19. Volunteer at the Chicago Marathon

After running a 10K, the Soldier Field 10 miler, and last year’s half marathon, I fully understand the importance of volunteers at a race. Especially at the half marathon, every time someone gave me a cup of water or an encouraging word, I wanted to hug them for keeping me going (sometimes I wanted to punch them too, especially after mile 10, but looking back I realize now that there’s no way I could have finished without those volunteers). This is what made me decide to volunteer at the Chicago Marathon.

The Chicago Marathon is a big deal in Chicago. I’m sure that most marathons are a big deal in most cities but since I’m from Chicago, this is the marathon that I’ve heard about the most. My badass mom completed this marathon almost 20 years ago, I’ve had a number of friends do this run, and I’ve always been a spectator (usually cheering people on while drinking and brunching with friends). After running a few races of my own, I knew I wanted to do more this year.

Conveniently, a friend of mine works at Bank of America, so when the volunteer sign up was available she forwarded it to me right away. We signed up to be at the Bank of America Cheer Zone at mile 12.8. I realize this isn’t as important as handing out water, or metals, or the foil wraps at the end of the run, but we did hand out little rattles and had a table where people could fill out signs for their runners, so we set spectators up with some goods that would allow them to encourage the runners along the route.

Do we look tired? Might be because it's 7am on a Sunday.

Do we look tired? Might be because it’s 7am on a Sunday.

The Chicago Marathon is open to 45,000 runners and, unless you are an elite runner, you can only get into it via lottery or by running with and raising money for a charity. In addition to the 45,000 runners, over 1 million spectators stand along the course and cheer on the runners. One of the reasons this is such a popular marathon is because it is a flat course, it goes through 29 neighborhoods, and there are spectators along the entire course, so there is constantly someone cheering the runners on.

The run starts at 7:00 with the wheelchair marathoners. These marathoners are amazing and their arms and upper bodies are completely ripped.

It's hard to see because it's still so early and the sun was just coming up.

It’s hard to see because it’s still so early and the sun is just coming up.

Once the wheelchair marathoners have passed, we could see all of the cars that were tracking the elite runners.

Here they come!

Here they come!

And within seconds, they are gone.  (Sorry for the bad photo quality, they literally ran by so fast).

And within seconds, they are gone.
(Sorry for the bad photo quality, they literally ran by so fast).

Dickson Chumba won for the men, with a time of 2:09:35. You guys, that’s a pace of 4 minutes and 57 seconds per mile. And the female winner was Florence Kiplagat with a time of 2:23:33, a pace of 5:29 per mile (Florence’s photo as she crosses the finish line makes my heart smile). My goal for this year’s half marathon is 2.5 hours. Both of these runners, in addition to many others, ran TWICE as far in LESS time than it will take me to run a half marathon. I’ve tried to run a 5 minute mile on a treadmill before (I just wanted to know what it felt like). Let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.

Anyway…after the elite runners, then come the really fast but not elite runners. These runners will finish the marathon under 4 hours. That’s an average pace of 9 minutes and 9 seconds. For 26.2 miles. This is where the majority of the runners are, and you can tell because the road gets very crowed very quickly.


And then, just like that, the runners filter out and you can see the clean-up crew in the distance and it’s all over as quickly as it starts (although that’s probably less true for everyone that still had a half marathon to run).

I was on the look-out for a number of friends that I knew were running. I first spotted Bill Rancic (obviously not a friend, but I was still pretty excited to see him), and then I saw my sister-in-law’s brother and his wife as they turned the corner, so really, I didn’t get to see anyone that I was cheering for. I did, however, cheer on a lot of people that I didn’t know, lol.

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering at the marathon, I highly recommend it. I will definitely be doing this again. And who knows…maybe some day I’ll even run it (ha!).