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Chicago Mon Mar 31 2014

Spring Officially Arrives With Shamrock Shuffle


"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."
― Anne Bradstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet

Winters in Chicago are usually pretty rough on anyone, no matter if you've lived here your whole life or if you're a recent transplant. And if there's one thing everyone in this town can agree on, it's that this last winter was by far the worst in recent memory.

Tourists from far out of town or newcomers fresh out of college would ask, "Is it always this bad around here?" The answer inevitably is, "It gets bad, but this is a little out of the ordinary." With record-setting snowfalls, followed by record-setting sub-zero temperatures -- followed by more snow and then more sub-zero temperatures -- it was enough to make the thick-skinned Midwesterner tremble like a newborn fawn.

After being exposed to such atrocities for a few weeks, the thought on everyone's mind after a long commute home became a little more hopeful, "This, too, shall pass. Heck, there's only 47 days left until Opening Day!" Baseball aside, living in this town for at least three years will make the most callous cynic into an ardent optimist, and every year the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle means spring-like weather truly is right around the corner.

You don't have to be a dedicated runner to enjoy this event; although, running in it, no matter which level of experience, is something that brings great joy to those involved, even if a little soreness follows. The "World's Largest Timed 8K" as it boasts is the unofficial eye-opener for the Chicago running season, and truly does back it up.

Anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 individuals come out of hibernation, lace-up a pair of running shoes and hit the downtown course, which provides a wonderful tour of the Loop that usually goes unnoticed during the Monday-through-Friday workday. (DePaul has a campus down here? I really should see a show at the Chicago Theater. There sure are a lot of banks on LaSalle Street.)

The last four years have been kind to runners, in that the weather has been above freezing with clear skies. There have been occasions where runners would dodge slick spots on the road coarse and potholes filled with rainwater, but not the 2014 edition. Just a chilly breeze that felt more like a warm front compared to the negative-16 Polar Vortex a mere month ago.

The course starts on Columbus Drive in waves determined by skill set. The first wave belongs to the elite, those who usually finish in the top-50 in marathons, and then works down from there. Each wave starts some two or three minutes after the previous begins, so as not to create a cluster.

As the runners made their way north on Columbus, they made the turn on Grand and then headed back south on State. After taking a right on Jackson and then back north on LaSalle, the run is nearly half over as the sun begins to heat on the back of your neck. Hundreds of volunteers are smiling, waving and handing out cups of Gatorade and water at certain checkpoints. All the while, those who live in the neighborhood or commute over to cheer on friends and loved ones, hold signs and high-five passersby.

As the sea of humanity makes its way throughout the downtown, various colors are worn as a badge of pride, representing whichever charity he or she chose: Matt Forte's A Run For Our Future, Team PAWS, The Imerman Angels, the list goes on and on. Some even run for friends or family members who may not be tied to an organization -- wearing an ironed-on photo of someone who might be struggling with an ailment or already having perished from it. As you see this on the course, it gives pause that there are in fact good people around, and the warm feeling isn't just coming from the sun above but also from the swell of emotion in your heart.

Beer.jpgAfter making it over the brutal hill on Roosevelt, also referred to as "Puke Hill," the stretch to the finish line is right around the corner. That's when you know you've finally made it and that a cold beer awaits for you at Buckingham Fountain. Still yet more volunteers smile, hand out bananas, snacks and water, while photographers snap a photo to be retrieved on the site.

That's when it hits you: it's over. You did it! You finished a near five-mile run after surviving a winter that at one point was colder than parts of Mars. And it doesn't matter if it's your first run or tenth, everyone has a smile on their face and everyone celebrates to music from the band stage with their friends and family.

There might be days ahead that are cold again -- heck, we still might be in store for more (GULP!) snow. But with Opening Day upon us and a successful run that got thousands of people out of bed and into the streets, you know it's not long now before shorts and t-shirts replace jeans and sweaters. Cheers, Chicago! You survived a brutal winter. It only can get better from here.

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