CHICAGO — My love for for this Windy City started more than a decade ago. The Magnificent Mile wooed me with its shiny, multi-level flagship boutiques and I was giddy with finds at Nordstrom Rack. Sitting in Avec at a communal table — this shared-plates resto was way ahead of the trend for this type of seating — where we chatted with the locals seated beside us, was a fun new way to dine. And as much as we tried to do it all, there are simply too many beautiful sites and things to do in Chicago in just a few days; even just poking around any one of the neighbourhoods is a treat, never mind having biggies like the Art Institute of Chicago and Lincoln Park Zoo to explore. And, of course, throughout the city, you’ll find friendly Chicagoans, always happy to help you with directions and to have a quick chat, something that makes this city more like one very fabulous town than the third largest city in the U.S.
With a few more visits, I’ve only become even more completely enamoured with this city, and it was only a matter of time that I made the Chicago Marathon one of my goal races. Besides providing myself with a great reward for completing another 42.2k race with the fun of spending vacation time in this great city, Chicago would also mean I was crossing off my first of the Abbot World Marathon Majors, aka the renowned “big six” marathons (the remainder being New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo and Boston).
Now having completed two Chicago Marathons, both my fastest marathons of the 11 I’ve run, I’m a big fan of the race and for making it the perfect reason you finally make a trip to the Midwest to explore Chicago.
Above: Chicago marathon participants get to see the Windy City from street level.
Get your rest before race day
For a hotel that’s centrally located and that’s more low key (I know I need some serenity rather being surrounded by the frenetic buzz of race weekend), reserve a room at the James Hotel and you’ll be right off of Magnificent Mile and a few easy subway stops away from the race start at Millenium Park. Race-day morning, we found breakfast fuel set up in the lobby of this River North boutique gem and were as well rested as race jitters would allow us thanks to the luxurious beds.
Tip: During your post-race stay, pop into the lobby for the hotel’s daily wine hour in the evenings.
Fuel well before and after the race
Chicago is a city made for foodies. It boasts 24 Michelin-starred restaurants this year (formerly 25, however chef Curtis Duffy’s restaurant Grace has since closed) and many more non-Michelin starred restaurants that serve up delicious grub. Brunch at Dove’s Luncheonette has a cozy retro feel with the menu featuring Mexican with a Southern twist (such as the brisket, poblanos and eggs in their burnt ends hash dish). Publican is just about every locals favourite and I ate the best bacon I’ve ever had in my life there, and if you’re not there on the weekend, a sandwich lunch at Publican Quality Meats across the street is just about as satisfying. But, as a marathoner, you know that anything too rich or adventurous pre-race is a no-no. For your carbs before the big day, a plate of pasta at a classic red-sauce joint such as Club Lago will be made of familiar ingredients that’ll give you the energy you need.
Keep those legs moving
In the days that follow the race, you’ll want to keep moving to get the blood flowing to your muscles, helping to ease recovery. Take this as an opportunity to explore the many neighbourhoods that make up Chicago. The EL train is easy to navigate and can get you to the lovely shops in Bucktown and Logan Square; it’s fun even just to just ride it around the Loop to take in the sights of the downtown skyscrapers.
Street art fan? If you’re blessed with mild weather, you could spend all of your free time after the race exploring the city’s fantastic public art, including a 260-foot-long mural by Jeff Zimmerman. If the weather is not cooperating, use these days to duck inside the Art Institute of Chicago (where you’ll find works by Pollock, Picasso, Renoir and Lichtenstein) and the Shedd Aquarium for the penguins, jellyfish and more.
Tick off these Chicago sightseeing essentials
Although you’ll need want to keep walking to a minimum before the race, plan your time well so that you make sure to tick off a few essentials to see in Chicago:
• Visit Cloud Gate in Millennium Park, the shiny bean by artist Sir Anish Kapoor. Take a photo here with your medal. Be there at sunrise, though, if you’re hoping to get a photo without hundreds of tourists in your shot.
• See Chicago from above. You’ve got two options when it comes to taking in the city from the sky: Skydeck Chicago and 360 Chicago. Enjoy the views of the Lake Michigan, skycrapers and greens spaces that make this metropolis such a beauty (or get your adrenaline rush by doing Tilt or the Ledge more than a thousand feet high).
• Get aboard the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. Learn about the beautiful architecture you’ve been awed by in the city such as the Wrigley Building and Marina City as you cruise the Chicago River.