Another stop on the Tour de Summer 2014: Chicago!
Matt signed us up for the Rock & Roll Half Marathon a few months ago (he is just the sweetest, right?!) and so off we went to explore – and of course run – the Windy City. I had only been to Chicago once, when I was 16 as a part of an AP art class trip, and from that, I remembered: the fantastic Art Institute, a very touristy deep-dish pizza restaurant and one of my classmate’s glasses blowing off of his head due to high winds. No lie – they flew right off his damn head. Needless to say, I was very excited to explore the city as a “grown-up,” sans-chaperones.
We arrived on Thursday and stayed just outside the city in a town called Rosemont. Since we got in kind of late, we decided to take a short stroll down the street to grab a beer and a snack. Little did we know that we were walking into my mecca of happiness – a little Thursday night festival filled with live music, outdoor patios and..wait for it…FIREWORKS. Besides the beer in my hand, I resorted right back to my 16-year-old self: smiling like an idiot, singing every word to “Santeria” and screaming “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS PLACE!”
It’s the little things, folks.
We cruised into the city on Friday (and by “cruised” I mean we experienced a first-day-on-the-job Uber driver who made us use our phones for GPS bc he didn’t have one and made about 17 U-turns because he “doesn’t normally drive in the city.” Seems like the ultimate candidate for such work) and decided to go to the Expo to pick up our packets. Turns out, my husband has as much directional sense as our Uber driver, as we ended up walking at LEAST four miles to the convention center. However, we do love us some long walks, and it gave us a chance to explore the streets of Chicago. And give Walgreens some serious business – between band-aids for my aching feet (four miles in new Sperry’s isn’t recommended) and Smartwaters, we never had to worry about not meeting the $5 credit card limits.
After giving our feet a rest in the hotel, we ventured out to Navy Pier. Although I heard it was a tourist’s dream, complete with waterfront views, a ferris wheel and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, I couldn’t help but want to check it out. (Surprisingly, I don’t have any pictures of it! But I did take the one below on our trek over there…is Matt my pot of gold?) Plus, at that point I was absolutely enamored with Lake Michigan. I must have gawked, “how is this water so blue?!” at LEAST 137 times during our trip, and asked every Chicagoan we talked to. I’ve officially become my mother.
We were up and at ’em on the bright on Saturday, as Matt signed up for the 5K run along the water. I took the time (read: 20 minutes. He ran that thing in 20 minutes!) to walk along the docks and take pictures. It was really crazy to see nothing but water and sailboats one way, and then to look back and see a sprawling cityscape on the other. I decided right then and there that we really, really need to live by the water…and by a friend that has a boat.
That afternoon, we strolled around the city and of course, had to stop at Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate/”The Bean.” I definitely don’t remember seeing it during my high school field trip, so I was extra excited and took way too many pictures of myself in its reflection. I made sure to also to find Matt in the reflection, patiently waiting on a park bench for me to be done taking way too many pictures. After Cloud Gate, we walked around to explore the Crowd Fountain and Jay Pritzker Pavillion.
After more hours spent on our feet, we found a spot on the water that was just begging for us to come and relax on, complete with cold glasses of white wine. The wine and the waterfront views just made me beg the “how is this water so blue?!” question again. Matt ordered a second glass.
We carbed up for the half marathon at an outdoor spot on Michigan Avenue. While the pasta bowl sounded – and looked – promising, it ended up being noodles with undercooked veggies swimming in a watery tomato sauce. However, the atmosphere and vantage point for people watching couldn’t be beat.
Sunday run-day! The race started at 6:30 AM, which thankfully with the time difference was really 7:30 to us, so we were ready to go after a great night’s sleep. Which is a lot to be said, considering that for most of our other runs (I’m looking at you, Disney Marathon and your 5 a.m. start time!), we’re – forgive me – “running on empty.” The start was right down the street from our hotel, so there was absolutely no hassle getting down there and into our corrals. It’s funny – after running two half marathons and three full marathons, I wasn’t really worried or anxious at all about this one. But I also knew I hadn’t run more than seven miles since Nashville in April…so it was going to be a bit of a toss-up. I really, really wanted to beat my previous half marathon time of 1:50, and figured that since I had been run faster than I had been at the time of my last half marathon two years ago, that it wouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.
Yea right. As the 1:40 pace group trailed me at mile four, I knew I had a heck of a run ahead of me. I felt fine – my legs were good, I was breathing normal, etc. but I knew that just keeping that tiny “you’re tired” voice in my head at bay was going to be the biggest challenge. It is really insane just how much your mental state matters when it comes to running long distances. Heck, even short distances – if I am not mentally prepared or feeling negative, even a three-mile run can be a disaster. And although your legs do get tired, your muscles cramp, your stomach weary…it is normally your head that requires the most strength to preserver through.
I just kept telling myself, “when you ran the Nashville marathon, you were jealous of those runners who veered down the half marathon path, knowing the real beast that laid in front of you in those next 13.1 miles. This should be no sweat! Stop whining!” And it is true…on mile 22 of Nashville, I was ready to break up with running. I wanted so badly to be done, to have crossed that finish line and be laying on the grass eating all of my free snacks. So the thought of being able to be laying on the grass with all my free snacks in half the time and half the work seemed like pure bliss! But half the work it was not – I was determined to beat that damn 1:50 time, and because I rested on my running laurels instead of actually doing the speed training required to actually go faster, I had to put my head down and move. The last three miles were my fastest – I was so paranoid that the 1:50 pace group was behind me that I turned up Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” on repeat and flew. I ended up crossing the finish line at 1:47:15. Personal record accomplished! GIVE ME MY FREE SNACKS.
After the run and said free snacks, it was time to finally celebrate and go all out in Chi-town. We rented bikes (in comparison to running miles, biking miles seemed like a chauffeured limousine) and rode all along the waterfront, down to the beach. Yes, the beach!! A full-on beach on that full-on blue water. Riding along that trail, breathing in the smell of fresh lake water and sunscreen, feeling the cool breeze in my very tangled hair and hearing the sounds of waves, little kids squealing and hip-hop music…It was honestly just the perfect few hours. We stopped to get lunch and a beer at this place called Castaways, which was half restaurant and half Jersey Shore-style club. Or as my friend Shane called it, “the d-bag central of Chicago.” Matt and I ordered beers just to watch the spectacle before us…guys in track suits and too-small tank tops, girls in high-heeled sneakers (yes, they exist) and leather bathing suit bottoms. Matt told me to put my sunglasses on because I was noticeably staring too hard…what can I say, I don’t get out much!
We spent the last few hours of our trip at Eataly (only for about ten minutes until I realized I left my camera at the hotel bar right before we left) and then, you guessed it…eating deep-dish pizza. Or what I now like to call, “lasagna.” We went to Giordano’s, which was one of the places recommended by a few Chicagoans, and ordered a super veggie with a bottle of house red. We sat outside, basking in our gluttony, bathing Chicago in compliments and swearing to ourselves that the next week would be filled with nothing but kale salads. A successful trip indeed…until next time, Chicago!