Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chicaga Saga

Chicago Marathon, the Good and the Bad:

Actually the good (or marginally interesting?) is here, and the bad (whining) is at the end of this post; you can just skip it.

Testicles: Someone ran in a bulky suit that looked rather like a huge pair of testicles, with legs on the bottom, but (happily) no other appurtenances. Apparently the runner opposes testicular cancer, a sentiment with which must of us can agree, especially us guys. Runners passing by were split as to whether they wished they were carrying a camera. In the 85-plus-degree temperature I doubt this runner got very far. I trust s/he found another, better way to “raise awareness.”

Elvises: Inevitable in large marathons, they struggled and sweated in their white suits and blue suede shoes. I jogged past several. Could any of them have survived the cutoff (the race was cancelled for all who had not reached mile 18 by 3:35 on the time clock)? I doubt it.

Impeach Cheny: One man with a ponytail ran along loudly yelling “Impeach Cheny!” and other sentiments supporting that notion. Though I heartily agree with the general proposition, I ran ahead a little to escape the strident voice. I hope he was able to keep it up throughout the race.

Don: In most marathons I wear my name on my shirt. This time I forgot to bring the pin-on name, and really missed the personal encouragement. But every time someone yelled a word that sounded like “Don” I looked, just to see if by some odd chance the spectator actually knew me. No such luck. We never saw a soul that we knew in Chicago.

High-fives: I enjoy high-fiving the little kids, the ones that are just old enough to get the idea. If I run along with my hand out, sometimes a little kid will hold his hand out too, smiling shyly, or a mom or dad will hold their child’s hand out to meet mine. Everyone enjoys it. But one time I was crusing the sideline like that and a man was unaccountably standing out into the stream of runners by a couple of feet. I saw him and kept coming, meaning to go around him if he didn’t step back, but at exactly the wrong instant another spectator stepped out and blocked my alternate path. I ran into the man rather hard. I didn’t look back, but I can’t imagine that he stayed on his feet. Though it was his fault, I hope he wasn’t hurt; I stopped high-fiving for a while.

Clothing: Not much. If I were the kind of guy who enjoyed seeing the shape of a fit woman’s body (ahem), this would have been the perfect race to run. Nevertheless a few addle-brained souls, besides Elvis, wore long pants or sleeves. One guy wore gloves. How could they not have known? We received a special handout at the expo, warning of the predicted dangerously-high temperatures. Lots of people had written on their cotton shirts with felt-tip pens - personal, important things, such as the name of the person they were honoring, but often their sweat made the ink run so that the message was nearly lost.

Shade: Fortunately there was shade some of the way, from trees or, usually, from buildings along the side of the street. Often only one side of the street was shaded, however, so those who wanted it had to make a point to be on that side of the road. I’ll never understand those who DIDN’T try take advantage of it. In some places, though, the streets were highly cambered and the shade was only along one edge, so we had to choose between running in the shade or running on a flat road. My ankles were doing fine, so I usually chose shade.

Pacers: Chicago has a bazillion pace runners, with several runners at each pace, and paces at intervals of 15 minutes or less (finish time) up to 5:45. It’s not a paying job, but a pacer does get a nice running outfit, singlet and shorts. I happened to run alongside the 4:15 team briefly before dropping back. Later, though, I caught up to a pacer walking without his group and asked him what happened. He replied that he had started to get overheated and decided to back off, running in the shade and walking in the sun. Smart man. Later I passed three more walking together; one woman had turned her singlet (do women wear singlets?) inside out, so it said “recaP” in backward letters. I said “go pacers!” as I chugged past, and they grinned and waved.

Heads Up: For once I did water, gels, salt, and caffeine correctly! It’s always hard to keep track; I take five ounces of water every two miles (more in this marathon!), a gel every four miles, salt every hour, and caffeine about every eight miles or so, often in a gel. Perhaps because of the slower pace, I got it all right this time, especially the water and salt, which are the most critical.

Organic Apples: One of the race partners is Whole Foods, and at the finish we were treated with organic Jonagold apples and organic fig bars. So many races hand out junk food; this was very nice. Kudos to Chicago Marathon and Whole Foods.

Once in a lifetime experience: This was. I'm a happy runner. But I don't need to do it again.


Weather: It doesn’t get much worse than this. I'd rather have sleet. See my previous post. Nobody’s fault, unless you feel like blaming God. Be my guest, but then you have to give God credit for the good things too.

Cancellation: I can’t fault the race organizers for halting the race. It’s an awfully tough decision to make, but people were dropping like flies; we who were still upright could see them alongside the road. The only fault I can offer is that everyone including the volunteers were terribly confused about what was happening next. Should we keep going? Eventually they said
yes, but WALK. Would we get a time, or even get credit for finishing? Maybe they didn’t WANT us to know, so that we wouldn’t hurry. Whatever; I did get a recorded finish and a time, 5:07:09. Thanks, I’ll take it.

Ageism, Sexism: Regardless of the reason for stopping a race midway or enforcing a time limit, it works to the disadvantage of older people and women. Always. This may not be the intent, but it is the effect. So when Chicago allows some runners to continue while others are turned back because they didn’t reach an arbitrary milestone in time, or when Twin Cities Marathon enforces a hard 6-hour cutoff, women and old people are most likely to get the short end of the stick.

Water: Race organizers have been highly criticized in the media for running short of water. I should say that I took water at every aid station and never had to wait for it; if I went to the very last table there was always water, already poured, in cups, ready to go. Other runners evidently had worse experiences, however. The race director, in a TV interview, actually had the balls to blame the runners for the shortage, exclaiming with surprise that runners poured water over their heads to cool themselves. What a sorry excuse from the director of a huge marathon. Perhaps he himself has never run a marathon, but this is what runners DO! Every good marathon training guide instructs us to pour water on our heads when we’re hot. Further, the heat was predicted days in advance, giving race organizers abundant time to prepare. There is no excuse for running out of water or cups for water. None.

”Seeded Runner” Corrals: Not that it matters now, but the information available to runners before the start was very skimpy indeed. I was assigned to Corral C, because I had recently run a 3:36 marathon, but I could not figure out how to get there. The pre-race booklet was confusing at best, and unspecific. There were NO signs to direct seeded runners anywhere in the start area. I asked volunteers manning “information” stations and was twice misdirected and then eventually denied access and sent to the back, costing so much time that I ended up starting with my sweeties near the back of the pack, 10 minutes after the gun. I was pissed off at the time, and I still think that New York, for example, does a much better job of organizing the start area. I don’t know how you could do much worse; Chicago is bedlam.

Cost: OUCH! Is there a city anywhere in America that charges so much for hotel rooms and parking? I think we got by cheaper in New York City. We paid over $100 in just TAXES for two nights of hotel. The Chicago Marathon may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but if you want to be able to walk to the start line you sure do get hosed for it. The spaghetti dinner was $25; where else does a plate of spaghetti cost so much? We had excellent jambalyah at the Redfish for a little over half that, and pasta would have cost no more.

Bottom line: If you want the "experience" of one of the largest marathons in the world, Chicago is certainly one of those. But if you just want to collect the state of Illinois, there must be better choices. I wanted both, and I got them. My sweeties, however, got the experience but not the state. For another view of the marathon, catch Sunshine's blog here and here.

1 comment:

peter said...

I agree, once at Chicago is enough! It was confusing to figure out how to get to the seeded corrals beforehand, although once you walked up to them, it was simple. I disagree that they did the right thing by cancelling it; making people walk 5 miles down shadeless Michigan Avenue to the end was brutal on them. Of course, being old enuf to remember the Chicago Police riot in 1968, when Chicago police wade into the crowd and say walk! you better listen! Nice post. Glad you finished.