On Saturday, I ran the Mag Mile Half Marathon in Chicago. It was also my birthday. Why not run a birthday race? It was my second time running the Mag Mile Half (I ran it last year), but this year was slightly different because it was the first year that RAM Racing was in charge. Last year, Fleet Feet presented it as an all women’s race, but this year the race was advertised as both a male and female race. Like last year, I has an average experience and opinion of the race, but this year my final time result definitely created a more positive memory!
Mag Mile Half Course
The race begins at the corner of Columbus and Congress in the middle of Grant Park. Runners head north to Randolph and then east to Michigan Avenue. Participants run north on Michigan Ave to Superior, and then make a U-turn to go back to Randolph. At Randolph, runners turn east to the Lakefront trail and enter it at mile three of the race. The course goes south on the trail until just past 41st street, at which point runners make a U-turn around a cone and head back north to Grant Park along the path.
The selling point of the Mag Mile Half is the unique experience of running along Michigan Avenue (aka the “Mag Mile”). In total, runners are only on the Mag Mile for 1.5 miles before running on the Lakefront trail. I understand it must be difficult to get permits to close off more of the road, but for a race touted as the “Mag Mile Half,” I feel like we should run on Michigan Avenue for longer.
Packet Pickup/Race Swag
Like the Big10k and other RAM Races, packet pickup happened at Fleet Feet Old Town. There was no crowd when I went Friday mid-afternoon. Included in the bag was the bib and the long sleeve tech t-shirt. The race swag improved a LOT from last year. I appreciated that we got a long sleeve shirt and that the font wasn’t so obnoxious as last year’s shirt.
Like with all my races, I woke up, had black tea and peanut butter berry toast, did some foam rolling, and then left for Grant Park. I took the bus to the start line and arrived around 6:20am for a 7:00 race start. Fleet Feet Racing Team had a tent where I could leave my bag instead of using gear check. At the tent I saw my friend Matt, who was using an injured friend’s bib. He offered to run the race with me since he knew I was going for a birthday PR. I also saw some other teammates from the Racing Team, and posed for the obligatory pre-race selfie. (Or is it an us-ie?)
I ran a slow mile warmup and did dynamic stretches and drills. After 4 short strides, I headed to the start corral. It was completely overcast with temperatures in the upper 60s and a 30% chance of rain. The humidity was around 90% though and the air felt heavy. There was a 10-15 mph west/southwest wind, meaning we would have a headwind for the middle portion of the race and a tailwind for the end.
As Matt and I were waiting in the corral the clouds rolled in and the drizzle began. I had flashbacks to the start of the Wisconsin Marathon, but luckily there was no downpour nor lightning, and the wind was much more manageable. The gun went off and we started the race!
As we left Grant Park and headed to the Mag Mile, a number of bandits jumped into the race. One was dressed identically to Matt and was running at our pace. When we turned back south, Matt ran up shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy and created a wind wall for me to draft on. I totally felt like the president running with my body guards in front.
Overall, this section was pretty boring. Almost no spectators were on Mag Mile so it was pretty dead. The highlight of this part of the course (besides feeling like a presidential badass) was passing Garrett’s popcorn and having the whole course smell like popcorn.
Heading back to the Lakefront trail I spotted someone standing in the distance. It was Ben, one of the other guys I run with! When we reached the path he said, “Well since you two were gone, I had no one to run with! So I figured I’d meet you here and join in for your birthday!” I was ecstatic! Having both Ben and Matt run with me made it feel like a regular Saturday run (albeit, faster). Mentally and physically, I was able to lock into around a 6:50 groove and the miles ticked along.
We formed a little group on the path and continued our journey south. The aid stations were well stocked with volunteers, Nuun and water. I wanted to practice marathon race day nutrition and had a gel at mile 6 and chomped on half a Nuun tablet at mile 8. Fans were almost non-existent during this portion. I was glad to be able to chatter with Matt and Ben to distract me. Around mile 7 Ben left us to head back to Clocktower. I was sad to see him go, but knew that meant the race was almost over.
As we approached the turnaround cone, we could see the leaders pass us on the other side of the path. I counted the girls in front of me- 18 at that point. We made a U-Turn around a cone at the south end of the course and headed back to Grant Park. The wind was more westerly so at the turn around it was not as much of a tailwind as I hoped. Matt, however, made a comment that mentally he pictured a tailwind so I tried that strategy too. Game on.
Around this time I thought, “Well… I’m turning 28 today… it would be cool to run something in the 1:28s…” Nothing like changing your game plan mid-race! When I told Matt, we picked up the pace a bit. The drizzle had stopped but the high humidity remained and I was hot, so at the 10 mile aid station I splashed water on my head to cool off. I also took half of another gel to practice marathon nutrition. The last mile, I could feel my legs starting to tire out and Matt began to pull a bit ahead. We rounded the final turn and he glanced back, and then began running backward to shout some encouragement to me. I saw the clock in the distance and that motivated me to sprint harder. I crossed the finish line all smiles in 1:28:52, a personal record by 50 seconds!
My watch’s GPS was off during the first few miles running through the city. My miles were early and splits were in the 6:20s, but I was at a 6:50 pace. Overall I was very consistent with pacing, and I negative split! We passed a few guys and girls in the last part and I ended up 15th female overall and 5th in my age group.
After the race, I began my recovery and birthday celebrations with a tart cherry juice and Vega protein smoothie, followed by a gigantic vegan brunch at Handlebar. Later, I also celebrated at the Edge with an ice bath, compression boots, and piping hot cup of tea in the PR mug.
My overall experience and satisfaction with the Mag Mile Half was better this year. While I did enjoy that it was a women’s race last year, I thought that RAM Racing did a better job organizing it this year. I like the race swag this year with the long sleeve t-shirt. I also liked having Nuun on the course instead of Gatorade. However, I still wish they would change up the course to have more time on the Mag Mile.
Did anyone else run the Mag Mile half? What was your experience? Leave your thoughts below!