For the new readers (hello, welcome!) what you might not know about Chicago being my first marathon is that I was training for it as a cadet in the Saucony 26 Strong program. As a brief background on the program, Saucony and Womens Running (Competitor) gear up together and sponsor 26 women runners to train for a marathon. This is the third year of the program and it’s gone through some changes from season to season. Essentially 13 veterans train 13 marathon newbies for their first marathon with the intention of running across the finish together. The support of a coach and a team of 25 other women (and then some!) is second to none so obviously when Laura asked if I’d be her cadet back in April, I jumped on the chance!
This past weekend in Chicago was the first time all of us met, including the wonderful women of Competitor Group and Saucony who worked tirelessly for months to make sure everything went off without a hitch. Even though I love turning strangers into friends, I tend to like my space pretty often so I was surprised when I wasn’t quite ready to go home on Monday morning. It’s a great feeling to instantly click with so many people and feel like you’ve been friends forever.
We arrived on Thursday morning to spend some time with Laura’s Mom since she’s living in a nearby Chicago suburb. While the rest of the group wasn’t arriving until Friday afternoon and evening, it was nice to have a day to ourselves before the chaos of marathon weekend! We kept it really low key, ending the night early after a few hours at the local pub complete with pint glasses, shots, and 6 meals for 3 women. I think this might have been what started the whole “You New York girls can party” thing. Oops. Let’s file this under things I’ll never regret!
Friday we made our way into the city and took our time at the expo, followed by dinner and wine at Eataly (one of my favorite places in Chicago), and finally meeting some of the 26 Strong group! Since everyone was coming in at different times, we weren’t lucky enough to meet everyone immediately but it was great to put faces to name over wine, beer, and light snacks. (Is there a theme here, yet?)
After a couple hours chatting, a group of us decided to linger to the hotel bar to greet anyone else that might have a later flight. (I mean, if there wasn’t a theme at the meet and greet…) It wasn’t a long night since Saturday morning we were all meeting for a group run and little photo shoot, but I was exhausted really early. Who knew a one hour time difference had such an effect on me?
Morning came quickly on Saturday and it was brisk. We set up on some awesome grassy/concrete stairs to take group photos on and spent a good hour adjusting wardrobe colors and placement. Thankfully these Western New York winters have braced me for the cold and 45 degrees is welcomed with shorts, but for some of the West Coast gals it was a rough morning! After the group shoot, we continued with some individual and cadet/coach photos, before a few of us having the opportunity to stay back for more candids and running shots.
Brunch started shortly after all of this and with all the little spurts of running we did, Laura and I decided to ditch the longer shakeout run. It didn’t help our cause that we hadn’t had coffee and were starving, either! We snuck in about 10 more minutes of running before heading upstairs with the rest of the team for an amazing pep talk from Sharon at Saucony. I’ve heard a fair amount of pep talks in my day but this one really doesn’t compare to any. I wish I knew it was going to be that good, I probably would have recorded it to listen to before every single race (or big day) that I have going forward.
With the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted, Laura and I decided to head back to the expo for a couple more items and lunch with her Mom, which obviously had to include mojitos. After coming back, I spent a few hours napping before heading back to the hotel bar to hang out, this time with water in my glass (I promise).
Finally on Sunday, race day came and quickly went. We walked over to the start together after a couple group photos at The Bean and then dispersed to do our own thing before the start. Afterwards we met up with some of the others who already finished, took some more “candid” photos (though I think Laura and I did a pretty good job pulling off natural here!) and headed to yes, another bar. If you know one thing about me, know that I take my Buffalo sports seriously! We found a Chicago Bills Backers bar (Lincoln Station), ate chicken fingers and poutine, drank beer, and celebrated a marathon finish and a Bills win. It felt like home.
Our night ended with dinner at a local restaurant with the team and chatting about the marathon. It was a nice way to relax and recap, but by the time dinner was over we had been awake for well over 17 hours! The night was bittersweet because we knew that would likely be the last time we would see everyone before returning back to “normal” life. As exhausted as I was, I wished it didn’t have to end; this entire experience has felt like an eon and a second all at the same time. If you had told me in high school when I decided a half marathon would be a cool bucket list item that this was going to be my life in 2015, I’d have looked at you and said you were crazy… I think I like crazy!
If you want to read more about my experience with the Saucony 26 Strong program, check out the list of posts here.