Things I did to reduce running annoyances when running in Chicago

Earlier today I saw an old thread on the dreaded Let’s Run Message Board about runner pet peeves. It reminded me of the adventures of running on the Chicago waterfront.

The Lakefront Trail was a nightmare both before and after they built separate trails for the bikes and pedestrians. People are just rude, and often intentionally so (especially in Chicago).

It was also an issue on the Montrose Track, though not as greatly so. I did have a couple run-ins with an occasional pot-stirring douche, but the typical annoyances were people sliding into your lane during speedwork, or kids making a point to “accidentally” kick their soccer ball right into your path as you ran, so accidentally it somehow happened 5-6 times per session even though they otherwise did a great job keeping the ball on the field.

In any case, years of running in this environment led me to figure out how to minimize the annoyances while maximizing my training outdoors.

  1. Get off the main trail.

The Lakefront Trail was annoying, but you could mostly avoid it if you were willing to run along the lakefront seawall. Sure, that area was often crowded during the day, but if you ran in the morning then very few people got in your way.

I eventually figured out to do most of my running along the seawall, and most of the Lakefront Trail annoyances I experienced stopped.

  1. Do some math and run speedwork in lanes 5-8.

Nobody likes the outside lanes of the track because they’re long and it screws up the symmetry of 200, 400, 800 meter repeats.

Along with using the track markers to designate 200 or 400 meters, I would just do some math against the lane measurements and get close enough.

2a. Just veer over to get around people.

No one cares if your 400 meter repeat is an extra 2 meters short or long. I would just veer into the next lane or onto the grass if someone got in front of me and continue like nothing happened. If they stayed in that lane after I finished the repeat, I’d just move my next repeats into another lane.

(While infrequent… if they incidentally were doing it on purpose, it killed their enthusiasm for it real quick to not get any real reaction out of me.)

  1. Get creative with speedwork on obscure public paths.

I also knew several loops and stretches along Lincoln Park that had close approximate distances. A mostly dirt loop in South Lincoln Park was just a hair over 800 meters. Near Northwestern a loop around a water fountain was about 350 meters. A circular brick path in Loyola’s campus was about 270 meters. If I didn’t need round numbers for a repeat I could run those.

(Also, unique to the Fleet Feet Racing Team, we got to know the long straightaway of the Lincoln Park Zoo lot and knew where 200, 400, 600, 800 and 1000 meters were. Many did repeats there when the lot was quiet, usually during non-holiday winter times, early evenings, and early mornings.)

  1. Be willing to run when no one else will.

For my longest runs in Chicago I’d get up very early in the summer, often before 6am. This was mostly because the heat and humidity were brutal after 10am, but it also helped avoid the crowds of other weekend long runners. Most didn’t venture out before 7am. By the time the other runners began to really emerge, I was often most of the way through my long run.

I also was among the few who really liked running in the dead of winter. Most fair weather Chicago runners pack it in before December, and definitely won’t venture out once temperatures go below freezing. The cyclists all but disappear as well.

Even though I had to avoid speedwork in the icy and snowy conditions, I liked my long slow runs in them, and I often had the trails mostly to myself.

  1. Run home from work in your street clothes.

There was something about running home in a t-shirt and slacks, with my work shirt tied around my waist, that kept people away. You look like a weirdo, and most Chicagoans don’t like going near weirdos. Win-win, as far as I’m concerned.

Granted, I was able to do this because I lived within a few miles of where I worked and the path home wasn’t particularly dangerous. People with long commutes can’t really do this. I’m now one of those people in Las Vegas.

I also could dress business casual and wear several pairs of my running shoes. My pants pockets could hold my wallet, phone and keys, plus I could comfortably run with all these items in those pockets. You’re probably not doing this in high heels and a work dress, nor in a suit and shiny loafers.

I also worked near the Lakefront my entire time in Chicago, or at least a mile or so therefrom. After work, I only had to tiptoe through traffic for a few minutes before getting to the relative safety of the waterfront’s trail system.

Still, for me this approach was an automatic way to log training and mileage, while helping to minimize annoyances.

  1. Be willing to run where no one else will.

Many parts of the Lincoln Park waterfront trail system were far less used than others. The area on the far north between Foster and Montrose Beaches wasn’t nearly as popular as the area closest to Lincoln Park and Old Town. You could run through the marina at Belmont Harbor without crossing more than a handful of people. I often ran around the eastern side of Diversey Harbor, where the geese liked to congregate, to get to and from the waterfront. Northerly Island and the area around Soldier Field (outside of event days) was basically no man’s land to most (plus of course most of the fair weather locals were too scared to venture south of that).

I did a lot of my running and long runs around these areas to avoid the crowds. It usually worked.

All of this is just one view, of how I got creative in my environment and avoided a lot of the pet peeves that most runners encounter while training.

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