Monday, October 08, 2007

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

I'll get to the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in just a bit. But first: I flew to Phoenix last Wednesday for the SRP [Salt River Project] kickoff to the training for the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in January. When I stepped off the plane it was about 95 degrees. I know, it's a dry heat! But still, that's HOT!

The kickoff run is along one of the canals that help supply electricty to the city of Phoenix. I'm not a techo-guy, so I don't understand what it is that they do, but it works.

This year's RnR Arizona is going to be the biggest EVER with over 35,000 participants expected.

Unless you've been in a cave you know that yesterday's LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon was nothing short of a nightmare. The record-breaking heat and humidity turned the race into a dangerous situation for everyone involved.

All of us who put on events worry about the doomsday scenario. We all do our best to look at best-case, worst-case, and doomsday possibilities. I think that yesterday's race was beyond anyone's imagination.

My own explanation is that it was a bit like the Katrina disaster. Yes, the organizers knew that the weather would be a factor. Yes, the organizers did make some accomodations. Yes, they did have more water and Gatorade than normal. But, then things just started going from bad to worse.

I spent all day on the course at various locations. By an hour into the race it was clear that there was trouble. Participants were already complaining that there weren't fluids available to them. By the time I moved from mile 8 to mile 14 the situation had deteriorated to the point where volunteers were filling empty water jugs in restaurant bathrooms just to try to give the runners some relief.

By the time the race was "called" and the clocks stops, many of the participants were already in trouble. We diverted those that hadn't passed the 17 mile mark directly back to the start/finish area. At that point I went to mile 25 1/2 to try to help with those folks who had somehow managed to finish.

A couple of thoughts. One, I was extremely pleased and proud of the reaction the Chicago Police, Fire, Emergency Medical, and Transit Authority. With very little guidance, in a circumstance that one officer described as "pandimonium", they worked together to find ways to help the participants. They opened hydrants, cared for downed runners, kept the traffic a bay, brought in extra buses, and more. It was fantastic.

Second, although the event organizers will certainly have to take some responsibility, this truly was one of those situations that is so far beyond anyone's imagination that I'm not sure what more could have been done.

I'm off to San Jose on Thursday [sing along: do you know that way to San Jose?] I'll be back with you from there.

Waddle on,



Wes said...

Our hearts go out to the runners, families, organizers, and the City of Chicago...

JessiferSeabs said...

We didn't have water / gatorade issues here in Minneapolis, but the Twin Cities Marathon was run yesterday under similar circumstances... 84 degrees and 84% humidity (and that humidity level was when I turned on the TV at 6:30 AM!). It was my first marathon and fairly awful. I was planning on a confident 5 or 5:30 finish, and came in at 6:45... FAR PAST the official finishing time... which means I didn't actually qualify as a finisher, but I was going to be damned if they made me get on that bus! I finished... even though by that time, there really wasn't even a finish line left to cross!

I'm glad that you and yours are safe in Chicago. I have some friends who ran it, and they were very disappointed and ill afterwards.


Shump said...

John we met in Nashville and I told you about the 150 pounds I had lost and was looking forward to my 1/2. Chicago was my first full. My wife and I had trained in the hot Arkansas summer and were prepared to run between 10:30 and 11:30 mile pace, not the front but not the rear, that is where we are comfortable. We with the proper paces group and ran on pace and the first two water stops were out of all fluids. We then slowed our pace a bit, but were still on target for a 5:30 -5:45 there were supplies at 3 of the stops till they called the race around mile 17 for us. I am so upset that the race director is saying there were not shortages, I know there will be other races and there is a family today that has much bigger problems than we do in just not gettting to finish, as matter of fact I signed up today for the Memphis Marathon in Dec, but I think the Chicago Marahon owes us an apology or at least come out with the truth. I know you have no official status with the race, but I just wanted to vent. Thanks for listening

Lindy said...

Yes, the City of Chicago and the magnificent spectator crowd were the true heroes of the day.

I agree with the assessment that race officials may not have been able to do any more, and I appreciate your perspective as a race director of a large race.

What's insulting to me, however, is that race officials refuse to acknowledge the thousands of runners who are telling them THERE WAS NO WATER AVAILABLE and NO GATORADE AVAILABLE at many stations in a row. Rather than saying "we'll look into the matter", the response has been that it wasn't a matter of no water, but overwhelmed volunteers. That is simply not true. Runners and volunteers alike have said the opposite.

Anonymous said...

All of the comments so far are spot on. I was also a participant and I'm also from Midland MI the town suffering from the loss of one of our finest, Chad Schieber.

I have been on an emotional rollercoster since the event. Some events of the day were wonderful, the start, the support of the spectators and the support from the city employees and volunteers.

My disappointment is with race officials who have blatantly lied about not running out of liquids. There are thousands of us that know otherwise.

Hopefully, lessons can be learned and this type of scene can be avoided in the future.

The mental recovery of this marathon has been much harder than the physical recovery.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
I enjoyed your latest blog entry and thought your two ending thoughts were great. I didn't run this event and my heart goes out to all those that did and suffered physically, mentally and/or emotionally. I can only imagine what it must feel like and I send good/positive/healing energy to all those that need it.

I decided to look you up on the web as I am in the process of reading your my first book by you "Courage to Start." I'm a runner. I have been for the past (almost) 10 years. I'll be doing my third marathon this coming weekend in Ashland, WI. I've done a few 1/2's and many 5/10k's. Your book is so inspiring. It's renewed my love for running. I'm a "slow penguin." And as I read your book, my level of exceptance with this is continues to deepen. THANK YOU for inspiring me, John.

Renee (Madison WI)