Tuesday, October 9

"Marathon Meltdown"

Hot in the City -- Billy Idol

It seemed like a perfect day when I (rslight) was surrounded by thousands at Sunday's Chicago Marathon start in Grant Park. Although the temperature was 73 degrees and humid, I felt a sweet breeze.
I proudly had my hand over my heart for Jo Dee Messina's gorgeous version of the National Anthem, even though I couldn't see her through the crowd. I happily clapped my hands as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" blared on the speakers.

The first 13.1 miles were pure delight. The spectator crowd was massive, energetic and entertaining.
I felt inspired by a woman displaying a quote from Joshua chapter 1: Be strong and courageous.
I loved the Cubs fan near Wrigley Field with the sign: "Cubs tickets available for game four. Dirt cheap!" (Cubs lost the final third game of a series the day before.)
I laughed when the gay guys in Boystown waved the sign: "Run, bitches, run!"
I loved it when a runner dressed as Spiderman passed me, and then I passed another dressed as Yoda from Star Wars. (Yoda just can't catch me.)

I pumped my fist when I reached the halfway mark because I felt great and was anxious for a strong second half. I was well under 2 hours and 30 minutes, which was good for me.
However, the temperature kept increasing. It reached 88 degrees.
At mile 16 I ran past a medical tent with about 30 runners spread out on cots. A couple clutched their stomachs and screamed in agony. I quickly looked away and told myself I wouldn't be joining them.
At mile 18, as I was slowing to a light jog, a Chicago policeman shouted: "Stop running! Stop running! The marathon is cancelled!"
Everyone started walking. A volunteer said the race was over, and we could either walk to the finish line or get transportation back to Grant Park at the next aid station.

I was stunned and devastated. My dream was dead. All the months of training were for nothing. I felt like an utter failure.
I glumly plodded into Chinatown around mile 21 in a daze. The dragon dancers performed a beautiful dance to the "Chariots of Fire" theme, but I was too depressed to appreciate it.
An older male runner noticed I was distraught and asked if I was okay.
"I can't believe my first marathon is ending this way. I tried so hard," I said sadly.
"Son, I've done more than 50 marathons. This one is easily the worst. Could you believe all the people just walking through those water stations? Unreal," he said.
We talked about other crazy marathons he had done as we walked along. He was very comforting.
His final encouraging words: "Just treat this event as a training run. You'll come back stronger for a better marathon."

At mile 24, a miracle happened. It was announced that those of us remaining on the course would still get a medal and be timed.
I was filled with hope. The clock read 5 hours and 30 minutes. I could still finish under 6 hours and 30 minutes to get an official time.
Then I had a sudden spiritual experience. You will think I'm crazy, but I honestly felt an unseen hand touch my back and heard a gentle voice say: "Go on and get your medal."
I had a spring in my step. I sped up my pace. Chicago police said not to run, but they hadn't mentioned anything about walking fast.

I saw the distant finish line as I scrambled up a Randolph Street incline with sweat pouring down my face. I paused to blow a kiss skyward to my mother. Then I took off on a wild sprint.
Since everyone else was just walking, the crowd seemed to love it. I had my name on my shirt, and a few people were chanting it.
I had a final chiptime of 5:59:48. (About 14 minutes behind Jo Dee.)
As a woman placed a medal around my neck, I started to sob. Volunteers didn't seem to notice. It was like it was perfectly normal for a marathon finisher to burst into tears.

The Chicago media declared the Chicago Marathon a total disaster. Race officials were blamed for not having enough water on the course.
Chicago Sun Times headline: "Marathon Meltdown."
Chicago Tribune headline: "Marathon Maelstrom."

There were 45,000 people registered for the marathon, but only 36,000 showed up at the start line. Fewer than 25,000 finished.
Unfortunately, one runner died and hundreds required medical attention.

I will never forget this race.

By the way, the medal is beautiful.


Blogger R said...

CONGRATULATIONS on finishing your first marathon! (And on scoring a time that no one will question, yet will be fairly easy to beat in your next attempt!)

I heard on the news yesterday that the race committee had actually provided an EXTRA 205,000 servings of water, and added ice to 8 of the water stations... so while the race was pretty clearly a catastrophe, I'm leaning toward the opinion that the race committee tried, but wasn't able to be prepared. They needed more volunteers, and they needed more water stations...

October 10, 2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger MS said...

Look at this way: not only did you finish your first marathon, but you were part of an epic, historic race, one that even people who don't follow running heard about, and one that runners will be talking about for years. Someone should be making "I Survived Chicago 2007" T-shirts.

I read something today that they actually got within a few degrees of deciding to call off the Twin Cities marathon, too, but the combination of heat and humidity wasn't quite enough for them to justify doing it. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I'd gotten as far as you did only to hear, nope, sorry, race's over.

October 10, 2007 3:57 PM  
Blogger bl said...

Congrats again.

It's not unusual to cry after finishing a marathon. Especially the first.

And you were definitely part of history.

October 10, 2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger bl said...

And wow. Intersting comment, MS.

This now makes two out of three marathons that I ran that were almost called because of heat.

October 10, 2007 5:57 PM  
Blogger tangerine said...

You did good. Congratulations! And I am sure this will make a great story one day to your grandchildren.

October 10, 2007 7:46 PM  

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