Chicago - Runners often look back at the 2007 Chicago Marathon with frustration, and an eye toward the weather. Extreme heat was what did the race in that year . This year's Chicago Marathon has been marketed as 10-10-10: The Date to Motivate -- and it shouldn't disappoint. The weather is expected to be quite motivating to the 45,000 strong field of runners.
Well, they later changed that prediction of "motivating" weather, and ended up at red alert by noon or so. This makes 3 out of 4 years with very warm weather for the Chicago marathon. My advice to anyone running it has stayed the same: Be prepared to provide all your own course support, including water, and have your own private ambulance on call.
When I ran the Chicago marathon in 2007, my one and only time, there weren't any color alerts. They quickly ran out of water at all the early water stops. People were passing out along the course everywhere. Runners were weaving and falling down. Aid stations were full. Official pacers were taking off their shirts showing the finish time and either putting them on inside-out or backwards. The pace balloons and batons were set down alongside the course. Over 300 people hospitalized. 1 dead. They ran out of ambulances. They had to call in suburban ambulances who didn't know where the nearest hospitals were, and they transported runners in vans and police cars. It was a complete disaster. The announcement that the marathon was cancelled was confusing. I first heard it from a woman who seemed to have no official capacity. Then the helicopters came flying over the course announcing that the marathon had been cancelled and that runners were instructed to walk toward the finish, that buses were being dispersed. I had already slowed significantly (finished about 35 minutes over my goal time), but I was continuing to run slowly. Police officers were grabbing at anyone who was running, pulling on arms and clothing to tell people to walk. I tried a couple times to explain that it was 89 degrees and I was from Texas, where it was frequently in the upper 80s or low 90s when I trained. But I gave up and walked a great deal more toward the finish (hence missing goal by 35 minutes). I finished the marathon and got my medal and then heard stories.
That year I'd organized a big group to run. I had about 5 friends who I'd talked into the race and trained with in Dallas. I had 2 brothers running, a first marathon for each. Plus one brother's girlfriend and her best friend. So a group of 10 of us, and only 5 were allowed to finish. Others were diverted off the course or forced onto buses.
My baby brother ran the first several miles with one of my best friends. They quickly became alarmed that there was still no water available when they got to mile 5. My friend called her husband to go buy bottled water for them and meet them at mile 6. He stood on the curb waiting for them and said runners came by begging him for the water he was holding. Saying they'd buy it, offering credit card numbers, phones, tears. He ended up holding the water behind his back so no one would see it, knowing his wife and my brother needed it.
But I have run other disasterous races. The big "Too Hot To Handle" race in Dallas ran out of water in July 2008 (the Chicago race was Oct. 2007). I was also running that race. I had water at both of them, but I was not at the back of either pack. After the Dallas race, the race director said that they could not offer refunds to people because that would only hurt the charity, but offered a store credit at a running store to anyone who wanted it. Less than 5% of runners took advantage of that. The race director took complete responsibility for the lack of water and apologized. And I've run that race every year since.
Contrast the response of Pinkowski, the race director for Chicago in 07 (and still the race director, as soon as they get someone else, I will consider going back). First, he DENIED that they ran out of water. He insisted to the media that there was water at every stop and available to even the last runner. So he said that apparently my brother and best friend were lying, along with hundreds of other runners who shared the same experience. Lovely. Second, after dozens of runners were interviewed by the media and said there had been no water, he BLAMED other runners for the lack of water. He said they had plenty of water for the conditions (and I will agree that water supplies after mile 20 were ample), but the problem was that IF they ran out of water at the early stops (which he still didn't believe), it was because faster runners drank too much and poured it over their heads. Now I have never been in warmer race and not seen someone pour water over his or her head. It's a recognized method of cooling off. If Pinkowski couldn't anticipate that would happen, he should probably be characterized as "special needs" because no person with an average IQ wouldn't know that. Finally, he said that no refunds or credits toward the following year's race would be permitted and that medals would not be mailed out. I 100% understand how much of a race's money is spent in advance -- publicity, police protection, etc., but I think even a $10 credit toward the next year's race would have been seen as a good gesture, even if the credit was limited to those who were diverted off the marathon course. Other marathons (Denver, etc.) stepped in to make up for Chicago's gaffe and offered reduced rate late entries to anyone who'd been denied a finish in Chicago. People could try again if they wanted. (Not enough for my baby bro, who I couldn't talk into trying a second one this year at MTCM, and will probably never undertake another marathon.)
My only comfort from running that horrible Chicago 07 marathon is that it was also hot in 08 at the race (and yesterday), and now there are precautions in place. At least they learned something. They have these color alerts. They had ample water. They have new systems for transporting runners to hospitals in case they ever end up transporting hundreds (which hasn't happened again, and likely/hopefully will never happen again). And while it wasn't as hot yesterday as it was in 07, I feel for all the runners who had to adjust their goals and struggled with the heat.
The good news is something I've only come to realize in the last few months: marathon day isn't your one and only shot. Sure, there was a lot of training and work and dreaming and expense that went into that race. But you can try again very soon if you ran it easy or didn't finish. Or if you raced, it still doesn't have to be your only shot. You can run another marathon this season. Or you can take many months of recovery and go for it again next year. There are many other marathons. I'd of course recommend trying something other than Chicago next time, there are so many great races. Even if you're local, try Milwaukee next year, which is the same time of year and just a short drive. Or of course, try MTCM, same time of year and highly recommended by me! But if you're disappointed with your Chicago finish (or lack of finish), don't see it as a failure. You can never control the weather, and the more you run, the more likely it is that you'll get stuck running in very poor conditions sometimes. Learn what you can. Maybe more outdoor training, better clothing choices, more hydration the day before, more hydration during the race, etc., but even if you did everything right, be glad you'll live to race another day if you want!
I know the pain of missing your goal -- for reasons both within and outside your control. All you can do is take another shot, soon or much later. But ugh, I so feel the pain. I tried all spring for my 5k goal time and missed it by a long shot. Didn't even PR, let alone hit my goal. But it happened mid-September, during marathon training when it was least expected. But when I started marathon training in late May, I felt like my entire spring had been a waste of time, money and effort since I hadn't met my goal. Thank goodness my goal race wasn't the last 5k I'd ever run. Challenging goals means meeting them isn't always a gimme, even with perfect training, effort and conditions. That's part of being challenged. Anyone can set an easy goal, challenging yourself has its own rewards. Getting to the starting line in and of itself is a huge accomplishment, even if you bust.
I have an odd feeling that I'll be rereading this post one day, maybe in deep despair after another missed goal. If that's the case, hi future me, there are more races out there, just get out and try again, even if you don't meet your goal, you gain something from doing it, rather than just sleeping in and never trying.