Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Concrete Jungle

In a city where we like to contain our nature and surround it by concrete, it's only fitting to have a place called the Concrete Jungle.

 Every Saturday morning, my group meets at Montrose Harbor and heads south on the lakefront trail. We start on a crushed limestone path, then move to an asphalt spur that brings us onto the formal bike path at the northern end of the golf course. We tuck under Lakeshore Drive just south of Belmont which puts us back on the limestone path down to North Avenue.

Earlier in the summer, our shorter routes don't push us over the North Avenue bridge. But by July, we're treking over the bridge and meeting up with our summertime training nemesis - The Concrete Jungle.

The Concrete Jungle, at least in my training group's terminology, is the 1.5 mile stretch between North Avenue and Ohio Street beach. This section of the lakefront is highly photographed and a popular place for Chicagoans and tourists alike to do all things recreation.

Though the skyline makes for a beautiful backdrop against the lake, I've never been able to figure out what the draw is to North Avenue and Oak Street beach. In my opinion, neither of these beaches has anything on Montrose, Foster or Hollywood Beach (or the quaint Rogers Park beaches for that matter). But nevermind beach talk - let's get back to the jungle.

We start just south of North Avenue. As the group merges onto the path at this curve, we're about five miles in to whatever our distance is of the day. We feel fresh and relatively rested. It's around 7:30am and likely not blazing hot...yet. 

The Oak Street Beach turn throws us a curveball with it's pitched path. Whereas we were running closer to the wall at Lake Shore drive for the first leg of the jungle, we now have to cross down the pitch and run right on the water. Why is the path pitched around Oak Street you ask?

 Because for a  period of the spring, winter and fall, waves crash up onto the path in the jungle. You have to use extreme caution in the winter where the path could have black ice. Ice + pitched path into lake could mean trouble. Or if nothing else, a wet remainder of your run or ride.

After crossing down to run along the water, the smooth concrete terrain becomes uneven with a decade of asphalt patchwork done between Oak and Ohio Street. It's at about this time that I wonder why and how it is that this heavily populated area of the path is still not fixed.

Fifteen minutes after meeting the Concrete Jungle, we've found it's end as we run up the ramp at Ohio Street beach. There's a few moments of shade before crossing in front of Navy Pier and then over the lower Lake Shore bridge to cross the river.

One may think the journey on the Concrete Jungle has come to an end. However, most runs have to finish where they started, and thus, our training run would not be complete without a round trip through the jungle.

Heading back North is two to four times as grueling as coming south. We're growing tired. Some of us are cramping. The sun is blazing down on us to no avail. I look longingly at the North Avenue boat house in the distance knowing that once we reach that point, there will be water and Gatorade, and most importantly, shade.

Over the years, we've had every variety of run possible coming back through the jungle. We've had overcast, cool weather or days we felt particularly strong. We have hot, humid days that broke our group into pairs of run/walkers.

Though I never look forward the Concrete Jungle during my long runs, I sure do wish I was running when I pass it driving on Lake Shore Drive.


Declan Xavier said...

You forgot to mention the wind!! Always so bad south of Fullerton, and that lack of shade is deadly!!

Pete B said...

This post reminds me of a Specials song! :)

Sara said...

I love the concrete Jungle, but the wind in the winter and lack of shade in the summer can definitely get to you.