I find it hard to talk about the Chicago Marathon experience because it’s obviously better than the smaller town races I’m used to (Buffalo Marathon/Half Marathon). I’m happy my first marathon was a Major because it created such a good experience for me as compared to maybe a less crowd supported race, but man, my expectations are unreasonably high now. Nearly everything about the expo and race was smooth.
The expo was held on Friday and Saturday; I attended both days. Friday was the “explore and check things out thoroughly” day, Saturday was the “buy that thing I thought about all yesterday but wasn’t sold on yet and today I still can’t stop thinking about it so I have to have it” day. [Does anyone else shop like that? If I see something I think I want but am not 100% sure, I walk away for a few hours and if I still keep thinking about buying it, it’s worth it to me.]
Traveling to the Expo
So, the marathon had three shuttles (school buses) from three locations around Chicago – two hotels and the Nike store. They were supposed to be running every 15 minutes. One of the shuttles picked up just down the street from our hotel so we took the 10 minute walk and rode the bus to the expo center. It was about a half hour drive by bus. The ride to the expo was really convenient. Volunteers were located at the pick-up/drop-off location and also at the expo assisting people leaving the expo and arriving. It was very smooth on the way there. [Spoiler: the ride back wasn’t quite this smooth!]
Friday wasn’t too chaotic as compared to Saturday. I kind of expected that, but a couple vendors said that Friday after work would be the craziest for them. I beg to differ; Saturday was a giant cluster.
Picking Up Your Packet
In order to pick-up your packet you had to bring either the email you received with the QR code or the participant guide mailed to your house with the QR code. When you walked in, you went to the volunteers at the first pick-up desk, scanned your code and showed your license. These volunteers gave you your bib only and told you to proceed to specified line in the next section.
You continued the process by going to the line they told you where volunteers had iPads (or some other tablet, I can’t recall) with your information all ready. They gave you your race designated gear bags with all the goodies inside.
Finally, we could go to the back of the expo and pick up our t-shirts. I didn’t need to change the shirt size I put on my registration, but at the end of the tables there was a spot where you could exchange sizes if need be.
It was a little bit of a bigger, more thorough process than I’m used to from half marathons I’ve completed but it makes sense. Our IDs were thoroughly checked for accuracy before providing anything to us and I noticed the lines for corrections weren’t very long, either.
Navigating the Expo
After picking up our stuff, Laura and I meandered around the expo starting on one side of an aisle and going to the end before turning around and hitting the other side of the same aisle. Even with walking up and down like this we still managed to miss a couple smaller stands that we had to use a map to find afterwards. The only reason I knew we missed a couple was because I saw Generation UCAN on the vendor list and I needed to buy a different flavor from them (I brought one of the flavors I’m not crazy for on the trip) otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed.
There were so many vendors to see! Thankfully for Laura and I, we both know what we like and what works for us and we aren’t too interested in stopping at every booth to look. We’re good at glancing as we walk by to see if it’s something that interests us. I’m not the person that wants to test out the juices, gummies, free samples, etc. of most vendors. I don’t want a tag to put on my shoe. I don’t need a sticker for my car. I don’t need to go into the fancy booths set up to test out whatever you’re marketing, no matter how cool it is. You have a line that’s going to take more than 5 minutes to wait in? Nope, nope, nope. Typically I’d check out all the sales going on, but given how awesome Saucony was during this program, we pretty much avoided those vendors and my wallet thanked me.
We obviously hit up the Saucony booth and talked to some of the sales reps while checking out their Chicago Marathon gear. We were both eyeing their version of the marathon jacket and opted to buy it then instead of waiting until Saturday. It was a good choice because they were sold out of our size on Saturday! We also checked out Nike since they were the official sponsor for merchandise, but to be honest, I wasn’t really crazy about their gear. I did like that their jackets were black (Saucony’s marathon jackets were bright orange), but the logo and overall jacket quality wasn’t worth it to me. If I’m going to drop $100 on a race jacket (which I fully expected to do at my first marathon!), I want to use it regularly and while running.
We stopped by the Goose Island bus for a free beer (duh) and Laura picked up a t-shirt and pint glass. I didn’t buy anything, but was considering the t-shirt ($15!). This was my “sleep on it” purchase and why I returned to the expo Saturday. I had to have that shirt! [Side note: My new “thing” is to get a local running shirt in every “new” city I visit. This started when I went to the Finger Lakes and bought a Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Company shirt. Then in Maine, I got one from Cadillac Mountain Sports. Unfortunately, the local running store in Chicago (Runner’s High ‘n Tri) didn’t have shirts of their own available, so Goose Island had to do! There are certainly no regrets on that shirt.]
I ended up getting my Gen UCAN packets and stocking up on some more Nuun, too. The sale was 2 for $10, plus a water bottle specific to the Chicago Marathon for every purchase of two tubes. All nuun was included in the sale, including the All Day variety! We got about 4-5 boxes of free samples of the All Day, too. I ended up walking away spending $20 for 3 tubes of Active, 1 tube of Energy, and I think 4 or 5 boxes of All Day samples, along with 2 Nuun water bottles. Can Nuun be at every race I run?
Basically every running company you could imagine had some sort of booth at the race, along with some nutritional companies. There were a couple stands set up for food, too. Like I said earlier, navigating the expo on Friday was not too awful but Saturday was a madhouse. I get annoyed easily when I know what I want and people are walking, stopping, then crossing in front of you, on their phones, not paying attention, bumping into you… agh. It’s a nightmare for me when I don’t have patience. Saturday? I did not have patience!
Shuttling Back to the Hotel
The shuttle back to the hotels/Nike store was rough. They weren’t coming consistently every 15 minutes. Some were coming 2 minutes apart, leaving people at that location where the busses weren’t to be waiting for an extra long time. We waited about 25 minutes before our bus came and as it did, the other bus running the same route arrived too. On Saturday we took Uber to and from the expo to avoid the chaos and I’m glad we did. The busses were great, don’t get me wrong, but when you have places to be and don’t want to spend an extra couple of hours waiting around in total, Uber was the way to go.
I think what I liked most of all about the expo was there was something for everybody. Kids were seemingly entertained, there was a space for the speakers (I never see speakers, I suck), food to appease to the masses, plenty of vendors to get whatever you might need, and even family/friends who aren’t into running could enjoy themselves — hello, beer. Since we did the bulk of our expo trip on Friday, I’m curious as to what other people’s experiences were that came on Saturday for pick-up and if anyone had issues, how easy was it to resolve?
For me, the one big downside of the expo was the bathroom situation. There were two (I think) in the actual room we were in and anytime I went I had to wait in a 10-15 minute line. Considering I was hydrating like I was going backpacking through the Sahara, my bladder was on rapid fire and it was not a fun time waiting… and waiting… and waiting. It’s a small complaint, really, but something to think about if you’re prone to peeing frequently!