Sunday, October 3, 2010
When I ran Chicago
Even a lot of non runners will recall that the Chicago Marathon made headlines in 2007 when water stations started to run out of drinks. The heat soared while the sun blazed pitilessly on the huge assembly of runners. Every non runner I knew was wagging his/her finger at me after that, thinking that all of their misgivings about long distance running had come to pass. This was the Armageddon of running: I think they half expected to see media reports of Jesus and Ryan Hall taking all the runners to their eternal reward. They just didn't get it; it was simply the huge scale of the thing that magnified an otherwise simple problem.
Wanting to run Chicago at some point, I figured 2008 would be perfect because organizers would overcompensate in order to avoid the bad publicity a second year in a row. So we drove the ten hours to Chicago on the Friday in October 2008 and settled in to a bit of sightseeing and Expo browsing on the Saturday. Never having been to Chicago before, I was absolutely loving it. What a great city, so much to see and do.
I've seen countries that are smaller in acreage than the Chicago Marathon Expo. Everyone who was anyone in running was there, signing stuff and making speeches. I got a poster signed by Deena Kastor (I framed that baby), met Bart Yasso and Ryan Hall, watched the Kenyans smile and tolerate silly questions, and just generally spent my childrens' inheritance on stuff.
A whole other Armageddon waa unfolding on the hotel room TV during that time as George Bush appeared every day to confirm that the world had not ended and that he was going to rescue some of the largest corporations in the world. Heady stuff when you're trying to concentrate on running a marathon.
Our hotel was a twenty minute drive from downtown, so Sunday morning we arrived a bit early and drove straight into the cavernous parking area under Millenium Park. It was already 20 degrees Celsius a couple of hours before the start, so I knew we were in for another warm one.
I think most runners will agree that the biggest concern you have after you've run a few long races is that the organizers won't get so overly liability conscious that they shut the race down just because it's a bit warm. I'm not trying to show a disregard for the wellbeing of people who get dehydrated, etc., during a race, but for me it's really quite simple; if I'm starting to feel a bit lightheaded or if I'm clearly overheating, I walk. If, after training for a marathon, you can't handle a bit of walking, or you are so hell bent for leather that you push yourself to the hospital, so be it. Again, it's not quite that simple in every case, but in a whole lot of cases it is.
Anyway, the Chicago Marathon started at 8:30 am, which is ridiculously late in the day for a marathon to start. However, I had no problem with that because obviously the late start helps to ensure larger, more awake crowds, and that's a big part of the appeal of Chicago. So that heat kept building. And there was not a cloud in the sky. By the time I crossed the finish line 4 hours and 38 minutes after the start, the temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius.
So what was the run like. Well, it took me seven minutes to get across the starting line. And the crowds of spectators from then on were unremittingly thick and loud. The crowd of runners never once thinned to the point that I could run without zigging and zagging to avoid other people's feet or the sudden braking of run-walk groups. That sounds like I'm complaining, but I most certainly am not. It was exactly what I expected.
The water stations were well stocked, in fact better than many at the smallest of marathons that I've run. Medics were everywhere apparent. The course itself was endlessly fascinating, although the endless bridges were a bit disconcerting (for me). Yes, I walked a bit near mile 20, just because it was getting really hot and I was getting a bit lightheaded. I still think, by the way, that a few little hills would actually help my legs to stretch out a bit; an utterly flat course tends to destroy my leg strength earlier than a course with the odd hill.
So when I crossed the finish line I continued chatting with a guy I'd met a couple kilometres back (I met and chatted to quite a few people, probably the most fun part of this or any race for me) and we continued to the meet-up area where my wife came along to the beer tent. Excellent FREE beer. On a sunny hot day, in Chicago. We then continued on the the 96th floor bar of the John Hancock building which was packed with runners having a great celebration. The view of Chicago from there was absolutely breathtaking.
So good luck to all runners doing Chicago on 10/10/10. Remember, unless it's of paramount importance to you to qualify to run in Beantown or something, listen to your body and push it only as far as you can without ruining your fun by ending up in an ambulance. There's no free beer in the ambulances I'm told, and that would really suck.