Monday, October 08, 2007

Sweat Home Chicago

Marathon number three continued my tradition of only running marathons with temperature extremes. At dawn it was an overcast, humid 75 degrees and climbing. My niece dropped me off near the lake-front start line around 7:00 AM. I checked my gear, loosened up with T'ai Chi, then stood in a tightly-packed brick of humanity waiting for the 8:00 gun. As the overcast dissolved into popcorn-shaped clouds, the sun rose above Lake Michigan. It felt like a furnace door opening.

Because of crowd size, it took me 20 minutes to cross the mat.

Interesting Stat:

The Chicago Marathon sold out all 45,000 spots back in April.

But only 35,867 passed the start line Sunday morning. That means 9,133 people figured out it was too stinking hot to run.

Lots of TNT runners from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, New York City and even Louisiana.

The field was so packed it was tough to interval. Those who intervaled clashed with those who viewed the far right of the course as a passing lane. My goal was a 4 hour and 40 minute marathon. I aimed to interval four minutes running/ and one walking up to the half-marathon mark, then see how I felt.

Leaving Grant Park, the course turned onto LaSalle Street just past Mile 2 and headed north. No water at the first stop — they'd run out. There was a mob around the folding tables, shaking gallon water jugs to get the last drops. The surrounding street was littered with flattened Gatorade and Hinkley water cups from the preceding runners. (Wet, flat plastic cups are like ice. You had to watch your footing.) People were highly pissed — especially those without water belts. (I'd brought mine.) One runner had a bottle of Gatorade. He took a sip, passed it back to me. I took a sip and passed it on to another runner. This no-water business boded ill.

Running for several miles on LaSalle, you'd get an occasional breeze through the tall buildings. I'd take off my visor and savor the cool air. Then out into Lincoln Park where the water stations remained a problem. Runners were surging across the street to the first one they saw. Sometimes there was only Gatorade. Other times, volunteers couldn't keep up with demand and runners served themsevles. Whenever possible, I grabbed two cups, drinking one and dumping the other over my head. (In today's Chicago Tribune, the race director blamed runners for the water shortages, citing those who took two cups.)

Around mile eight, I saw an old white-haired runner drift off course and ask a spectator if he could sit in his lawn chair. (The guy helped him down.) By now, sirens whooped all over the city as ambulances rushed the first heat casualties to the hospital.

The heat was getting to me. For the moment, I slowed but kept the same interval. But as we turned west onto Adams, the shade disappeared. No tall buildings, no leafy tree-lined streets with brick apartments. I passed a medical tent and it was full: runners on cots and others holding ice bags to their heads. Past the half-way point, I started tossing out goals like a passenger on a sinking boat dumping freight. Dropping to a 3:1 run/walk, I slowed pace even more. After frying my brain in Honolulu two years ago, I listened to my body and if it said walk more, I did.

We doubled-back east on Jackson and finally found a little shade. Turning south on Halsted to mile 17, I was mostly walking. I'd pick a point and run to it, or run half a mile, or choose a runner going about my speed and tag along. I took another salt tablet, but skipped goo as it made me retch.

Somewhere around mile 18, the cops bull-horned that the race had been cancelled. No finishing times would be official. Please walk. There was a great deal of confusion. By now, the city had opened up fire hydrants and fire trucks stood at certain intersections hosing down the crowd. (Not to mention ordinary Chicago citizens with garden hoses doing the same.) Finally, in the Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen, around mile 19 it sunk into the vast majority of runners that the 2007 Chicago Marathon was toast — just like them. Some runners dropped out at the nearest medical tent where they'd be bussed back to the start line. Some ran on. A nasty rumor surfaced that we wouldn't get medals. This put me into a black mood.

Come what may, I was determined to finish. Because my legs hurt, I ran 1:1 off and on to around mile 22, then walked to mile 26. Along with many others, I ran the final .02 because there were cameras present. 24,933 runners crossed the finish line.

And they did give out medals.

I finished in 5 hours, 48 minutes and 23 seconds. Check the Comments of my previous post where Jeff Carroll has listed my unofficial splits.

One man died and over 300 were hospitalized for heat injuries.

The people lining the route were great. Many offered water or ice cubes, staying on to cheer in the heat long after the race was called.

As for the "other" race — the front end of the marathon where people actually had a chance to win — Kenyan Patrick Ivuti beat Moroccan Jaouad Gharib by .05 of a second. (2:11:11) The top woman's finisher, Ethiopian Berhane Adere edged Roumanian Adriana Pertea in the homstretch. Pertea thought she had the race knocked, and eased off, waving to the crowd as she neared the finish. Adere poured on the coal to catch and pass Pertea for the win. (2:33:49.)

Given my injuries since April, I couldn't think of a better race to cancel. But if I'd been a TNTer who'd fund-raised and trained for this moment, or a runner eager to pr, I'd be supremely miffed at Sunday's outcome. For over a week, I'd been tracking the temperature. I knew it would be hot and humid. Hence, the race organizers did also. I find it hard to believe they couldn't increase the amount of water stations, change the start time to earlier, or better prepare for the heat onslaught they knew was coming. The Honolulu Marathon faces these conditions every year. No one could pick up a phone?

In any case: mission accomplished. After 30 years, I finally finished the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks to Ryan, Raul, Jeff and K for the emails. I'm walking around fine after sleeping eleven hours last night.

As for now, I'm not looking at any marathons before next fall in Pasadena. But don't tell anyone I'm entering.

They'll kick me out to avoid extreme weather.

(All photos courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.)

4 comments:

k said...

Wow.

What an incredible experience.

The race officials were clearly incompetent. It's so very irritating when - after their screwups are brought to light - they blame the people they misserved for any difficulties those same people suffered.

Like certain very high federales did to us about certain hurricanes.

But for your part, you did what you could to circumvent that. Just like good hurricane preps. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, including any jobs the Guys in Charge are supposed to do. So you brought your own water! Too cool. heh!

The photos were fabulous, BTW. What a visual.

You did it. You DID it.

After 30 years.

In a race with such terrible and extreme heat and humidity that almost 20% were no-shows, and one died, and 300 were hospitalized; where they failed to provide the water and ice they should have, then actually cancelled the race after four hours.

You kept going. You did not stop. You did not cancel.

I'm just awed. I am so very proud to know you.

Congratulations.

In the extreme.

Raul! said...

Great wrap-up, John. I don't envy the experience one bit.

Last year, the Chicago Marathon had a debacle when the winner slipped on the marathon logo near the finish, this year it was incompetence at handling the severe weather, I wonder what will happen next year?

I was thinking of running Pasadena next year, but I might think twice with you there. Stay away, John! =)

ilovesteaks said...

Didn't the Chicago Marathon measure out to be 1 mile longer one year? Anyways, congrats on surviving! I'll look for you in Pasadena!

jeff carroll said...

I can laugh and also cry with your comments regarding the weather and what it does to our bodies when it is hot. As Jimmy says, every race is a different learning experience and each brings new challenges. I'm glad you learned from Hawaii and listened to your body and stayed safe.