7 Things I’ve learned about running in Chicago

I feel like after almost eight months of running in the city, I may have some advice to offer. So here’s seven things I’ve learned about city running. Thanks, Chicago.

1. The street lights mean more for pedestrians 
I’ve been getting up and running with the sunrise for the past three weeks, which for the most part, just means that I’m avoiding tourists and not having to worry too much about traffic. I’ve learned a thing or two about the streetlights – and one of those is the walk signs don’t really mean all that much. The walk sign could be on, but cars will probably still be whizzing past. It’s smarter to watch the green/red lights of the cars that would be traveling alongside you, but still keep an eye on those crazy cats, too. Take the walk sign as a backup, but I’ve learned that you can judge when to cross from the traffic (or lack thereof) and even if the orange hand is blinking, the light is probably going to be green for at least a couple more seconds.

2. Never run down Michigan Avenue between 9:30am-8pm (Specifically Mag. Mile area)
And there is basically one reason why not, and that is the tourists. Holy tourists, batman. You’re not going to be able to run for a block straight if you’re heading out at noon. Prepare to walk a lot, because the sidewalks are PACKED. Fair enough, it’s not primarily a running area. With all those shops around and the street is known for the shopping, it’s not really fair for you (as a runner) to complain about there being so many people around. You probably live in Chicago and you’re choosing to run down the street instead of the trail that’s just a couple blocks over. I guess there’s the other fact of the matter of…

3. The Lakefront Trail is for everyone
Chicago’s got a lot of great running routes, between the city streets and parks scattered around the city, but the Lakefront trail is where it’s at. If you’re an avid race-runner, let it be 5 or 10 or 21Ks, you’ve probably run a race at least partially on the trail. It’s fairly well-kept, right by the lake so you’ve got that nice little lake breeze, and of course, great views of the city. Since it’s such a prime spot, it’s not exactly a well-kept secret. If it’s above 60 degrees, you’re going to be fighting for a spot on the trail. Walkers, runners, bikers, kids running around, dogs being walked on leashes – it’s a very busy spot.

4. Never underestimate the wear and tear of your shoes
I’ve learned this one the hard way: I got new running shoes in October/November in 2013, and when I got those shoes, I wasn’t running more than 4 or 5 miles every couple days. Once Spring came, my mileage and speed both picked up, and my shins, knees, and ankles started to be in constant pain, whether I was running or not. I looked up some signs of needing new shoes online, and found that you should be swapping out your shoes ever 600-700 miles, which my shoes were coming close to. Now I’ve got new shoes that are fairly broken in now (after about a week,) and I’m almost done with physical therapy. My running life is getting back to normal, and all it took was half a paycheck from one of my jobs.

5. Carry water
Especially when the temperature is fluctuating. True, there are water fountains along the Lakefront trail (and I’m sure there’s a couple more around the Chicago area,) but they’re not always the most sanitary or even screwed in during the Fall and Spring months. You don’t want to be that guy passed out from dehydration in downtown Chicago. Especially if you run with a music playing device. Make it easier on yourself and just have water with you. I’m learning this right now, too, sooo…yeah….

6. When in doubt, layer up
Chicago’s wind can make even 40 degrees seem like 25, so throw on a sweatshirt if you think you might need it. Worst case scenario, you’re tying it around your waist for a little while or rolling up the sleeves. I guess you learn to not care how ridiculous you might look, especially while you’re running, because you’re either going to be surrounded by other people exercising, (and they will completely understand,) or be receiving a lot of looks from all kinds of strangers. You might as well be more comfortable while all of this is going on.

7. Research 
Outside of school, I hadn’t really been the type of person who reads articles about things for fun – that is, until I started running. Something would be wrong, my parents couldn’t help me, so I researched the heck out of it. That’s where I learned how much water I needed to be drinking every day. I set my training schedule for my first half marathon after researching training plans for a couple hours. I learned about foot strike and where your foot should hit when you’re primarily running on concrete, and when you need to start shoe shopping. There’s fun in it too – looking at quotes, other people’s running stories, and looking at running-inspired tattoos. The internet can be a great, motivating resource, as long as you use it correctly.

I thought of this post as I was running this morning, and at the time, it seemed like a lot more. But I guess you could say another thing I’ve learned is that you don’t want to divulge all of my secrets and lessons, some things are better if you learn them yourself. Run Happy!

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Author: erikabunk

Raised in Northern Minnesota, Interdisciplinary major in Radio and Business & Entrepreneurship at Columbia College Chicago. Enjoys long runs on the lakefront path at dawn, public radio, and lefse covered in butter w/ cinnamon sugar. Spends too much time on Spotify, in search of the best record store in the world, and dreams of returning to Reykjavík.

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