Rock n Roll Chicago: What it’s like to be a 4 hour Half-Marathoner

A few Sundays ago I was the last person to cross the finish line at the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon. Well, to be fair, 3 other awesome ladies held hands, and crossed with me.

We were chosen to be part of the Sweeper truck, but instead of telling people they needed to move faster, we were there to motivate, encourage, dance, cheer, and listen to the people at the back of the pack.

The Logistics
Before I get into the details of the experience, I have to applaud the a Competitor Group who seeked people like us out. Each of us had run a number of races, in some cases could have run a full marathon during the time we were on the course (not me 😊). I love the fact that they did this, their staff was awesome and supported us as much as the runners. I am beyond impressed by their organization.

At the end of the race I noted how impressed I was at the level of excitement at each of the water stations to the CGI staff, and they said that’s done purposely. The water volunteers and cheer squads aren’t allowed to close down until the sweeper van goes by. It certainly made the race more fun knowing there were hundreds of people cheering along, even though some had been there since 6 am.

We got to see the inner workings of the CGI race operations team. Let me tell you that these women (they were all women) are badass. They do this weekend after weekend. They have water, Gatorade, pretzels, megaphones, and music to keep themselves and anyone who needs it, hydrated, salty, and entertained. CGI also has a policy of letting people finish the race if they want to do so. Their team argued with police officers on several occasions to keep roads closed longer than planned so these folks could finish. They are awesome.

The group of ladies (there was a guy, but several people ended up running quite far ahead of the back of the pack) that did this with me were amazing.

We had so much fun, talked about everything under the sun, and as I said to one of them as we exchanged numbers after we crossed, by default, she is my best friend in Chicago because other than work people, I’ve spent more time with her than anyone else.

I had two pieces of feedback:
– if they do this in the future, give us shirts! No one understood who we were or why we were there. I also felt like we got unfair applause from the crowds because they didn’t realize we were part of the crew.
– the finish line was already mostly packed up. There was no food, and just some water left when we got there. Parter 4 hours on the course, and almost 90 minutes in corrals, it would have been nice for these final folks to have had some snacks.

The Experience
From the time we crossed the start line, we knew this was going to be a challenge. It took almost 20 minutes for us to cross mile 1, which is a pace none of us were expecting. But we laughed, we talked, we ran ahead to water stations to get them pumped up for the participants coming behind us.

Over the course of 13.1 miles I listened to a woman break down after realizing her body, only 10 months post gastric bypass, was not going to cooperate for the second half. She, thankfully, allowed the medics to take her to be rehydrated off the course.

I encountered a man who in his prime ran ultra races in the mountains of Europe. He was running this race with his wife; it was her first.

I found a woman who, like me took on her first half marathon to lose weight, but found a happiness she hadn’t expected. And shared it with her 14 year old daughter who planned to wear her medal on the first day of school.

For the last several miles, we tried to raise the spirits of a mom and daughter who had vowed to do it together. It was not the daughter’s day, and could not keep up with their training pace. The mother was angry, often degrading her daughter, which made me be even peppier. I’m pretty sure that woman hates me to this day, but I was not letting her ruin the journey her daughter was on. We stayed with them until the very end, and I made sure the daughter got herself some fabulous finish line pics!

My absolute favorite racer was a middle aged woman who fought off dehydration and leg cramps, but never gave up. We crossed after her so that she wasn’t the last one, but afterward she came over and hugged us all thanking us for helping her reach her goal. That moment will stay with me for every race I do going forward. It was so amazing to know that she completed her goal, and saw us as part of it.

I would definitely do this again, but it was more challenging than you’d think. Going that slowly takes a toll on your body in ways you don’t experience when you run.

My lower back and my hamstrings were beyond tight. I had blisters on the balls of my feet and the lower part of my heel. I wore the same shoes and socks I wore for my first marathon, so it was not the time or distance.

When it was time to run ahead, my body rebelled. After walking for hours, my body didn’t want to pick up speed.

If anything, this experience made me an even bigger Rock n Roll and CGI fan. I look forward to running more of their races next year.


Have you ever run with the back of the pack?
What’s a strange running injury you’ve gotten?
Have you run a Rock n Roll race?

13 thoughts on “Rock n Roll Chicago: What it’s like to be a 4 hour Half-Marathoner

  1. I am SO proud to call you my friend after reading this. I have no doubts that you were a fabulous cheerleader. And I am so impressed with Competitor to have something like this – says a lot about their race organization that they want the back of the packers to have a good experience.

  2. I ABSOLUTLEY LOVE this post. To me, it embodies what race day is really all about- love, support, and cheering one another on. I have been at the back of the pack… as in dead last on a triathlon bike leg. This meant I had a police escort, but passed several ladies on the run that I got to cheer on. I just signed up for my first Rock n Roll event – New Orleans Marathon in 2/2015. Hmm… strange running injury… sheesh, feels like I have had all the standard ouchies… most miserable and persistent is IT band pain.

  3. Jenereesa @ ScootaDoot

    I know I’ve said it previously but I absolutely love that you were given the opportunity to do this! It’s important not to neglect the back of the pack and I’m sure that those with you felt really good about what you were doing. I’m bummed to hear that some of those who volunteered went off running ahead, especially knowing what they had signed up for but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I hope that RnR checks out your post and also remembers that while they helped out the BotP, they could also keep everything up and running until all have crossed the finish. xo

    1. Barb

      I am one of those volunteers that might have packed up things early. However, we got no communication from staff regarding waiting until the van at the end. I was at mile 3. We did start cleaning up when it was very light as there is a ton of work and cleaning up to do. Like the runners, we have been up early. 5:30 AM at the water station.

  4. What an experience! I can only imagine how many people’s days you made during the race, and how helpful your encouragement was to them. Its a shame that Rock ‘n’ Roll had already started packing up the finish line area. That seems to be a consistent theme at many of their races. Hopefully they’ll take the hint soon and offer a true race experience to all runners, both fast and slow.

  5. What a wonderful experience! Loving the BOP love. I’ve gone from the BOP to middle of the pack – so it is interesting to see the differences (although I still miss the oranges).

  6. Wow, what an experience! I hope they listen to your feedback, that stinks the finish was practically closed up! Everyone deserves post race food/hydration! I enjoyed hearing about your experience! Maybe one day I’ll come join you doing this again!

  7. After reading about the back of the pack experiences at the RW Heartbreak Half (were roads were reopened and there was no course support for the last runners), I’m happy to read about a race team arguing to keep roads open longer so people ca finish. I know it causes problems for the community, but it means so much to those back of the pack runners to complete the race with the same dignity as those who finished hours earlier. Kudos to CGI for keeping the participant experience first and foremost in their operations.

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