Brendan Mulgrew: There's nothing to stop Belfast taking the Chicago attitude...

We took a boat trip on the Chicago River - and it was a history lesson as well as a sightseeing cruise along the skyscraper skyline
We took a boat trip on the Chicago River - and it was a history lesson as well as a sightseeing cruise along the skyscraper skyline

FOR the last week anyone who has asked ‘how’s things?’ or ‘what’s going on?’ was met with not with the usual, ‘all good’. No, they got a preview of what has turned out to be an unforgettable weekend. ‘I’m heading to Chicago!’ I told them, ‘going out there with a gang of friends and we are going to run the marathon.’

And we did! This article comes to you from the Magnificent Mile in the Windy City.

The marathon has finished, the immediate post run euphoria and celebratory mood is merging with the kind of tiredness running 26.2 miles gives a body. And we loved it, every step, even the extra hard steps that come in the last few miles when the stride has shortened and the distance between miles seems to grow to the size of Lake Michigan.

The buzz in this city has been tangible all weekend. Our flight from Dublin was booked out, with seemingly most passengers taking part in the marathon or supporting those that were.

In the arrivals hall there was a banner welcoming runners from all over the world and on hotel check in, first question from reception was whether we were here for ‘the big run.’ It was like the whole city, and it is a BIG city!, was focussed on one thing only for a few days.

When spending a few days in a new place it is tempting to take in as much history and culture as possible. We certainly learned a lot about this great city, it’s durability, resilience and its ability to quickly recover from some major setbacks.

The great Chicago fire of 1871 truly devastated the city which has only been conferred as a town 40 years earlier. The fire was tragic, 300 lives were lost and yet the city authorities took it is a challenge and an opportunity. The scale and pace of the rebuild was so impressive that by 1891 Chicago had recovered in terms of physical buildings and population size.

Just two years later the city bid for, and won, the right to host the first Worlds Fair in 1893 which saw an incredible 27 million people visit Chicago. They even hosted a second Worlds Fair in 1933 and the plan for the development of the city which holds to this day, was conceived of in 1909; city fathers still refer to the 1909 City Plan. I wonder will our own Belfast Agenda still hold sway a century from now?

Not wanting to stay too long on our feet on Saturday we took a boat trip on the Chicago River. It was a history lesson as well as a sightseeing cruise. You will have heard of the skyscraper skyline and it really is a sight to behold and the scale of Lake Michigan is overwhelming.

RUN FOR IT: Business Insight columnist Brendan Mulgrew in relaxed mood before the Chicago marathon
RUN FOR IT: Business Insight columnist Brendan Mulgrew in relaxed mood before the Chicago marathon

Back to the marathon, and this was the most efficient operation of this race I have seen to date. There are 40,000 runners in all and at our 4am breakfast buffet the accents came from all over the USA, Europe and beyond. I even shared a few miles en route with a Cavan man!

The pre-dawn walk to the start line was very atmospheric and all major roads were closed off entirely, not half a lane or a bit of the road, the whole traffic infrastructure was just shut down for marathon day. The volunteers, the staff and the police on the day all totally buy into the even and create a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere.

It’s hard to say how much the marathon means to the city economically and it’s also the case that Harry Styles was in town for two night over the weekend and he undoubtedly accounted for a significant number of out-of-towners. But the restaurants and bars were full, the on-street blues musicians were getting a great turn, the coffee shops had queues out the door.

I realise that Chicago is on a different scale entirely to Belfast, but there is nothing to stop us taking their attitude when it comes to dealing with abs recovering from setbacks such as Covid, the current cost of living crisis, the challenges faced in certain parts of the city.

The marathon? Well in the end it didn’t go according to plan for me but that’s okay. Life is about learning lessons and here’s a few I will keep from this past amazing weekend. If you want to run a marathon, find yourself a great bunch of friends to train and race with, and don’t start too quickly!

And if you want to face challenges foreseen and unforeseen head on, have a plan, hold your nerve, stick to it and see it through.

Maybe that’s a marathon lesson too.

Now I’m away to rehydrate.

 Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner at MW Advocate ( Follow him on Twitter at @brendanbelfast