Monday, January 21, 2008

Chicago Marathon 2007

I made it to mile 16 before the course was shut down due to excessive heat.


Jeanine, Lauren, Kim and I meet at the Sheraton on Columbus (where Kim was staying) at 6 a.m. We decide to conserve our energy and take a cab the .8 mile distance to Grant Park. The first cab driver tells us to walk. Nice. The second driver is in a much better mood and drives us as close as possible to the check-in area. With nervous excitement, we joke around during the cab ride. Keith, driving in from Orland Park, has been in Grant Park since 5 a.m.

Lauren (running for Team in Training) and I check into Charity Village and our respective charity tents. The Children's Memorial tent is great, stocked with bananas, bagels, granola bars, water, Gatorade, safety pins and first aid supplies. Gear check in is a breeze here. The porta-potties in Charity Village are also very clean and smell like cinnamon. All good.

We meet back up with Kim and Jeanine and start walking closer to the start to meet up with Keith. We pass the Finish and I take a picture with my cell phone, joking around to the runner behind me that I'm taking it just in case I don't see it later. Little did I know what the day would hold in store! We keep heading south on Columbus when someone . . .can't remember if it was Kim or Jeanine . . .realizes that we're heading the wrong way. Nice way to keep our legs fresh . . .walk several blocks in the wrong direction. We blame our stupidity on nerves. We start heading back and the start/finish area is really getting busy at this point. Lots and lots and lots of runners. I remark how fascinated I am at the logistics/operations that go into this.

We're closer to the start line and 5:45 pace group. (That's 5 hours, 45 minutes to finish, NOT a 5 minute, 45 second mile.) Jeanine and I decide we need to visit the porta-potties again. There's some pretty long lines at this point. The porta-potties here don't smell anything like cinnamon. Quite the opposite actually, I want to gag. They also are already out of toilet paper. Jeanine scolds me for not bringing my own supply. (She was prepared).

We grab some water and gatorade and start walking to the 5:45 pace group. We spot our Mom and Dad on the way, who drove in early to cheer us from the start line. (I say "start line" loosely as we're actually quite a distance away from the start, behind the faster runners.)

We're waiting for awhile at the start; Kim and Lauren decide to sit down on the street to preserve their legs; I can't sit down due to nervous excitement. (We never did meet up with Keith; it became so packed that we decided to stay where we were.) Jeanine and I decide we need to go to the bathroom again. Lines down and Marathon staffer letting runners cut ahead of spectators. Beautiful. These porta-potties have toilet paper. Sweet. I'm in the porta-pottie and I hear the announcer say something . . I think he says "Runners take your marks" and the crowd starts cheering. I need to get out of the porta-pottie fast but I've had so much water and Gatorade and diet Coke that it's impossible for me to do so. Nerve-racking. I hurry out of there and meet Jeanine, Lauren and Kim with the pace group.

The start is very exciting. Everyone is in a great, energetic mood and we cheer as we continue to get closer to the start. Pacers remind us to drink the water and Gatorade at every stop due to the expected heat. It is already noticeably hot, especially packed together with thousands of people. Loudspeakers are playing the Black Eyed Peas "Let's Get This Started" and Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream" Runners are dancing in place. A runner in front of us wears a shirt that says "I am 71 years old. This is my 103rd Marathon." Wow. We cheer as we cross the start and I click "send" on the pre-prepared text message to Mike, my cousin John and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law that we've crossed the start. Race started at 8 a.m.; we made it to the start at 8:25 a.m.

Miles 1 & 2
We head north on Columbus and the crowds are cheering, runners smiling. Lots of spectators on the bridge above Columbus. We head across the Chicago River and as we get closer to Grand I spot our hotel and can make out who I think is Andrew at the window seat so I start waving wildly. Mike tells me later that he saw me from the window; it was hard for the kids to pick me out in the sea of runners. The first couple of miles go by pretty quickly and we hit the first aid station at around mile 1.5 I'm still with the pace group at this point and I grab some water and Gatorade. I don't realize at the time that this is the last aid station I'll see stocked with Gatorade. I've already lost Jeanine, Kim and Lauren . . .we had agreed to go at our own pace, so not a biggie. There's a runner in front of me juggling.

Miles 3 & 4
Shortly after mile 3 I hit another aid station. Good, because I'm really hot. They're already out of Gatorade. What?! How does this happen. I'm a little irritated but take the water and remind myself that I'll see family at mile 4. Can really feel the heat. And my ankles are not painful, but definitely tired. Not good. I chuck the cooling gel wrap/bandana thingy that my mom gave me because it's warm now and starting to irritate my neck.

I spot my mom first at mile 4. I immediately start running in her direction and see my dad, my Aunt Carolyn, my Uncle Marty and Aunt Sharon, my cousin John, my cousin Erin and her family and Keith's wife Sandy. They're cheering and have signs made out for us. They also have cold rags. I give my mom my headphones and iPod/arm band because it's bugging me in the heat and keeps slipping off my arm. I will regret that later. My dad asks where Jeanine is and I say she has to be ahead of me somewhere. John tells us that they haven't gotten the text message update that I've crossed the 5k yet, so there's obviously a delay. Oh well, not a big deal. Seeing the group is a huge mental boost.

Miles 5, 6 & 7
I've lost the pace group by now because I stop at use another porta-pottie. No biggie, I'll try to catch up to them or just try to stay at 6 hours. During mile 5 somewhere near Lincoln Park Zoo I start thinking to myself, shouldn't I have hit another aid station by now and the runner next to me says the same thing out loud. Lo and behold the runner is Jeanine! I'm glad to see her and have the company. We hit an aid station before mile 6 and this station is out of Gatorade too. Excuse my language, but WTF? A Channel 2 news reporter is there with cameramen. I ask him if he can radio or call someone because this is the second aid station without Gatorade. He looks at me blankly. I move on. We come across a truck delivering water to the aid station and they tell us they're on their way to get Gatorade to the next aid station. Good, thank you.

We pass Jeanine's old studio at Belmont and Sheridan. I'm doing a walking/running combo by now because the heat is really a killer. Plus my cold congestion is not helping me keep even breathing. Jeanine is doing more running than me, but slows down occasionally to stay with me. A nice sister. Spectators are great, cheering us on and calling out our names (written in black sharpie on our shirts.) Jeanine (pronounced "Ja-neen" is now accustomed to smiling and thanking people who shout out "Go Jeannie!")

The sun is beating down on us pretty hard on Sheridan/LSD. We pass Jeanine's other old apartment on Sheridan. Jeanine points out that we're almost at Addison, which is the most northern point of the race course. Cool. A milestone. As we turn on Addison Jeanine remarks that next year, we're training, cross-training and eating properly. I whole-heartedly agree. We pass a cheerleading squad on Addison. More great support.

Miles 8 & 9
On Broadway, I'm amazed at how thick the crowds are here, even though we're near the back of the pack. Boys Town residents are fantastic. A lot of energy and cheers, spectators dressed up in drag and on make-shift stages performing musical numbers. One was a disco theme, the other one looked like a cowboy/rodeo theme. Spectators are handing out cups of water.

We hit another aid station and no Gatorade. You've got to be F'in kidding us. Jeanine spots a Walgreens and we run in to buy Gatorade. Yes, we spent $110 each on our race entry fee and we're getting off course to buy Gatorade. Unbelievable. I'm not ticked at the earlier, faster runners for taking multiple cups; I'm ticked at the Marathon organizers for not supplying enough knowing that runners would need to take multiple cups. Plus, we're still way head of the End-of-the-Race car, so we're tracking an official time. We weren't the only runners buying Gatorade in Walgreens.

Somewhere on Mile 9 I tell Jeanine to go ahead because I am walking more than she is. We'll meet up at mile 10, where our mile 4 family supporters will be.

Going through Lincoln Park and the residents are fabulous. They are spraying us with garden hoses, handing out bottles of water and cheering us on by name. One man is filling paper cups and his kitchen glasses with his hose while his wife runs with the dirty glasses and comes out with clean ones. Many runners are telling these spectators that they're going to heaven.

Mile 10 & 11
Around Mile 10 I spot the Fleet Feet brigade and they are awesome. Fleet Feet people are holding bags of ice and runners are grabbing the ice; female runners (including me) are stuffing their sports bras with ice cubes. An Elvis impersonator is on a stage signing "Jailhouse Rock." I reailize how much I miss my iPod. Screw the rules, I should have kept it. At the corner of North & Wells I spot my sister who's waiting for me by her boyfriend and best friend. Sunil and Mary have ice cold bottles of water for us. Awesome. We move a few hundred feet to the front of cousin John's place and the family crew is there. Erin immediately places a frozen wash cloth on my neck. I think, I always did really like Erin. Aunt Sharon hands me a glass of red liquid . . . not sure what it is but I take it anyway. I think it was Gatorade. They encourage us with cheers. Huge mental boost.

Miles 11 & 12
I am freakin' hot at this point and the humidity is wearing me and all of the runners down. I feel good pain-wise but trying to mentally deal with the heat. Throughout mile 11 I keep telling myself to just get to mile 12, because I know Mike, the kids and my parents are there. I tell Jeanine to go ahead again; she says she'll wait for me by Mike.

I hit another Gatorade-free aid station and pour water on my head. I ask an aid station staffer what's going on with the Gatorade and she tells me they ran out. Lovely.

I spot Mike first at Hubbard and Orleans and run over to the side. He gives me the body glide I desperately need because with the sweat and dousing with garden hoses, my early morning application is gone and I'm starting to chafe. Everywhere. Dad gives me more water, kiss the kids and I move on because I want to be well ahead of the end-of-the race car. Jeanine wasn't there; she didn't see them and blew past them.

Miles 13 & 14

At the halfway point, I feel pretty good. Not great, but a helluv a lot better than I felt after the Half Marathon, so taking that as a good sign. Feel a mental pick up at the halfway point.

Somewhere in the West Loop, between miles 13 & 14 the end-of the race truck comes from behind flying by us. Weird we think, but I figure that another truck took over at the end of the pack. Just before mile 14, I hit another aid station. You guessed it, no Gatorade. Someone with a megaphone tells us the race is called off and we will all get our medals. The runners in my pack look around each other and say, what the heck. That cannot possibly be true. We think it's a bad joke by a spectator.

At mile 14, runners' cell phones start going off one by one. More rumors that the race is called off. Can't be, we think. We keep trudging along. I call Mike and tell him about the rumors and he starts calling people nearby computers who can look it up.

Mile 15
We keep trudging along, by now we're near mile 15 ( I think we're at Jackson & Ashland) and a Chicago Police squad car has the road closed off and confirms that the race is shutting down at Mile 16 due to excessive heat. %$&^^&&*(&*(&(* We can't believe it. We're directed to Jackson where we meet several hundred other runners headed east on Jackson (we think from the higher miles) and are all told to head east. We're told to stop running repeatedly.

Mile 16
It's the official end of the race and the scene is unreal. Paramedics and doctors walking west on Jackson through hundreds of runners telling them . . .you, you, you sit down over there, picking out runners who don't look good. I see one guy puke. Race officials tell us to get on the CTA buses at Jackson & Halsted but one runner in our pack speaks for all of us when she says we're not ending this on a bus. Runners are pissed off and dejected; we trained so long and hard for this only to be cut short. News starts going around that someone died. We walk east on Jackson through the open fire hydrants to Grant Park and race organizers are frantically opening boxes with finishers' medals and telling us to take them. Gee, thanks. General feeling is that this medal is not very meaningful since we weren't allowed to complete the race.

It seems like an eternity to make my way through the crowd and get to Charity Village and the Children's Memorial tent. Once there, I wait for Mike, the kids and my parents and have the best sub sandwich ever. Once again, the Children's Memorial tent is well-stocked with supplies.

Later I find out that Jeanine, Kim and Lauren were called off the course as well. Keith was called off around mile 20 and told to get on a bus at mile 22. Once there, no buses to be found so he walked/ran to the finish with no aid stations!! Lauren ended up in the medical tent for overheating but otherwise okay.

Jeanine and I have already decided that we MUST do the Marathon next year. We won't train like a**holes this time. Based on how I was feeling at 13, I really think I could have finished. I would have been really slow and it would have been tough but I think I could have done it.

Plan now is to take a couple of weeks off to recover, then start a 20 mile weekly base until training begins in June.

A note about the events that transpired. I'm disappointed I wasn't allowed to finish, but I don't fault the race organizers for calling the race. A runner died. The heat and humidity were excessive. What I do object to is the race officials' statements in the press that the aid stations were adequately stocked. Please. I, along with several hundred other runners, saw the opposite firsthand. Yes, we were slow, but we were still at an official and acceptable race pace so provisions should have been there.