Tag Archives: Chicago

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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My biggest Chicago training mistake

Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.

I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.

Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.

But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.

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Building hill workouts for your goal races

It’s nice when a goal race is on flat, normal terrain. A place like Chicago or New York City makes it easy, since all their races are on mostly flat ground.

Along with creating prime conditions for fast times (… well, weather permitting), training for the races is straightforward. Work on aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, work on tempo and speed, recover and feed yourself well, and you can crush it.

If a race has elevation shifts, things get a bit more complicated. We already see how weather and temperature impact races: If you train in clear and mild conditions, but then race in windy, hot/cold conditions, you’re not going to be trained to deal with the latter. Even when trained for warmer conditions, suitably hot races can negatively impact performance no matter what.

Likewise, if you train on flat ground, then try to run a race with hills (whether uphills or downhills or both), your performance and body will suffer as you likely have not trained at any length to handle hilly conditions. The longer the race, the greater the impact.

Runners who live in hilly locales face challenges with training speed, tempo or maximizing mileage because of the hills impacting speed. But this becomes an advantage when they run races featuring hills. Their bodies are well-trained to deal with the big elevation shifts. American runners in Seattle, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and mountainous regions like Colorado and Utah are better equipped to handle hills than runners in Chicago, Florida or New York City. (Plus, that never minds thinner air in higher altitude, also a key factor and a separate subject)

So, as a Chicago runner, I have to be mindful when I blow town for a race in a locale with hills. Vancouver is a clear example, with not only big elevation shifts early in the Vancouver Marathon course, but even the smaller elevation shifts later in the race are mountainous compared to the elevation changes in flatter Chicago.

One key reason these hills didn’t destroy me is that on multiple occasions I ran special workouts at nearby Cricket Hill. While Cricket Hill isn’t exactly a big hill (with only a 45 foot elevation climb), it does rise at a tough grade and when run on right, it can prepare you for running up and down hills.

So, how?

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Harassment, and why I avoid the Lakefront Trail

I’d like to share a personal fun fact that is not fun: I get directly, personally harassed in Chicago multiple times per day, every single day. And not in the celebrity “I like you” sense but in the “I hate you and people like you” sense. Since I’m a man with long hair, among other distinct features, I become a friendlier target to harassment in Chicago than many others.

It’s usually basic harassment like this:

  • People in cars intentionally try to run me over when I cross streets, going as far as to sit idle as I approach and time it so that they make the attempt to hit me as I cross a crosswalk or intersection.
  • People approaching on the sidewalk, even though I always stay to the side and leave room to pass, try to drift into my path and attempt to bump or otherwise obstruct me.
  • Men suddenly powerwalk to approach behind me on an empty sidewalk, whether because a) due to my long hair they think I’m a woman and they’re predisposed to harassing women, or b) they know I’m a man, and just want to intimidate/harass me because they think it’s wrong I exist the way I do.

I offer the necessary caveat:

  • Outside I keep to myself, mostly stay to the right side on sidewalks/paths, and avoid unduly obstructing any pathways. I give way for others when useful.
  • I avoid areas prone to bad behavior, like River North or key parts of Wrigleyville on a Saturday night.
  • I’m not going out of my way to engage anybody unless engaged. All of this behavior is unsolicited and initiated by others.
  • And these are not vagrants or clear mental-illness cases. These are normal people, typically men, and of various races/backgrounds/ages.
  • This has happened pretty much daily (I’m kind of surprised when a day ends and it hasn’t happened at all) since the day I arrived in Chicago at the end of 2014.

All of this kind of misleads how much I worry about it: At this point I’m used to it and it’s just a regular, occasionally annoying part of life. I abhor bringing it up at all: It amounts to little more than complaining, and it’s something I have no real control over. It’s a city-wide phenomenon (one I don’t ever experience to this degree anywhere else, not even NYC or LA), it happens to a lot of people, the Chicago police do not address harassment unless someone has been directly assaulted or threatened (and even then they won’t bother doing anything half the time, or will make it a huge hassle for you to take any action).

Basically, there is nothing of use anyone will do about it. All I can do, and do, is exercise awareness when outside, know when/how to take evasive action when it’s approaching, and avoid it.


I bring it up because it also happens when I run, and it turns out harassment on the Lakefront Trail is a huge problem, an elephant in the room no one has ever shown any serious interest in directly addressing. This definitely affects many runners in Chicago, and probably a lot of people in general across the board.

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