Niketown Kicks Off The Marathon With A Bang

Niketown Pep Rally discussion pannel of experts. Photo: Jeff Banowetz

Niketown Pep Rally discussion pannel of experts. Photo: Jeff Banowetz

A new Chicago Marathon tradition keeps the city buzzing.

Take a drum line, a couple Olympic medalists, a marathon legend, the city’s newest football hero and enough cowbells to satisfy Christopher Walken—and you get a sense of the scene at Niketown Thursday as the marathon sponsor kicked off marathon weekend with a pep rally and fun run. It also announced a Northside/Southside challenge for high-school cross-country runners who will be competing the morning of the marathon.

Niketown’s weekly Thursday night run started by handing out the cowbells for spectators this weekend—and the crowd put them to good use as a group of elite runners sat down for some motivational words and a quick Q&A.

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Among those on stage were marathon legend Joan Benoit Samuelson,  5,000 and 10,000 meter specialist Bernard Lagat, 10,000 meter bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan to offer their tips for runners preparing for the marathon. But getting the most attention might have been rookie Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox, who last week returned a kick return 102 yards for a touchdown.

“I’d rather deal with people hitting me,” he said, when asked which was harder, playing football or a marathon. “I don’t think I could do a marathon.”

Most of the athletes on stage echoed Joan Benoit Samuelson’s prerace tip: “Believe in the training that you’ve done to get here,” she said.

She also offered some advice for those looking to run with a partner.

“How may of you are planning to run the race with somebody?” she asked the crowd. “Get rid of that idea.”

“Tell your friend or training partner that you’ll meet them at the finish line,” she continued, with a smile. “Because what you have to do is go out there and run your own race. You don’t know what you can do until you can give it your best shot.  And you can’t run anybody else’s race, nor can anybody run your race.”

After a short Q&A with the athletes, members of the Nike Run Club left the store for their last organized run before the marathon, led by an eight-person drum line to kick off the run.

• Nike also announced a Northside/Southside cross-country challenge that will be taking place the same day as the marathon over the final 2.6 miles of the course. Ten local high school teams—both boys and girls—will compete as part of the challenge. This marks the first time that a World Marathon Major will feature high school athletes competing an invitational meet on the race day course.

The boy’s competition will start at 7:40 a.m., followed by the girls at 7:45 a.m. The race begins at 31st Street and Michigan Avenue and ends at the finish line of the marathon.

The competing teams will be designated either “Northside” or “Southside” based on their geographic location. Individual and team winners will be named for both boys and girls. Following the Challenge, the participants and their families will be invited to stay at the finish line area to watch the remainder of the Marathon.

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