Girls weekend 2016 finally arrived! This year’s destination… The Windy City! Chicago, here we come!
What started out a few years ago as 3 new friends from the gym deciding to get together for a fairly local race and then to Chicago a few weeks later, has turned into a yearly adventure! Two years ago, Darci, Robin and I headed to The Windy City for the Women Rock Half Marathon and had so much fun that our group more than doubled in size and we headed to Minneapolis for the Women Rock Super Starlet Challenge. This year, we were back down a smaller crew. It was the 3 of us, plus our friend Tracie joined the party! This years destination was, once again, Chicago, but this time for the Rock N Roll Half marathon. And since we were going to be there, why not go for the Remix and run the 5k also!
I don’t know about you, but I HATE driving in Chicago! I’ll gladly drive through on the highway, or drive to the suburbs, but downtown… forget about it! I’d rather scrape my eyeballs with sandpaper! A few years back, we discovered that the Metra has a line that runs from Kenosha to downtown Chicago! It was like a whole new world opened up! So now, I will gladly visit Chicago (and will do it as often as I am able to) now that driving through the insanity isn’t a worry! Yes, it means a 90-ish minute drive from Green Bay to Kenosha, but it is so worth it!
Lets compare options:
Drive to Chicago – 3.5 hour drive (without traffic, pitstops along the way etc). Parking at hotel downtown Chicago = $40/night (based on what our hotel was charging, but this is probably on the low end). Approx $80 (or more) for 2 nights in the city
Train From Kenosha – 1.5 hour drive to Kenosha, plus approx 2 hour train ride. Parking in Kenosha = $5/day. Train tickets to Chicago $9.50/pp Train tickets home on Sunday $7/pp ($66 total in train tickets). Grand total $81 to get 4 adults to Chicago on the train, parking included.
From both a cost and time standpoint, there is no difference when heading downtown. However, the fact that I can sit on the train and relax, listen to an audio book or read a magazine, or just watch the country side pass before me as we cruise into the city, instead of dealing with highway traffic, crazy downtown driving in city that I really don’t know my way around in, is a HUGE win in my book!
Where to stay
A huge factor in where we stay when we travel for races, is the hotel proximity to the race! This trip was no different. As soon as registered for this race (a year in advance!) I started looking for a hotel. I started looking early enough that I was able to find a super deal on a room at the Travelodge, just a block from Grant Park (which was where the start/finish line for the race was going to be) and about 2 blocks from Buckingham Fountain!
What we didn’t consider was that this was an older hotel, in an older part of town. We were literally across the road from the Green Line (Chicago Subway system). Don’t get me wrong, I know what Chicago is like and I wasn’t expecting quiet, so the tracks near our hotel didn’t really phase me. We would realize after walking around on Friday that the start/finish line for the race was actually more on the North end of the park, so we were still going to have a walk to get back and forth… but I guess if we are here to run a half marathon, walking a half mile to the start line shouldn’t be an issue!
Since we were all looking at saving a few bucks where we could, the 4 of us shared 1 room. Lets just say, it is a good thing we are all good friends. It was tight quarters! We did get lucky tho and were given a corner room, so we actually had more than just one window! We had 2 windows in the main part of the room, as well as one in the bathroom! The extra light gave the illusion that the room was a little bigger that it actually was. Storage/counter space was at a premium (oh wait, there wasn’t any!) But we made the best of it, utilizing window ledges for shelves and each claiming a corner as our own for luggage and everything else.
The hotel definitely showed it’s age and could have used a few updates – we even had a window air conditioner! The hallways were warm and stuffy (I can only assume this is due to the age of the property and limited ventilation etc on the interior hallways) and the elevators were very small (more than 4 people and you felt like you were in a sardine can). Oh yeah, if you are going to stay here bring your own pillow! The pillows on the bed were a little on the small, and flat side! We asked for a few extra and the bellhop was nice enough to deliver 4 of them for us. Even with sleeping on 2 pillows, I felt like something was missing!
Overall the staff was great and the location was a positive, but we did decide that next time we visit Chicago, we were all willing to chip in the extra $20-25/per person to stay someplace a little more updated than what we had on this adventure!
Normally when we visit Chicago, we rely on our feet to get us everywhere we want to go. This trip, it was partially true. When we got off the train at Ogilvie Transportation Center, we grabbed our rolling suitcases, threw backpacks on our backs and set off on foot to the hotel. While nice to walk through the city, doing so while carrying your bags for the weekend takes some of the fun out of it. 1.2 miles and almost a half hour later, we finally strolled up to our hotel.
Since we knew that we would be walking quite a few miles over the next few days, and the fact that the race packet pickup and expo were at the McCormick Center, 2.1 miles south of our hotel, we opted to take advantage of public transportation. The Green Line, which traveled right past our hotel, was the line that could take us right to where we needed to be, within a few blocks. We headed to the nearest stop, purchased a day pass for the train and headed up to the tracks! Not only did the train save our feet from walking an extra 4+ miles, bit also saved us some time! Instead of the 40 plus minute walk to get to the expo, we were there in about 20 minutes. Since we had all day passes, after wandering the expo, it was a quick train ride back to the hotel to dump off the goodies before heading back out. Saving the legs before a busy weekend of running is always a good thing!
Aside from Friday tho, we pretty much relied on our feet to get us everywhere! The only other time we didn’t use our feet to get us where we needed to go was on Sunday afternoon when it was time to make our way to the train station. We decided that after all the walking and running over 3 days, it was time to hail a cab and let our legs relax! Best $12 we spent (split 4 ways, so only $3 each)!
Packet Pickup / Race Expo
We arrive at Packet pick up early afternoon on Friday, before the major crowds so we all had our race bibs and shirts for both races in a matter of minutes, since there were no lines anywhere! One advantage of getting there early also, if you need to exchange a shirt for a different size, they have most sizes available! Since I actually registered for the half marathon and 5k separately, I didn’t realize that I actually ordered 2 different sized shirts. Upon looking at the shirts, I realized that I needed to exchange the Large shirt for an XL since the women’s cut shirts fit my so much differently than the unisex ones. Once again, no line to exchange my shirt! Boom!
I will say one thing – Rock N Roll Series knows how to put on a race expo! This was by far one of the best race expo’s I’ve been in a LONG time! Between the variety of vendors, samples, giveaways and more, there was something for every runner to be discovered! We spent the next few hours wandering up and down aisles, seeing what fun stuff we could find. I made a few purchases (new handheld water bottle to replace the old one that I finally threw out after 5 years of running and then a new bright green Gerber Daisy from Fellow Flowers to replace the one I lost running my Ultra Marathon a few weeks ago), picked up some awesome samples and played some entertaining games. Oh yeah, and chasing gecko’s around to get awesome selfies with!
I loved the fact that so many of the vendors that were there had samples to either try there, or take with to try out on your own. If I had the extra room in my suitcase I could have got a great deal on some of my favorite race fuels and snacks, but when you are limited on space, you have to be selective on your purchases on these road trips! When we finally headed out, we all had quite the haul with us! We had only been in the city for a few hours and we were already trying to figure out how we were going to get all this extra stuff home!
Thanks Rock N Roll for an awesome expo! There are many other races that could leave a few pointers from what you do! The weekend is off to a good start!
Part 2 – the races and exploring Chicago coming soon!