With the aim to complete all World Marathon Majors by 2015, I booked a trip to Chicago earlier in June to run the Chicago Marathon. Since I missed out on the general entry, I decided to try my luck with one of the International Travel Partners (ITP). The only company that had guaranteed spaces left was Sports Tours International in UK. To run the race, I had to pay USD 700+ which included a 4* hotel in downtown Chicago plus a race entry fee of USD 200+.
This was going to be my 15th and last race of the year, something that would give some relief to my wife who very patiently had to put up with my crazy marathon schedule throughout the year. Also, since I had consumed plenty of vacation time through the year, I had no choice but to limit the journey to 3 days. By now, I was used to these sort of travels, having endured the pain in the early part of the year during my World Record challenge.
I reached Chicago O'Hare airport on Friday evening after a 20 hour flight from Doha. The cheapest and most convenient way to get to the hotel downtown was via the train. This was a five dollar ride, which ended up being quite memorable. While on the train, I met a group of runners ( two couples) who were from the west coast and knew their way around Chicago. They were thrilled to find out that I had come all the way from Qatar for the weekend to take part in the marathon. The friendship quickly developed and they went out of their way to find out the exact location of my hotel and guided me appropriately, Not only that, Roland and Ivan came by my hotel the next day to drop off VIP passes for hospitality tent. That's what I call American hospitality at its best. The hotel was just great, very centrally located in the heart of downtown Chicago. I was supposed to share a room with another runner but apparently he cancelled last minute, so I got a private room to myself.
The next morning, buses were parked outside our hotel to take us to the marathon expo. The planning by the race organizers was impeccable, I collected my race kit, walked around the expo and then later returned back to the hotel to chill.
In the evening, I walked around Chicago to downtown looking for Halloween costumes for my kids. After about 2 hours of walking, I finally found a costume place and bought the required outfits.
That same evening, I met up with the "Barefoot Bandito" Eddie and his lovely wife Nilda for dinner at Gino's pizza.
On race day, I woke up quite early at 4am, clearly jet-lagged. I made my way to the VIP tent which was only a 5 minute walk from the race hotel. The breakfast was great and was nice to cosy up in the tent to escape the cold weather outside. To my surprise, I bumped into another Antarctica Marathon Alumni, JC Teresa (a Marathon Maniac who runs about 40-50 marathons a year).
Around half an hour prior to the race start, we were escorted to the start line by the staff (a privilege reserved for the VIP runners). The atmosphere was electrifying with over 40,000 runners packed at the start line. I was pretty much at the back end (Coral G) and it took me over 20 minutes to reach the start line after the guns went off. The weather was brilliant for running and there were people 10-15 deep along the course to cheer the runners on. Not once, there was a dull moment in the race and I never felt tired. The most amusing thing along the course were the banners people were carrying. The ones that come to mind were"
"Chuck Norris never ran a marathon"
"If marathons were easy, it would be called your mom"
"HURRY, the Kenyans are finishing all the beer"
There were so many other banners like the ones above and it kept all runners amused and motivated. Along the course, I met up with Dr. Dribble, who holds the Guinness World Record for completing a marathon in the fastest time while dribbling two basketballs. The entire course was enjoyable and the scenery changed throughout. We ran through China Town, University district, financial centre and downtown parks to finish the race back where we started. As i crossed the finish line, I was awarded the finishers medal and directed to the VIP tent where a buffet and a massage awaited the runners.
Later that day, I chilled out in my hotel room and then made my way to the airport the following morning to catch the long flight back to Doha. I reached Doha the following day just in time to celebrate Eid with the family!
All in all, it was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Perhaps, I will return to Chicago again one day to run it all over again!
The mother of all marathons!! After 3 years of applying in the lottery, I got the guaranteed entry in 2007. However, as Nadia was in the later stages of pregnancy, I decided to postpone it till 2008. Little I knew that I would move to Dubai in 2008. So, we decided to fly all the way to NYC from Dubai for the race. We took the 18 hour flight from Dubai to Toronto on Oct 31st. On the way, Zara got sick and puked all the way to Amsterdam. Totally exhausted, we reached Toronto in the evening and drove straight to Kingston with Lala. By the time we reached Kingston and went to bed, it was already 2am. Next morning, I left alone for NYC as Nadia decided to stay back in Kingston with the sick kids. That afternoon on Saturday, I reached NYC and found a cheap hostel for $30/night in Manhattan (sharing with 3 other people). That evening after collecting my race kit, I went back to hotel and decided to call it an early night. With the excitement of running the NYC Marathon, I could not sleep till about 12am. At 5am my alarm went off and woke up the other 3 guys in the room. After changing, I took the subway to NYC Library from where we were bussed to Staten Island for the race start. It was a chilly morning and had difficulty keeping myself warm during the wait period. The experience was once in a life time. I was at the park with 40,000 plus runners, all waiting to take part in the race. They served hot coffee and bagels for the runners and everyone was in a festive mood. Finally after about 3 hours of waiting, the race started. It was a split start, with the first pack starting at 9am and the rest followed with a 20 minute delay. We ran through all the 5 boroughs of New York. The crowd support along the course was amazing. I have never seen so many people running and cheering along the course. Some of the runners were in costumes. Even though I was getting tired, the buzz on course got me going. The final few miles went through Central Park which in the middle of autumn was at it’s most beautiful. I crossed the finish line in over 5 hours and those were the best 5 hrs I have ever spent on a race course. After collecting my medal, I posed for some photographs and then walked for about 30 minutes to reach the gates of the park. I took the subway back to the hostel, had a nice Chinese meal and then drove 2 hours to Pennsylvania to meet with Nadia, kids, mama and Lala. So, 18 hrs of flying followed by 3 hrs drive to Kinsgton and another 8 hrs of drive to NYC, I completed the NYC Marathon. What more can I ask for!!!
It was a memorable trip. We all decided at the last moment to drive down to Lake Placid for the marathon. I rented a car from Hertz and drove to Kingston to pick up Mama and Lala. We spent the night in Kingston and left early morning to Lake Placid. At the US customs, we were asked to report inside for an interview. The custom officials were quite nice and impressed when I told them about the marathon. We continued our journey to Lake Placid which took about 4 hours. Lake Placid is a quaint little town nestled between the Adirondack mountain range. It is the home of the 1930 winter Olympics and the race start was from the main Olympic stadium. Our hotel was walking distance from the main tourist hub and we walked along the main street in the evening. For dinner we went to an outdoor BBQ establishment where we had half pound burgers. Later on, we drove back to the city and played the 18 hole crazy golf….which Lala won! The race day was hot and humid with the mercury touching almost 45c. We were advised that if someone is not feeling well, they can pull out at the half way mark. The course itself was extremely hilly. It was twice out and back course and got quite boring in the end. The hill leading up the half way mark as well as the finish line was a killer. However, I never gave up and finished the race in a little over 5 hours. As I was approaching the finish line at the Olympic Stadium, the MC on the public address system said” Please welcome the brave Mr. Ziyad Rahim who’s come all the way from Canada”. It was great finish and Nadia, Mama and Lala were there to cheer me on. The medal was a disappointment, but since it was the inaugural race, I am sure the race directors would improve the shortcomings next time around. After the race, I went for a massage and later that evening, we drove back to Kingston and after dropping Mama and Lala, we headed back to Toronto.
Ziyad Rahim is an adventure-runner from Pakistan. He currently holds 10 Guinness World Records in long-distance running, ranging from marathons to ultra-marathons.