Monday, October 08, 2007

Chicago Marathon 2007 Edition Minus a Few Miles

What would Jon do? Run it of course. With me on board my Southwest flight to Chicago Saturday morning was a sleeveless tech shirt (white), a pair of running socks, running shorts and my Asics. I was planning to run somewhere in Chicago so I needed all that. But what would my runner friend Jon do? Run the marathon of course. I reviewed the course map again and decided that I could quit at halfway point and walk back to the finish. So I went to the Expo to pick up my packet. Bonus! I got to see John Bingham giving a speech when I was there at McCormick Place.

Race Morning:

Thinking that 45,000 runners would cause mass chaos and mayhem with traffic, I elected to take the "EL" to downtown. Apparently, a lot of smart folks like me thought the same. The train I was in was jammed packed with runners. That was a cool site. The nervous energy and anticipation was pretty cool. At every stop, there was more runners that got on. There I was, on a train bound for downtown Chicago at 6 AM, filled to the gills with runners. Pretty cool indeed!

I got off the train around 7 AM, the sky is turning red with the rising sun. I find my way to the gear check location. I take off my long sleeve and stuff it into my bag. I count out 3 Gu packs and a packet of Clif blocks. I put my bib on and check my gear. Off to the port-a-johns. I finally get out of the toilets around 7:40 AM. Now hurrying to the start area. Oh the mass of humanity at this point. There was runners everywhere trying to position themselves in the start area. I nudge forward until I can nudge no more. I am standing in the 11 minute mile zone. The 4:45 pacer is slightly ahead of me and the 5:00 pacer is behind me. From my vantage point, the starting line seem to be in a different zip code. Holy Cow. Soon the starting gun goes off.....and nothing happens.....

Slowly but surely, the mass of runners started to move. We are now walking in fits and stops. Almost 20 minute passes before I cross the starting line. And we are off! First few miles weave through some famous downtown streets. The crowds are deafening. This is truly an international event. Cheering contingents from Germany, Holland, Mexico, Belgium, Korea, Swiss and countless other flags I cannot make out are waving from the crowd. I hear many many different languages spoken by runners from all over the world. I am impressed. What a great Marathon event I'm thinking. A downtown bank display indicates a temperature of 77. I'm a little concerned but I'm from Houston, as long as I hydrate well, I should be OK.

First aid station comes just before mile 2. We are still running in tight packs. I wonder with so many runners, does it really thin out? The first aid station is mobbed. The mass quantities of runners totally overwhelm the volunteers. But it is still orderly at this time. The volunteers line the tables and are handing out drinks. You just have to crawl to a very slow walk to get a drink. I end up with a half cup of Gatorade. I expected this. All marathons and half marathons I've participated in has problems with the first stop because of the density of runners hitting the spot at the same time. I think nothing of this and continue to enjoy the race. While running through downtown, we were also running through shades created by the tall buildings.

2nd aid station comes up between mile 3 and 4, still in downtown. But there is a problem. The right side of the street is totally out of Gatorade and water. Volunteers tell us to go the the left side to get some water. I look over. There is a mass of runners about 5 deep clamoring for water. They are not moving. The volunteers are not lined up in the street. The runners are on both sides of the aide tables. Glancing at my watch, I decide it is not worth it. We are still early and hopefully it will thin out by the next aid station. Still not alarmed, I continue to enjoy running in the shade and absorbing in the crowd's energy and enthusiasm. Soon we leave downtown and enter Lincoln Park. I see a runner carrying an American flag. It's Felix Lugo and his entourage. I'm on the other side of the street and don't make an attempt to cross over to say hi. As I passed him, I hear Felix calling for a walk break. What a great guy. The flag looks overly heavy on him today. We lost the shade at Lincoln Park and the sun starts to beat down hard.

3rd aid station is in Lincoln Park. We are getting close to mile 6 and I had only had a half cup of Gatorade to this point. I have never gone this far with so little water ever. I don't feel bad yet but I know I've been sweating profusely. By now, I've passed the 4:45 pace group. There is mass chaos and confusion at the aid station. Again, I see no lines of volunteers. It has degenerated down to desperate runners like me looking for any kind of fluid. I don't see any cups on the table. I've decided that going without water at this point is dangerous. So I started to scavenge. I see a guy drinking out of a big 5 gallon plastic jug. I recognize the jug as the ones volunteers were using to fill the cups in station one. I ask if I can get a drink. We share. We both drink 3 large gulps of it thinking that is as much as we can drink without the water sloshing in our stomach. We part ways. Off I go. That whole episode lasts about 4 minutes.

We keep pushing north until Addison avenue. There the run takes a turn to the west and quickly back south towards downtown. I elect to run on the left hand side of the street to get some shielding from the sun. A lot of runners do the same. The crowd energy is unbelievable. How can so many people line the streets? This level of support goes on almost uninterrupted through the whole race. Amazing! Fourth aid station comes up right after 8 mile marker. Same scene unfolds. This aid station is run by a pretty sharp station captain. They are also over run and under supplied. But they kept furiously lining the tables with empty cups. Once you pick that up, a volunteer pour the water into your cup. Bunch of runners surround every volunteer with water jugs. When one runs out, you have to find another one and get in line. I don't see many volunteers however. What the hell is going on? I later learn on local news that a lot of the volunteers are dispatched into the neighborhood homes to fill their jugs with tap water. The fluid had run out! Shit! I am able to get a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade. Time spent in the aid station: 4 minutes. Can this be real? I am now starting to re-strategize my efforts. Even if I keep a ten minute pace, I'm going to get killed by the aid station fiasco.

By now, the mood of the runners change. The jubilant happy go lucky attitude slowly changes over to one of despair. Talking subsides. Everyone is grumbling about water. Runners who brought along cash dashes into convenience stores to buy water. I start to see a lot of runners carrying disposable water bottles. Ones carrying cell phones are calling their loved ones to meet them with water bottles. And we have yet to cross mile 10.

Aid station 5 comes and goes around mile 10 and a half. We are about to enter downtown again. The tall buildings offer some shade. This helps a lot. The crowd in deafening. They are so totally enthusiastic that it is hard not to get energized. Everyone around me seemed to collectively pickup speed. Aid station 6 comes up. This one is totally stocked and volunteers are disciplined. They are lined up with water and Gatorade on both sides of the street. Perhaps they were the first ones to be re-stocked. Or they had the best aid station captain. Either way, I now feel pretty good. I hope that the water situation is now OK going forward. By now we're at mile 12 and I decide I feel good enough to continue. I tell myself that as long as there is water and Gatorade I can make it. I pop my second Gu at this point and press on to check out Greek town and Little Italy.

Shortly after passing Greek town, aid station 7 comes up. We are now close to mile 14 and I feel good as this is now the farthest I've run since August. Nothing hurts and no cramps. Good. Except the aid station is again chaotic. Water is hard to find again. I search and finally find a cup. Now I search frantically for water. I spot a few clustered runners and make may way to one of them. There, an aid worker is pouring water from the jug to cups lined up in front of her. Before she gets to me, she runs out of water. Crap! SHIT. These are thoughts going through my mind. I find another cluster of runners. This time, I get a pour, the last one from her jug. Other runners that did not get water starts to groan. The volunteer is sincerely sorry and apologizes. It is not her fault. No one takes out their frustration on her. A bunch of us thank her for helping the best she could. Others search for water. I gulp down and press on. It is getting incredibly hot. Most roads are blacktop. The road is getting hot too! At this point, I decide to conserve energy by running a block and walking a block. I see United Center and briefly think about a time when I went to see Michael Jordan play. It is hot. Did I mention it was hot? I'm starting to not think straight. I start to hear the wail of ambulances. This was a non stop event from this point on. Soon I come across runners sitting by the road side, some lying down, being attended by medical personnel and spectators. Wow. Sobering. We make another turn at mile 15 and now head east.

Aid Station 8, just short of mile 16 was not fun. I manage to get a half cup of water. Runners are in despair. It is no longer fun. More runners are lying by the roadside being attended. I see some runners in stretchers going into ambulances. I see some neighbors going into their houses and bringing out every bottled water they had. I miss out on every one of these occasions. About a 3rd of mile past aid station 8 we come close to downtown again for the last time. Do I quit or do I go on? I debate and debate. We are halfway to mile 17. At mile 17, I only have 9 miles to go. 9! It is less than 10 I tell myself. How can you quit now? This is the 30th running, a historic event!

Mile 17 comes and goes. Less than a mile to go to the next aid station. It is getting very hot. A bank thermometer displays 92. 92! Ambulance sirens continue to wail away. Now fire trucks join in on the melee. I wondered why so many fire trucks were out with sirens blazing. Later I find out. They are opening fire hydrants and spraying runners with water from their hoses. Aid Station 9 comes up. Again, disorganization. I find a cup. I find a runner pouring water. I stick my cup out and get a half a cup filled. Again, I luck out.

Mile 18 comes up. Shortly thereafter, a band comes on their loud speaker to say, "The race has been cancelled. Please stop running. There is no water beyond this point. You must walk. Please start walking." I'm not sure if I should believe that. Half of us shrug it off. Others ask, "Will we still get medals?" Who the hell knows. Who cares? I'm thinking, "I'm at the 18th mile. What the heck?" Soon, police officers start the same announcement. "Please stop running. The race has been called off. There is no more water through the rest of the course." Some runners ask, "What are we supposed to do? Is there a bus picking us up?" There is no bus. Then again, how would you pick up around 20,000 runners? We walk, and walk and walk. Spectators are still shouting words of encouragement. I see a lot of people with garden hoses spraying and a lot of runners grateful for it. I see more spectators handing out bottled water and runners saying, "God bless you!" Very heart warming. Yet again, I'm not fast enough to get one before it's gone. At this point, I also see low flying helicopters with initials CFD (Chicago Fire Department? )on the belly with a loud speaker announcing, "The race has been called off. Do not run. Please walk. There is no more water on the course."

At 30K point, the timing mat does not chirp. I hear that the timing mats have been turned off to discourage runners from...well, running. What the heck. I turn off my watch in disgust. Mile 19, 20 an 21 goes by.....still walking and no water. A bunch of us decide to take a short cut around 21.5 mile and rejoin the course a few hundred yards short of the 25th mile. Basically, we bypassed Chinatown. As we're walking, cars roll down their windows and passengers start clapping at us. They are still encouraging us to press forward! We must have looked totally defeated. I take a look back and forth. There is a line of runners as far as the eye can see, trudging along. Few more hours of this and I think I'd understand how the hero's of the Bataan death march must have felt. Maybe not. At least there's no one here to beat the crap out of you or shoot you if you stopped to sit down, which a lot of runners were doing. Now back on course, soon I see "1 mile to go" sign. Crowd has not let up. They are energetic and encouraging us on. They all knew the race was cancelled by now but no matter. Some of us start running again. With half mile to go, I cannot resist further. Water or no water. If the finish area was out of water, I figured I can drink out of Buckingham fountain. I run. It feels good to be running again. Soon, I see the final straight-a-way. 400 meters, 300, 200, 100 meters to go. I am now soaring as best I could. Finally, I cross the line. A volunteer hands me a bottle of water. As I'm drinking it down, I see 3 people on stretchers, getting put into ambulances. Apparently, some of the runners collapsed after finally making it back to the finish line. What a day.

Official Chip Time:

5K: 0:33:40
10K: 1:08:05
15K: 1:43:20
20K: 2:22:29
HALF: 2:31:13
25K: 3:03:13
30K and beyond: Timing mats are turned off! What the heck! Oh well, no more recorded time.
Chicago Marathon site records my finish time as 5:12:21 but this cannot be accurate.


TX Runner Girl said...

Glad you survived the chaos! Congrats! I can't wait to read your report.

JustJunebug said...

That was an amazing recap.

I read somewhere that people were having finish times posted that were just all out of whack, even those that didnt finish had a time posted even if they only did 16 miles or whatever because they turned back or rode on a bus and ran across the mat. Just crazy I tell you.

Its amazing to me that you didnt turn back and kept going. I know you said you cut some of the distance off, but whatever.

Amazing story Holden.

Glad you are OK!

bar-bar-a said...

Unbelievable. Wow. Seriously Holden, what a story. That you made it to the end, after all the times you went without fluids is just amazing.

Can you please remind everyone in Houston to throw some dollar bills into the tiny pocket in every pair of running shorts before our marathon? I carry money every Saturday for our long run, just in case but never thought I needed it for a race.

Your story proves otherwise. I thought Boston was a wild time with completely opposite temps - freezing, rain, etc. I think your experience beat the one in April by a long shot. That's my take at least.

David Smart said...

That's a hair raising recap!

When will we find out what REALLY happened with the lack of water on the course? Last year it was Cheruiyot's wipe out at the finish, and now this year the water fiasco; I bet LaSalle Bank will have second thoughts about sponsoring next year.

It seems you were part of both an historic and infamous marathon.

equarles said...

Wow. Awesome that you kept going.

jen said...

Wow, what an excellent race recap! Congrats on making it to the finish line, despite the crazy conditions. Running through the finish must have felt great after all that chaos. I'm glad you were OK and not one of those needing medical attention!


jamoosh said...

Can I offer you a bottle of water...

Simply amazing. You will forever have a story to tell. I am glad you made it across the line OK.

RunJay said...

Holden...I was there and experienced the same thing...It was frustrating, scary, chaotic...I was one of the lucky ones that found a bus at 19 miles although it was a hot hour long ride back to the finish. I'm glad it's over with and I'm back home. I'm also glad that this was LaSalle's last year to sponser the race after the arrogance their rep displayed in blaming the water shortage on the runners.

K said...

Wow, Holden. What an incredible story! Your perseverance was amazing! This is one to keep for the grandkids!

Great job for you. I am sure this experience will pay off in your future runs.

Tiggs said...

Holden- crazy crazy. what a wild marathon experience! I'm glad you are okay!

Bill D said...

All I can say is wow !

Sarah said...

To echo everyone else, wow. Glad you are ok. I'm appalled at how unprepared the marathon was for the heat. No water at mile 4 (not to mention later)?? Bizarre and irresponsible!

Anonymous said...

I was with you in Chicago and you have done an excellent job recapping the story. After Mile 8, I met up with my daughter and we went on the El and got our nails done!!! You have to know what is important in life - water.

Thanks for the memories!

Steve Bezner said...

Most excellent write up! What a story. Good luck on the 10 miler!

Jessica, a Houston Runner said...

I actually cried a little-what a sad, sad situation that a MAJOR marathon could actually be staged with such BS going on. Holden-i am so glad you are okay. What perseverance you had!