All I want to do is run Chicago! Running Disaster Stories

In running as in life, things don’t always go as planned. This series is meant to remind us of those times. Sometimes we look back and realize that perhaps we made some poor choices, but sometimes events occur that are completely outside our control. This tale from Rita of her plans to run the Chicago marathon falls into the second category.

This is part of a series, if you missed it, check out the previous post “The 1958 Beer mile”

In 2011, I decided to run the Chicago Marathon. The sequence of events that followed are a reminder that there are things in life you cannot control, but patience and persistence (might?) pay off.

In the good old days of 2011 there was no lottery for the Chicago marathon, you could just register.  It has a great reputation as a fun and fast race, so, a group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2011.

Alas for me …it was not meant to be …  my brother was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was not a difficult decision, I stayed close to home to spend time with him.  Chicago could wait.

In 2013, there was momentum to return. A group of running buddies and I registered for Chicago 2013.

Alas for me … it was not meant to be… my father passed away the week before the marathon. Once again Chicago could wait.

By the time 2014 rolled around, Chicago had switched to a lottery system. It’s one thing to have a fun group trip with all your running buddies running the Chicago Marathon, it’s just not the same to go all by yourself. With the lottery system we couldn’t figure out how to plan a group trip, so my dreams of Chicago had to wait.

Fast forward to 2018, one of my running buddies noticed that you could get a guaranteed entry to Chicago with a qualifying time, and a good number of us had times fast enough to qualify! Enough to gather momentum, I registered once again, hopeful that I had correctly provided all the necessary details required to show I had run a previous race fast enough to qualify. As soon as I received the email informing me I had a bib, joyfully, I did a status check with my run buds, yes! They had all received the same email. We were in!

I set my sights on a 3:30 marathon… that would require taking more than 4 minutes off my Personal Best (PB), but my training that summer indicated that it was surely possible! Finally I was not only going to run Chicago, but I would use it to try and set a PB!

The Chicago Marathon is on a Sunday morning. I live in Ottawa, which is a bit far from Chicago to drive, and trains were impractical. Chicago does require you to pick up your own bib in person at the race expo by Saturday at the latest. Due to work and family reasons, my time in Chicago would be limited to a three day weekend trip.  I booked a late Friday afternoon flight from Ottawa to Chicago via Montreal.  On the  day of the flight I had all my bags packed and ready to go. I had planned to leave my car at the airport, and I set off for the easy 15 minute drive from my home to the Ottawa airport.

Clearly I hadn’t accounted for traffic patterns at that time of day….minutes passed, cars backed up, the clock ticked away. No, it couldn’t be, after all this, would a simple traffic jam keep me from running Chicago?

I arrived at Ottawa airport much later than anticipated. I thought I had been prepared, I even had prepaid parking, but when I got there, all the spots were full! I circled, and circled, and finally found a spot! I parked the car and ran into the terminal. To my dismay there was a huge line up for check in. I walked up to the airline staff and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  He answered “sorry to hear that, we’ll try to get you through as quickly as possible.” I get the feeling they deal with this sort of thing a lot. But I got checked in, and then  dashed to security and of course today was the day they pulled me over for a random check. I gave the security agent my best puppy dog eyes and said “I think my flight is boarding.”  FYI that really doesn’t work on security agents, no sympathy, they took their time, did their thing, and off I went again. I ran to the gate, the doors hadn’t closed yet, I  boarded. Okay breathe, I’m on my way to Chicago. Well actually I’m on my way to Montreal, but I’m on my way! 

The flight to Montreal was blissfully uneventful. I arrived in plenty of time to make my connection and boarded my plane to Chicago.  All good you are thinking? Maybe not…

Mid-flight I had the inflight entertainment system displaying the flight map that shows you the progress of your flight. It’s about 90 minutes from Montreal to Chicago, so it wouldn’t be long now. As I was watching the screen, I noticed the little line showing the route the plane was taking made a U turn. That’s odd, surely a technical glitch, or maybe not. 

No sooner had I decided this mysterious U-turn was nothing to worry about, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and informed us there was a terrible rain and wind storm in Chicago making it unsafe for us to land so we were… you guessed it… heading back to Montreal.

In disbelief, but convinced I couldn’t possibly have yet another Chicago Marathon attempt thwarted, I got up and asked the airline attendant “are they going to put us on another flight later tonight?”

“Oh no,” she said, “by the time we get back to Montreal, customs will be closed so you won’t be able to go anywhere tonight.”

Deep breath. I texted my friends already in Chicago eating deep dish pizza, to let them know my flight was heading back to Montreal and to stay tuned. I’ve got until 5 PM Saturday to get to the race expo and pick up my bib, it’s only a 90 minutes flight, surely…

We landed in Montreal and were directed to follow the crew’s instructions at the terminal. When we got off the plane, names were being called and hotel vouchers were handed out. I didn’t care about the hotel “What about a flight?” I asked.

“You’ll have to call this number on the back of your voucher, and they’ll rebook you on a new flight” was the reply. Okay I can do that. I started walking to catch the shuttle for the hotel with the rest of the passengers, and suddenly it dawned on me that every single passenger on that flight would be calling this same number with the same goal of getting an empty seat on one of the next flights to Chicago. I’ll be smart, I’ll call now *before* we even get to the hotel and beat the rush!

My plan worked, I got through to an agent, and explained my situation. The agent said sure I can put you on a flight tomorrow at 5 PM. Noooo! I protested and pleaded, “I’m running the Chicago Marathon (at least I hope I am) and I have to be there early Saturday so I can pick up my race bib in person before the expo closes.”  “Ok” she said sympathetically, “let me see what I can do, I’ll just have to put you on hold.”

So I sat there, with my cell phone, on hold. The hotel shuttle arrived, I was still on hold. I boarded the shuttle, I was still on hold. The shuttle started driving to the hotel. I prayed that the line didn’t disconnect as we drove under overpasses and down the road. We arrived at the  hotel, I was still on hold. I picked up my hotel room key, I was still on hold. Then “Hello?” the attendant came back on the line.

“So, I was able to get you the last seat on the 6 AM flight from Montreal to Chicago Saturday morning.” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

It was around this point that I realized I hadn’t eaten and that to catch a 6 AM flight I would have to get up in about 2 hours to catch the shuttle back to the airport. Well, luckily I had a protein bar in my luggage. I at the protein bar, set my alarm and fell fast asleep.

At 3 AM my alarm went off. Groggy but determined, I got my belongings, went to the lobby, jumped on the shuttle, arrived at the airport and was greeted by a huge line up at customs.

At this point, you can probably imagine how I felt: tired, frustrated, hungry, defeated. But it was actually at this moment I stopped and did a reality check. Ok Rita, in the grand scheme of things, how bad is this, you might miss a flight and not get to run the Chicago Marathon. Talk about first world problems! There are people out there in food lines at refugee camps, you’re ok Rita, get a grip, get some perspective. Take a deep breath, and move forward, whatever happens, happens. 

Mentally in a much better state, I got in line, and I did in fact get through the line and arrived at the gate where I was thrilled to meet Anderson who was also running the Chicago Marathon.  We became fast buds.  Chaos and stress is much easier to deal with as a team. We agreed to work together to navigate our way to the race expo after we landed. Having someone else with me was such a boost to my mental state. The flight landed on time, I’m in Chicago, maybe it’s really going to happen!

No time to go to the hotel, we went straight to the expo from the airport, suitcase in hand. Next thing I know I’ve got my bib and I even had time to wander around the expo! With that out of the way, I boarded a shuttle to my hotel for the next two top priorities: food and sleep! Not necessarily in that order

After  a two hour power nap, I hopped on a bus to the restaurant where my running buddies were already settled in for supper. I think the grin on my face says it all

Pre-marathon dinner with running friends

Not quite the relaxed pre-marathon rest day I had envisioned, but I’m here! Sunday morning, I’m in the starting corral. I’m finally going to run the Chicago marathon! My corral starts moving towards the start line. I remind myself that despite the chaos of the last 36 hours, my training went well, I’m fit, and I’m ready for this. No excuses, let’s do this!!!

5 km I’m on pace; 10km, hmm that was an impressive downpour but I’m still on pace; 21km I’m still on pace, 32 km I’m on pace. Of course the real race starts at 32 km! 35km, ok I’m off a bit on that one, it’s raining a bit, it’s a bit humid, no excuses Rita, hold the pace, keep going!

40k okay yeah I’m lagging 3:30 is not in the cards, but I so some quick calculations in my head, I can still get a PB (personal best). No excuses Rita! Leave it all on the course!

41km, seriously whose idea was it to put this hill here, 42 km, ok Rita time for your signature 200 metre sprint down the finish line, I just finished the Chicago Marathon YAY!! 

I glance at my Garmin, interesting. My thoughts turn to more practical things, walking back to the hotel, getting my medal, taking photos. I received a congratulatory text from a friend ”nice run Rita.””Thanks”, I replied, “you’re not going to believe this but I think it is the exact same time as my current PB.”

I grab a quick shower and when I come out there is another text from my friend “Rita, your previous PB was 3:34:10, your chip time for Chicago time is 3:34:09” I PB’d by one second (nine years after I set the previous PB)!!!  Woo hoo!!

Rita holding her medal at finish line of Chicago marathon

So after a seven year wait and more hurdles and obstacles than I care to remember, Chicago 2018 was my year. Sometimes races have their own beautiful timelines and we just need to go with it. It was so worth the wait 🙂 On that note, remind me next time to tell you about the time I  registered for Berlin 2019…

Who is Rita?

Rita is a marathoner who trains in Ottawa, Canada through wind, rain and snow.  Her basic philosophy towards life is: Live Life Large, every day is a new adventure, giv’r your best and enjoy the ride.
She ran her first marathon in 2004 as a bucket list item. 24 marathons later, she recognizes that running has given her so much in life. Her basic philosophy towards running is to give it the respect it deserves as it serves so many purposes in her life including but not limited to social convenor, therapist, problem solver, and immune system booster. So much bang for your buck with every step you run. Her philosophy on racing is similar to her philosophy on life: giv’r and have fun but not necessarily in that order 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, check out the previous disaster story “The 1958 Beer mile” or check out the rest of my running related posts which include race reports, gear reviews, and other posts I write to amuse myself but that do occasionally amuse others.

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