or on the Queensboro bridge in New York.

The years that I ran the race the crowds were louder in New York. There were a couple of “scream tunnels” in New York. A “scream tunnel” is a stretch where the crowds yell so loud you cannot hear your name if your best friend is yelling it at the top of their lungs. I did not encounter any sections that loud in Chicago. To be fair, that may be due to the width of the roads as much as to the size and volume of the crowds. Overall, I felt slightly more energy from the crowds in New York, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2017 there were 50,766 finishers in the New York City marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

In an attempt to keep runners moving smoothly, New York divides up the start into blue, orange, and green corrals. Each follows a slightly different path and is kept separate from the other colors for the first 8 miles.  But with 50,000+ runners that road is going to be crowded no matter what you do. I found the road more crowded with runners in New York vs Chicago. I tried to follow a pacer in New York and for some reason my pacer was two corrals back from where I was assigned based on my predicted (target) pace. As a result we had to zig zag and pass a LOT of slower runners which was stressful given the lack of space and took up a lot of extra energy. I didn’t really feel like I had space to run my own race until after 9 miles or so in New York.

In Chicago the roads are wider, they have a few less runners, and they also did crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass). I found Chicago less stressful when trying to maintain my pace.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and New York are the runners from around the world! Specatators from Mexico are among my favorites for their passion and cheering.

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2017 New York had runners from 139 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both New York and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage.

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and New York offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women.

Ranking New York Chicago
1st place $100,000 $100,000
2nd place $60,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

New York elites in 2018 include:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Geoffrey Kamworor Male 2017 NYC Winner
Shadrak Biwott Male 2018 Boston 3rd
Shura Kitata Male 2018 London 2nd
Daniel Wanjiru Male 2017 London winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2x Boston winner
Mark Keitany Female 3x NYC winner
Vivian Cheruiyot Female 2018 London winner
Molly Huddle Female 2016 NYC Podium finish
Shalane Flanagan Female 2017 NYC winner
Des Linder Female 2018 Boston winner

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

It seems that despite the similar amounts of prize money, New York seems to attract a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

finish-ponchosIn New York when you finish you have to sign up for the option of getting the blue poncho a month or so before the actual race. If you choose a blue poncho you get to exit the park at the close exit, but you cannot do bag check. There are a limited number of blue ponchos, so if you do not request it soon enough you will have to exit the park at the far exit regardless of whether or not you actually check a bag.

I did not have anyone meeting me at the finish line in New York, so I checked a bag. That meant I got the standard mylar blanket and had to walk to the far end of Central Park to pick up my gear and exit the park.  That was a long walk after running 26.2 miles and I felt every step, but bag pick up was quick and efficient when I got there. After bag pick up you still have a decent walk to get out of the park to meet friends and family. I was highly amused by the pedicabs offering to give tired runners a ride (for a fee of course :))

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is not short, but it is shorter than New York. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. When I sat down on the curb en route to bag check in New York, a medic came over to encourage me to get back on my feet and also offered to open my chocolate milk for me.

Both races had food and drink at the finish.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island, though as drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 My only complaint about New York is that they give you an apple instead of a banana because of course New York is “the big apple”

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorWhen I hobbled into a restaurant in New York with my thermal blanket still wrapped around my shoulders the entire restaurant clapped and cheered. The next day lots of runners walk around with their medals and strangers congratulate you on the race. I regret taking an early flight out the next day as it would have been fun to soak of the post-race atmosphere and get my medal engraved.

The New York Times lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

New York is a tougher course than Chicago and the road felt more crowded, but I found the crowd and atmosphere had more energy. So if the cheering of the crowds is what keeps you going, I think you will prefer New York.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start, you have a more room to run on the course, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade quite easily. You are more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in New York or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to Boston, I have compared New York and Boston in another post   If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts marathoncomic

Chicago Marathon Race report

ChicagoWithJudyThis past weekend I ran the 2018 Chicago marathon, one of the six Abbott Marathon Majors and a very popular marathon. In this post I’ll share my thoughts on the race experience so you know what to expect if you decide to run.

  • Getting a bib: Lottery; Qualifying Time; Charity Entry; Shamrock Shuffle; Tour entry; Cancelled Entry; Get the app
  • The Race expo: Where is it? How do I get there? Bib & Packet pick up; Photo ops and things to do; Race goodies
  • Start Area: Getting to the start; Port-a-Potties
  • The race: Room to run; water stops; Crowd support; Hills; Route; Garmin == Timex; The weather
  • Spectator experience
  • The finish: Finish line freebies; bag check and changing area; meeting area
  • The post-race atmosphere
  • Summary

Chicago has been on my marathon bucket list ever since my friend Christopher introduced me to the documentary Spirit of the Marathon. I hope you have the opportunity to run it for yourself!

Getting a bib

There are multiple ways to get a bib for the Chicago marathon.

Race bib Chicago MarathonLottery

More people want to register for the Chicago marathon than the number of bibs available. Bibs are awarded by a lottery system. You apply for the bib during the application window. At the end of the application window you receive an email informing you if your name was selected. If your name is selected you are automatically charged the registration fee. In 2019 you can register after October 30th and the drawing takes place November 29th.

In 2015 53% of those who entered the lottery were accepted.

Qualifying Time

you can run a qualifying time in the qualifying period (for 2019 you would have to run the qualifying time after January 2017). They dropped the qualifying times a little bit for the 2018 marathon allowing me to earn a bib with a qualifying time.

If you can prove you ran the qualifying time below you can get a bib for the 2019 marathon.

Age group Men Women
16 – 29 3:10:00 3:30:00
30 – 39 3:15:00 3:45:00
40 – 49 3:25:00 3:55:00
50 – 59 3:40:00 4:10:00
60 – 69 4:00:00 4:35:00
70 – 79 4:30:00 5:10:00
80 and over 5:00:00 5:45:00

Charity Entry

You can join one of the official Chicago marathon fundraising teams. You must fundraise between $1250 and $1750 USD.

Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2000 and have signed up for the 2019 Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee your spot in the 2019 marathon. A great option for local runners.

Tour entry

You can purchase a tour package. This is typically a more expensive option but will usually include a hotel and or travel. This option is frequently used by international runners or groups of runners. I used a tour entry for the NYC marathon when my running buddy got in through lottery and I did not so we could run together.

Cancelled Entry

One of the really nice things about Chicago is you do have the ability to cancel your entry and defer it to the next year. You lose the cost of registration and have to pay again the following year, but when you have a lottery spot and an injury messes you up, it’s nice to know you have a guaranteed spot the next year – right Christopher, James, Julia, Brian?

Get the app

Once you have your bib, keep an eye out for the link to the official Chicago marathon phone app. It’s very helpful for spectators and runners alike.

The Race Expo

Where is it?

ChicagoStepsThe Chicago marathon has a great race expo. it’s located at McCormick place, a conference centre just outside the downtown core.

How do I get there?

Chicago has a good metro system and there are a number of buses that will get you to McCormick place. You can purchase metro passes at the race expo (they even have souvenir marathon fare cards!) If you are staying downtown, the race also has a number of shuttle stops. We took the shuttle from the Nike store, there was a long line up but they had a good number of school buses and were well organized. It did not take long to get on a bus. The bus also seemed to take some sort of public transit only road most of the way, so it was faster than a taxi, or Lyft/Uber.  Some of our friends tried to get the shuttle from the Hilton Friday morning and said the buses never showed up, which is odd (they ended sharing an Uber with 2 other runners). That was first thing Friday morning, so perhaps there was some confusion about when the first bus left. We took the Hilton bus back later Friday so we know that shuttle bus system was working.

Bib & packet pick up

You have to go through security to pick up your bib, but they have a dozen people to do security screening so it moves quickly. It was quite busy first thing Friday morning, but completely empy at 2 PM Friday afternoon. To pick up your bib you must present government issued photo id and your packet pick up ticket. If you do not have your pick up ticket with you there is a booth which can print it for you.  However if you forget your ID, you have to go back and get it (That’s how I found out the line ups at 2 PM were shorter than the lines first thing in the morning… I forgot my ID and was unable to get my bib…Whoops!) You pick up your bib packet first. Your rake kit & T shirt pick up is in the back of the expo.

They had lots of volunteers and were very efficient!  Leaving us lots of time to explore the expo

Photo Ops & things to do

The race expo was great, lots of cool photo ops from the moment you walk in. My sister and I have a tradition of taking pictures with a bear at every major race we do together, but all we found in Chicago was a Trex and a turtle. This year they also had a treadmill so you could try to run the world record pace Eliud Kipchoge ran at the Berlin marathon. No I didn’t try it, I figured that was the perfect way to pull a hamstring two days before the race 🙂

Race goodies

chicagoswagNike has a booth set up with all the official race wear. They focused completely on running apparel: running shirts, long sleeved running shirts, jacket, tank tops, visor. I think they missed an opportunity. The other US majors (New York & Boston) sell mugs, glasses, backpacks, hoodies, and all sorts of extra branded goodies you can spend money on. There was a very long line to purchase your official race wear.  All the official race wear can also be purchased at the Nike Shop on Michigan Ave.  So you might want to go there after the expo to make your purchase. The lines at the Nike store were shorter and the DJs in the store make for a fun atmosphere.

We still found lots of ways to spend our money. Goose Island IPA had cool shirts and pint glasses (which you can get engraved for free with your finish time on Monday at select locations). The Chicago Tribune had coffee mugs. All the big vendors were there. Garmin had 10% off GPS devices. You could buy souvenir marathon Oofos (great splurge, recovery sandals are amazing post-race). Brooks had some nice race shirts. I even picked up a fun pair of Chicago running socks (also available as running sleeves, compression sleeves, or compression socks).

I was particularly amused by the “Dude” products in the race bag. If you didn’t read the instructions on the back of the packages, it’s worth the read 🙂

Start Area

Getting to the start

Of all the marathon majors Chicago is the most low stress on race day! There are a lot of options to get to the start area in Grant Park. You can take the metro line, and there are lots of hotels within walking distance. Security and bag check were efficient. Your bib has a gate number on it indicating where you should enter, although one of the volunteers told us at the last minute we could have entered at any gate. We still chose to enter at our assigned gate.

ChicagoPreRaceSelfieI left my hotel at 5:45 AM, met a friend at another hotel at 6 AM, and we had time to stop at the port-a-potties, explore the start area, sit on a bench for a bit, take a picture at Buckingham fountain, check our bags, one more stop at the port-a-potty and get to our corral before our wave two start at 8 AM.

Kudos to the Chicago marathon for working hard to be green! They had green stations with volunteers to sort the garbage, and even had a recycling station for the mylar blankets at the finish which apparently they recycle into park benches!

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapotty The corrals cut the start area in two. This is relevant because there are more port-a-potties on the city side of the park when you first enter than on the lake side. Bag check and Buckingham fountain (great for that last pre-race selfie) are on the lake side. When the race starts at 7:30 AM the crosswalk across the corrals is closed. It might be possible to enter and exit a corral to cross, but if you can it will be a bit of a hassle.  We took advantage of the port-a-potties on the city side when we first entered and were only in line for a couple of minutes. When we did our final pre-start port-a-potty run after bag check on the lake side the line ups took more like 10-15 minutes.

The race

I was in corral F, the first corral of wave two. The 3:55 and 4:00 pacers were in my corral. No-one checked my bib when I went into the corral, but I did not have any trouble getting into the corral (i.e. it wasn’t overly crowded) and I was able to move up in front of the 4:00 pacer without difficulty.  I was planning to run sub 4, and expected the 4 hour pacer would have a big pack of runners around them.

It took a couple of minutes to get across the start line and we were off.

Room to run

The first thing I appreciated in this race was how wide the roads were. There were 44,571 finishers in this years marathon. That is a lot of runners!  In many big races it can be difficult to run your own pace because you get stuck behind other runners and it is difficult to pass.  I rarely had that problem in Chicago.  There were a few spots where the road narrowed, but 90% of the race I was able to run my own pace without the need to constantly zig zag trying to find a space between runners.  The organizers even managed spectators to keep them from encroaching on the running space asking them to step back when they started to move onto the road. I tried following a pacer in New York and it was extremely difficult because the pacer had to zig zag into small gaps between runners to maintain the target pace. Whereas in Chicago, I ended up behind the 3:55 pacers for several miles quite by chance and could easily have followed them through to the finish line.

Water stops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the water stations had medical aid, Gatorade Endurance. Each stop was Gatorade first, water second (except for one stop where the volunteers clearly got a bit confused and had water in the Gatorade cups at the first couple of tables…but to their credit the volunteers were doing such a great job of yelling out whether they had water or Gatorade it wasn’t really a problem). Each stop had plenty of tables on both sides of the road and the tables were well spread out. I was able to get water and Gatorade at each stop without stopping or walking. Of course the occasional runner would stop in front of me at a water stop, but that is beyond the control of the race organizers. The volunteers were also trying very had to keep the discarded cups out of the way as much as possible without disrupting the runners.

There were lots of toilets along the route as well, but they are often on side streets, so you have to look for the signs around the water stations with the arrows indicating where to find the toilets.

The water stops at 19, 22 and 24 miles had bananas

There were either Gatorade Chews at mile 13 and Gatorade Gels at mile 18

Biofreeze was at mile 21 . If you are not familiar with Biofreeze. It’s a topical analgesic. In English that means you put it on your sore joint or muscle and it will reduce some of the pain. I have not tried it, but there are other marathons where I might have tried that at mile 21.

I had no trouble finding medical aid when my body glide was insufficient for race conditions and I wanted a little Vaseline to get me through the last 8 miles.

Crowd support

ChicagoSignThe press release says there are an estimated 1,7 million spectators at the Chicago marathon. We had clouds and drizzle on race day. That is a bit cold and wet for spectators so I doubt we had quite that many. But, there were solid crowds for probably 70% of the course. The remaining 30% of the course there were always spectators just not as many. There was a wonderful variety of signs “If it was easy, I would do it”, “Hurry up I want to go watch football”, “This seems like a lot of work for a free banana”, etc… I saw costumes, I heard bands, I think the loudest crowds were in Chinatown a great boost late in the race.

I had bonus cheers from friends and family who posted pictures of themselves holding signs they shared with me on Facebook as well which was awesome 🙂

The Chicago race bibs do not have your name on them (unless you are an elite like Sir Mo)  so if you want the crowds to cheer you on personally you will need to find a way to label yourself. The crowds enjoy having a name or a country to cheer.  You could

  • Spell your name with tape on the front of your shirt  (though my friend Christopher had to rip his off part way through the race because the tape was chafing)
  • Write your name in Sharpie on your arm (though then they can only see your name as you run by, it works better if your name is on your front, and if you go straight to your hotel to nap afterwards you may discover your sweaty arm has transferred your name onto the hotel bedsheet)
  • Attach a sticker to the bottom of your bib with your name on it (when I tried that mine fell off part way through the race in the rain)

Hills

ChicagoElevationChicago does not have any big hills. It is flat, but it is not Las Vegas flat. I had it described to me as “waffle flat”. I think that is the perfect description. It’s flat with a number of short little bumps when you have an overpass to cross. It’s considered a great race for trying to run a personal best. Four world records were set at this race. In 2018, when I ran, Mo Farah set a new European record.

You can see my Strava profile from the marathon on the right. There are a lot of little spikes and drops where my GPS was confused but you can see over the entire race the elevation range only varies from 175 meters to under 185 meters, and the total elevation gain was 80 meters.

The biggest hill is at the finish and honestly it’s not a very big hill, but if you are struggling, having your biggest climb in the last 800 meters will suck.  So now you know when you see that 800m sign that you are about to hit “the” hill. I appreciate the sign at the top of that last hill to let you know you only have 300m to go from the top of the hill to the finish line. Once you climb that hill and turn left you can see the finish chute. Make sure you smile for the camera for that finish line photo. But don’t throw yourarms out too wide (I got smacked in the face by a happy runner throwing their arms out in celebration in the final 100 meters, it’s okay no bruises, no harm done :))

The route

The route is basically made up of three big out and backs, which makes it easier for a spectator to cheer you on at multiple points on the route. There are also a number of little turns as you switch from one road to another. This does break up what might otherwise be really long straight stretches, but it also means you can easily add mileage if you are on the outside of all the turns. Follow the blue line if you want to stick as close to 26.2 miles as possible.

I know very little about the city of Chicago, so I can’t tell you if we passed any specific famous buildings or neighborhoods. But I did enjoy the variety of the neighborhoods and scenery along the way.

Garmin == Timex

ChicagoStravaMapThe big buildings downtown combined with a couple of tunnels mean you cannot rely on your Garmin to tell you your pace or your distance. According to Garmin I ran 43.8 km!  When you look at the map on my Strava account on the right you can see odd little zig zags where my Garmin got confused. I was VERY glad I grabbed a pace band tattoo at the race expo. The only way I could tell if I was on track was to compare the elapsed time at each mile marker to the target time on my pace band to keep myself on track. If you usually rely on your Garmin to monitor your speed, you may want to follow a pacer to hit your goal time.

The weather

What sort of weather should expect for the race? It depends. Here are the conditions from the past ten years

  • 2018 57-64F Drizzle Winds ENE 5 MPH
  • 2017 56-73F Partly Cloudy Winds SW 8 MPH
  • 2016 50-63F Partly Cloudy Winds ESE 8 MPH
  • 2015 54-78F Clear Winds SSW 11 MPH
  • 2014 45-64F Partly Cloudy Winds SE 8 MPH
  • 2013 46-65F Clear Winds NW 4MPH
  • 2012 38-51F Mostly Cloudy Winds WNW 6 MPH
  • 2011 57-80F Clear Winds ESE 3 MPH
  • 2010 59-84F Scattered Clouds No Wind
  • 2009 28-45F Mostly Cloudy Winds NW 7 MPH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spectator Experience

ChicagoSpectatorMy friend Christopher was injured and had to defer his entry to next year, but he did come out to cheer us on. It is always a treat to have someone on the course cheering you on. I started anticipating his posters two to three miles out. Thank you Christopher!

He was really impressed by the spectator guide which you definitely want to pick up at the race expo. Inside you will find a metro map, fare explanations, map of the finish area and a schedule.

It also lists the metro stops for different spots along the course complete with instructions on how to get from the metro station to the course.

18th Pink Line Station  – Mile 19. Board a Pink Line train and exit at 18th st. Walk four blocks east to Loomis St.

They also provide estimated arrival times for each section of the race

Mile 8 to Mile 10 
Wheelchair participants: 7:40 AM; Runners 8:08 AM to 11:30 AM

His only complaint was an interesting one, everything in the spectator guide provides distances and locations in miles. But, the timing mats on the course are located at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 km. So if you are sitting at Mile 14 waiting for a runner, you track them online and determine they crossed the 15 km marker at 9:05 AM, running an average 9:03 /mile pace they should reach you at um…..  oh wait.. this requires math!  So when you sit down the day before and plan where to watch on the course, break out the calculator and calculate how many miles it is from your planned spectator spot from the last timing mat in MILES! Or make yourself a little conversion chart listing the timing mats 5km = 3.1 miles, 10 km = 6.2 miles, etc…

There are a lot of people on the course, so plan ahead! Christopher told me what coloru sign he would have, where he would be and what side of the road he would be on. I did see a few brave spectators crossing the road between runners, but not something you want to try with a bike or stroller!

The Finish

That wonderful moment where you cross the finish line. You did it! Don’t forget to smile for the photographers as you approach that final timing mat.

Finish line freebies

ChicagoBeerCanVolunteers are waiting to give you your medal, a bottle of water (I asked the volunteer to open my bottle of water as well because sometimes I am so tired even that is a challenge).

Next up of course it the official Chicago Marathon mylar blanket. Volunteers also had tape for the blankets so you don’t have to hold the blanket closed with your hands.

There were cups of Gatorade and bananas. This year (2018) They also had cans of Goose Island IPA 312 in a Chicago Marathon souvenir can. That’s the first time I got a beer post-race (I don’t drink beer).  The beer cans were open so I had to pour my beer out. I did try to find a spot where it would not make too much mess since you cannot exit the runner area with the open beer.  There were a lot of runners doing the ame, I guess I was not the only one who wanted the souvenir can but was not up for drinking the beer.  Though of course many runners thoroughly enjoyed the beer as well! There is even a spot to write in your finish time on the can (no that was NOT my finish time shown on the can in the above photo, I am not that fast)

After all that you are handed a plastic bag with potato chips and various other food stuffs. (My sister was wondering why we get the bag at the end of all this, apparently its to stop runners stuffing their loot bags with multiple bananas, water bottles, etc.. thank you Christopher for that little tidbit of information).

Once your hands are completely full you reach the official finish photo area. They have a dozen backgrounds and photographers to capture you and your medal!

Bag check and changing area

It’s a bit of a walk from the finish line to bag check. Your walk won’t be much shorter if you skip bag check because you have to walk past the bag check area to reach the runners exit. They had enough volunteers and bag check stalls. A volunteer was reading my bib number and fetching my bag within 30 seconds of my arriving at the booth.

They had port-a-potty like stalls set up as changing rooms. But there were not many of them and they had pretty long line-ups (10-15 runners in line at each). I wish they just set up a big Women’ change tent and Men’s change tent like they do at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth instead.

Standing and waiting is pretty painful for me post race. So I just sat down on the ground. Off with the running shoes. Then with no small difficulty and many threatening calf cramps removed my compression socks. On with the sweatpants, swap sweaty shirt for dry shirt (leaving running bra in place, but there were female runners who decided taking off a wet running bra could be done in runner company (if it was colder, I would probably have wrapped my thermal blanket around me and done the same). With some difficulty I managed to get myself from the seated position on the ground back to standing and hobbled towards the exit. Pausing briefly at Buckingham Fountain for a “I did it!” selfie

ChicagoFinished

Meeting Area

Volunteers directed me to the runner reunion area, a short walk from the bag check under normal circumstances, but post-marathon a little slow, and HEY you have to walk down stairs to get out? That’s just mean.  Okay there were only about 8 stairs… but still 🙂

The runner reunion area has giant inflatable tubes with letters on them.  The advantage to having a last name that starts with I is my reunion area is usually pretty quiet.  I found Christopher quickly and we made our way out of the park and back towards the hotel. With me leaning on him for a little help whenever I had to step off the curb.

There is a post-race party area you can visit with your friends and family. Runners get a free beer from Goose Island as well. I cannot provide any more information than that, because I am one of those runners who is pretty wrecked after a marathon and as I mentioned previously I don’t drink beer anyway.

The post race atmosphere

You can get your medal engraved with your finish time at the Nike store after the race Sunday or on Monday. Sunday they had staff lined up at the entrance and at the top of each escalator (engraving is on the 4th floor) clapping and cheering!  I kind of wish I had checked it out just for the cheers!

If you bought the Goose Island Chicago marathon pint glass, there were official places you could get your glass engraved with your finisher time Monday. Sadly I did not have time to do so before my flight.

ChicagoTribuneThe Chicago Tribune prints a special section in Sunday’s paper, and prints the names and finishing times for all runners who finish in under 6 hours 30 minutes in the Monday edition. I had trouble finding a copy of the Tribune at the airport, so maybe I should have paid the small fee at the race expo and signed up to have them mail it to me.

Monday, the streets and breakfast spots have lots of runners wearing their race shirts. Many runners wear their finisher medals as well.  We smile and nod to each other. Of course waiters and airport staff quickly figure out these are the marathoners and congratulate you on your race.

I stopped at the Elephant and Castle on my way back to the hotel after the race because I really needed salt, sugar & caffeine.  We sat down in the pub and I asked the hostess for a Coke.  The waitress appeared moments later with a coke and thrilled that she could help me recover from the race with such a simple act. She then asked if I needed anything else. So I asked for some wet naps to wash off my face (walking to the bathroom to wash up seemed like a huge effort at this point). She brought me not only wet naps but a clean cloth soaked in warm water. Heaven! Add some pretzel bites and I was almost feeling human again.

I share this story to help you understand that after the race, staff and strangers will absolutely congratulate you on your race, but you don’t get loud cheering the moment you walk into a building  (which happened at the restaurant I went to in New York, and at the hotel I was staying at in Boston).

Summary

Personally, I had a great race in Chicago 2018. The temperature was about perfect. The drizzle caused some chafing but kept me from overheating. The wide roads and flat course allowed me to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. Of course it probably also helps that I didn’t try to set a personal best, I was a little conservative with my pace since I had missed a fair number of training runs.

The Chicago marathon is a very well organized race. It’s a fantastic place to try and set a personal best. They have an amazing team of volunteers and the city will come out to cheer you along the course. There is a reason this race became so popular they had to switch to a lottery system!

Thank you Chicago for a fantastic race weekend!

Thinking of running Boston or New York? Check out my other race reports and running related posts.

5 reasons to race the Canada Army Run

army run race bib and dog tagsThe Canada Army run is a popular fall half marathon in Ottawa. In this post I’ll share what to expect if you decide to run. The race weekend includes a the half marathon a 10 km, a 5 km, and some combination races.

FYI – I should warn you that the Army run is my favorite half marathon 🙂 so this race report will be a tad biased.

1. The spirit

100154_logoThe tag line sums it up nicely: “No Ordinary race”

As you might guess from the name, the Army Run celebrates those who serve or who have served. There is an ill, injured soldiers and athletes with disabilities category who start their races 5 minutes before the rest of the corrals. You may pass soldiers completing the race in full gear with backpacks. You might pass someone wearing a shirt that says “I am running in memory of Corporal Martin LeClair”. One year, I passed a soldier who was dragging a tire behind him the entire race. Another year, I caught up to Chris Koch, an ambassador for the war amps program just before the finish. Chris has no arms or legs (he uses a longboard to race). This year, at mile 11 there was a half mile of signs in remembrance of individuals who died in service to their country on either side of the route.

DisabledstartSo when you reach that point in the race where you would usually think to yourself, “wow, I am tired! my legs hurt! I don’t know if I can keep this up” you have reminders of how fortunate you are to be running a half marathon with nothing more than a cramp or a tight IT Band! This is a time to be thankful that you have the health and strength to run a half marathon and take strength from those who have sacrificed so much for all of us.  There are many personal stories and victories at the Army run.

ArmyRunDogTagsWhen you finish the race you are reminded once again this is no ordinary race as you are handed not medals, but dog tags by the volunteers, cadets, and soldiers. The Army run has raised 2.6 million dollars for Soldier on and Support Our Troops since 2008.

2. The half marathon is THE big race

Before I started running marathons, if I ran at a big event weekend such as Ottawa race weekend. When asked which race I was running I answered “just the half”.  Now let’s be clear. There is no reason to use the word “just” when describing a half marathon! It is no small achievement to run for 13.1 miles. But regardless I still felt like I needed to add it because others were running the full marathon distance.

On Army Run weekend they have a 5km, 10 km race and a half marathon. The half marathon is the longest race! so, when someone asks what distance you are running and you answer “the half” it feels like you get a small nod of respect because you are doing the ‘toughest’ distance.

Because the half is also the longest distance the crowd support is also strongest for the half. You won’t have crowds along the entire route, there are some quiet stretches, but there are enough people along the route with signs, costumes, cheer stations and bands to make it feel like a big race.

Quick sidenote: I don’t want to take anything away from those who are running the 5 km or the 10 km distances, I applaud everyone who gets off their couch to race, volunteer, or cheer at any race!

3. The sights along the route

Let’s be clear not every moment of the Army Run is stunning scenery, but it is a remarkably good tour of the region. (Thank you for the photo James Peltzer!)

OttawaCanal

  •  Parliament Hill –wave to the Prime minister unless he is racing again.
  • Along the Ottawa River out and back and past the Canadian war museum (the windows spell a message in morse code)
  • Cross the Ottawa river on a rather ugly (but flat!) bridge. Then a few stretches along side streets until you pass the Canadian history museum . The museum is designed by Native-american architect Douglas Cardinal and the architecture around the public entrance looks like a face.
  • Cross the Alexandra bridge which has an annoying hill at the start the start but a beautiful view of the Ottawa river and the back of parliament hill (also a beautiful view of the back of the Canadian History Museum if you look back, but I never think to look behind me to check out a view when I am in a race).
  • Right after the bridge is another short but nasty hill, but you will be re-energized by a good cheering section right after that hill. Then a stretch along the streets and then you run across the grounds of the Governor General’s residence, Rideau Hall complete with the guards at the gate cheering you as you go by.
  • Back into downtown and finish with a run along the (nice and flat) Unesco World Heritage Site Rideau canal to the finish line.

4. The race has two official languages

potatoYes, you get to hear people cheering you in English and French since when you cross the bridge at the War Museum you will find yourself in Gatineau, Quebec until you cross back over to Ontario on the Alexandra bridge.

So listen carefully as the cries chagne from “Great job” “You can do it” to  “Lâche pas!”

If you are curious “Lâche pas!” means “Don’t give up!”

This year I heard “Lâche pas la patate!” which confused me, because the direct translation of that phrase is “Don’t let go of the potato!” Curious, I looked it up when  got home, and apparently that expression is just a more emphatic way to say “Hang on, you’ve got this, don’t give up!” and originates from roasting potatoes over a hot fire, when you grabbed the hot potato you had to ‘hold on to the potato’ even though it was hot and burning your hand and not drop it on the ground.

5. The race gear & photos

20180924_074950Let’s be clear, sometimes it’s all about the shirt and historically this race has done a nice job designing the shirts. My biggest complaint for years was the fact the half marathon shirts were always green and the 5 km race alwasy got red shirts. I wanted a red shirt, but I was too stubborn to run the 5 km instead of the half. When they added the commanders challenge (run the 5 km and the half marathon), I registered and ran it jsut so I could get both shirts :). This year I was pleasantly surprised because the half marathon shirt was red! This year was also the first year we got short sleeved shirts. Since I have run the race on multiple occasions, I was quite happy to get a t-shirt for a change since I have a drawerful of long sleeved Green half marathon shirts from past years. This year they also included a headband and a drawstring bag with similar designs to the t-shirt.

In 2018 Zoom Photo took the race pictures. Digital downloads of your photos are included free with registration! it’s so nice to be able to download pictures and even my finish video from the race without paying $70! It’s quite brilliant actually. The free download includes a watermark from the race at the bottom of the photo. So you are  basically advertising for the race when you share it online.  If you want a digital download without the watermark it’s $2.50 🙂 but personally I kind of like having the watermark so I can remember which photo goes with which race.SusanRacingArmy

 

A few additional facts and stats

A few facts about the race

Race Size

  • 4,500 runners in the half marathon
  • 5,000 runners in the 10 km
  • 10,000 runners in the 5 km

Weather

The Army run is in early fall. The average high this time of year is around 19 C. But of course on a given day it can vary quite a bit. In 2018 we had almost perfect running conditions, about 5 C at the start and sunny. In 2017 it reached 28 degrees, and felt more like 34 C with humidity. Another year it poured rain. You just can’t predict the weather in this area.

How the race started

The idea for Canada Army Run was sparked at the 2006 U.S. Army Ten-Miler in Washington D.C. when Lieutenant-General Beare (now retired, but then in the third highest ranked position in the Canadian Army) crossed the finish line. He turned to his Director of Army Training, Colonel Dean Milner (now a Major-General) and asked “Why aren’t we doing this in Canada?” The Colonel replied, “Sir, you’re the general. You tell me!”

Race options (as of 2018)

  • 5 km
  • 10 km
  • Half marathon
  • Ortona Challenge 5 km + 10 km
  • Commanders challenge 5km + 21 km

Course Map

ArmyRouteMap

Hills

I can’t find a good elevation profile of the race, and my Strava elevation profile of the race has a lot of odd spikes and drops so is misleading. Army run includes a number of rolling hills. It is not flat. The first out and back stretch has one pretty good hill, and you get to go up and down that hill in both directions. The stretch in Quebec includes a couple of steep but short hills. The out and back to the governor generals residence is light rolling hills. The final out and back along the canal is flat.  According to my Strava, the total elevation gain is 232 meters.  So it’s not a flat course, but if the weather co-operates it is quite possible to set a Personal Best on the course.

If you enjoyed this post, you can find more of my running related posts.

 

 

Running in the Poconos (for road runners)

Looking for a road runner friendly trail in North Eastern Pennsylvania? Look no further!

I recently attended a conference in East Stroudsburg Pennsylvania.  I had never heard of it, and looked it up on the map. IStroudsburgt’s about an hour and a half drive East of New York City, or about a two hour drive North from Philadelphia.  The closest international airport was Newark.

I needed a 29 km (18 mile) run.  I did a little research and discovered this region is known as the Poconos, and the Appalachian trail runs through the area.  The Appalachian trail is well known among ultra trail runners. Many have set their sights on various speed records along the trail.

I am quite familiar with the start of the Appalachian trail: Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park.  It was a frequent destination for family hiking and camping trips, my mum has climbed it over 25 times either solo, with friends, with ch13147598_10208901647920619_6866656506126084117_oildren, or with grandchildren.

I mention this because as you can see from this picture of my mum with my sister and her family on the peak, the Appalachian trail includes a number of mountains and hills.  Not quite what a road runner wants for their long run.

I set my sights on the section of the map that seemed to indicate a trail along a creek. Perhaps a creek trail would be a little less hilly.EastStroudsburg

I stopped at the welcome centre and talked to the staff about my need for a fairly long running trail. I don’t mind running on gravel, but would prefer not to be clambering over boulders or running up the side of a mountain.  I enjoy running on a trail, but I am not a trail runner 🙂

They suggested the McDade Recreational Trail which does in fact run along the creek I saw on the map above. Its used by day hikers and mountain bikers and most of it is crushed gravel. RunningrouteShe provided me with a trail map that showed me the different trailheads each of which had a parking lot. The guide included a grid showing the distance between trailheads. I found a guide to the difficulty level for each trail section online. As an added bonus, the map also indicates where to find water fountains and restrooms! What a treat for a distance runner.

I settled on a run from Hialeah to a spot just past Bushkill village, a 9 mile stretch of trail. At which point I would turn around and run back. If I had more time, I could have run 18 miles and caught one of the hiker shuttles back to my parking lot!  On Saturday and Sundays in the summer, there is a shuttle bus that drives from trailhead to trailhead so hikers can go out one way and just catch the bus back. The welcome centre has the details on when and where you can catch the shuttle.

As a female running solo, I also appreciated a trail that gets a reasonable amount of bike or hiker traffic with trailheads every 2-4 miles in case.

I started out at 7:30 AM. The gravel was just big enough to be a bit annoying underfoot. I was running in road shoes, trail shoes would h20180825_092423ave cut down on that annoying rock poking the bottom of your foot feeling. The first stretch had a couple of short but steep hills. After that it was pretty flat except for the trail sections to and from the visitor center. I developed a love/hate relationship with these signs 🙂 and yes some of them were quite steep.

Apparently the hiker traffic starts later in the day, for 90 minutes I did not see another person. I did see a hawk sitting in a tree by the trail, and at one point a deer bounded onto the trail in front of me and then back into the woods.

A short while later I heard another deer crashing through the woods, so I stopped to take out my phone to catch a picture of the deer if it came onto the trail.  Just as I started reaching for my phone, an adult black bear bounded across the trail in front of me! I could tell by the rustling of the corn stalks on the other side of the trail it had stopped only about 15 – 20 feet off the trail. So I clapped my hands and let out a couple of yells. Sure enough the cornstalks rustled as the bear ran off further into the distance.  A black bear isn’t usually a threat to a runner unless you get between momma and her cubs, OR you startle the bear. Better to yell and warn the bear you are coming than run up beside it on the trail.

You might be surprised to find out I was more nervous when I met a second deer later in my run. It was standing on20180825_091139 the trail, when I stopped, it looked right at me and  stood its ground. Most deer bound off into the woods when they meet a person.  This was not far from the visitor center so maybe it’s used to being fed by people? Maybe it was curious? Regardless, I stood and waited for the deer to head into the woods rather than walking straight towards it.  I know deer rutting season (when they can get territorial) is in the fall, and it was late August, always better to respect the wildlife and give them their space.  It did allow me to get a nice picture (this was taken with full zoom on my phone).

Once I turned around and headed back, I met a dozen or so hikers and another dozen cyclists enjoying the trail.

All in all a pleasant trail run for a non trail runner. The trail is well marked with lots of access points. Most of the trail is along the woods but you pass corn fields, old buildings, at times you can see the creek but most of the time it’s just a pleasant run through the forest. If you have trail shoes I would wear them to protect the bottom of your feet from the patches with bigger gravel, but I managed just fine with regular running shoes.

If you find yourself looking for a long run in North Eastern Pennsylvania I can’t imagine a nicer spot!20180825_081729

Looking for more suggestions on where to run when travelling check out my other running related posts.