Since you've already logged countless hours training your heart, lungs and legs for the perfect 26-mile race; go the extra mile and ensure that the rest of your marathon weekend measures up. Finding the best Chicago hotels, restaurants, and pre- and post-race celebration spots can make the difference between a mediocre trip and a truly memorable experience.
Where to Bunk
Hilton's South Loop hotel plays race host and is a popular choice for Chicago marathoners due to its proximity to the start and finish lines. However, I prefer some distance from the contagious anxiety and adrenaline of other type-A marathoners prior to race day, in order to maintain a focused calm. Consider properties north of the Chicago River and the marathon's nerve (or nervous) center. As of September 30, rooms were still available at the following places.
The Peninsula Hotel (Chicago.peninsula.com) This unbelievably posh accommodation will spoil you. Steps away from Michigan Avenue's upscale shopping on the aptly named Magnificent Mile and within a 10-minute walk of Oak Street Beach, Peninsula's location has it all. The palatial hotel's 339 guest quarters enchant with luxurious décor, contemporary style and modern electronic gizmos.
You'll especially enjoy post-race soaking in the full-size tub while controlling the bathroom's television, speaker phone, and music system from a reachable wall pad. Twenty-four hour room service will satisfy late-night cravings and Peninsula's impressive spa, gym and 25-meter lap pool can be utilized for pre- and post-race treatments and workouts. Note: Peninsula is running a "third night free" promotion.
Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown (embassysuiteschicago.com) Separate living and sleeping areas are always welcome in a hotel room--especially before or after running 26 miles, when catnaps are as common as starting line jitters. Refrigerators and microwaves are necessities when I race-travel and Embassy provides these conveniences in all 367 rooms. Best of all, the complimentary, made-to-order, all-you-can-eat breakfasts are a feast unmatched by any other hotel chain.
If you want to chow down after your marathon, you'll need to run sub-three hours because Sunday breakfast closes at 10:30 a.m. but plan to eat for three on Monday.
Westin O'Hare (westinohare.com) For those on a running shoe-string budget, consider staying at the Westin O'Hare for an incredibly cheap $97/night (Saturday and Sunday). This upscale Starwood property offers its trademark Heavenly beds and baths--perfect for cleaning off the post-race grime and sleeping off the post-race fatigue.
The hotel is about 20 miles northwest of the marathon (in a commercial area), but racers can ride the Blue Line "L" train into downtown Chicago (5 blocks from the hotel). Exit at the Jackson/Dearborn station and use the six-block walk to the start as your pre-race warm-up. A taxi ride from/to this station to the McCormick Place Race Expo is your best bet for Saturday registration.
Where to Eat
Carbohydrate loading before a marathon is sooo 20th Century. My body always performs better after eating simple and familiar foods, and combining protein with carbs. No crazy spices, no fried foods, and definitely no cream sauce dishes like alfredo. Here are a few special Chicago spots to consider.