Chicago Rant

So, by now I’m sure that y’all have read up on the disaster that was the Chicago Marathon – closure of the course after 3:30 or 4 hours, depending on reports, no water for the first 10K for anyone running less than a 3 or so hour pace, etc. Wicked hot.

Frankly, that blows, especially the reported shortages in at the first aid stations.

I crunched a couple of numbers for an email exchange that Mark and I had, and pulled the following numbers:

Marathon Finishing Tims
Race Finishers Under 3H Under 4H

NYC 2006

38,000 900 12,000

Houston 2007

5,300 125 1650

Chicago 2006

33,600 900 11,700

Even with the extreme heat, the planners should have realized that fewer than a third of the field is going to finish under 4 hours, so there should have been SOMETHING at the first aid stations for those runners. I find it hard to believe that even with the increased heat, the front of the pack third consumed three times as many resources as they have in the past.

Honestly? My take? There’s a move afoot in elite running circles to discourage average runners – mid to back of packers – from racing. Hence the iPod bans, hence poor support at a marquee race.

The solution? Get faster.*** But moreso, get involved. (Pot, this is kettle) One of the beautiful things about running for me is that it’s all a personal challenge – can I improve upon my last performance? Races are a dispassionate judge of that. I can always fudge whatever timing/mileage device I’m using. I can’t fudge a chip.

*** EDIT/Clarification – this is meant to be tongue in cheek.

8 thoughts on “Chicago Rant”

  1. This was a debacle, no doubt. I’ve been a participant, a volunteer, and paid staff, so I’ve seen foot races and bike races from all sides. I’m not sure what the solution is. Not that I’m Mr. “I’ve been running for a million years” but it seems that the problems are striking the mid to back of packers.

    My first marathon, run on the Atlantic City boardwalk, resulted in a finish time of 4:12 and a mild case of hypothermia. There was a nor’easter and I wasn’t dressed properly. Next year the weather was better and I was better trained, so I crushed it, running 3:40.

    At the time I thought that the cutoff between running and jogging was the magic four hour mark, and I still sort of think that. But what do I know? Hundreds of thousands of people have run 5 hour marathons. It seems like a hella long time to be out there – like riding a ten hour century – but the organizers should be prepared for the eventuality.

    There is no excuse for running out of fluids, certainly not the lame ‘the runners were pouring water over their heads’ offered by the organizers.

  2. I was reading something the other day that the New York Marathon is the single biggest economic windfall of any sporting event in New York – more profitable even than a world series game. Imagine the economic impact of the New York Marathon going from 38000 competitors to 12000!

  3. “The solution? Get faster.”

    I have to disagree on this one, Jank. Chicago and alot of the other Megathons have become much less about running/racing and more about the money. 40,000 runners and 1 million spectators is a damn circus. They stuff in as many of the middle-of-the-packer’s as they can to bring in the profit and pay for the purses.

    Everything runs fine and dandy when the weather is nice and nothing breaks, but when something goes wrong (predicted like record high temps) the entire cart falls over because the whole operation is run on the shaky premise that nothing will go wrong.

    They appeared unprepared because they took the calculated risk that they would not need more water. Mostly likely influenced heavily by the added cost/logistics of extra water. They knew in the first 2 hours that the race was going to be a disaster since they ran out of water early and people were filling the medical tents. If they were serious about stopping a disaster, the race should have been stopped then and there, not after 3:30. If they claim they could not have known in 2 hours what was about to unfold, then they are either lying or incredibly incompetent.

    But they were NOT about to stop the race until the elites finished. The elites are the point of the race. If they had stopped before that point they would lose the fast runners in future races and the race would die. Also, if people are going there for a BQ (which is questionable for Chicago), then cutting it off at 3:30 might cut a lot of those folks out too. Wouldn’t want to lose BQ people signing up next year. So at the expense of the rest of the herd, they continued. Dumb idea.

    Getting faster is not the solution to this problem. Skipping the Megathons is. They are a crazed madhouse of disorganization and questionable motives. Fun and games on 70F days when the world is happy, and downright dangerous when conditions get bad, because they are ill-prepared to handle serious problems for the mass of people they bring in.

  4. I already voiced my $0.02 on the Chi-town and Army 10-Miler debacles on my blog: basically, if you pay an entry fee for an event, the expectation is that there will be adequate food, water and medical support for the entire field.

    That said, I think the “run faster” suggestion is a major blow to a lot of hobbyist runners. For some, simply completing a marathon (or other running, cycling, or triathlon event) is a big deal, and if there’s no barrier to entry other than the fee, then organizers should make sure that there is enough infrastructure to support the assembled throng – from elites to newbies to those in between.

    Perhaps more organized events will take on the Boston style of business: qualifying times. Others may do hard caps on registration numbers and make require pre-registration for all participants in order to ensure that the infrastructure is not overly taxed.

    I know of many endurance cycling events that have strict caps on registration in order to ensure adequate supply levels for the aid stations (granted, this is easier to guarantee, as most endurance cycling events – sportives in Brit parlance – aren’t on closed courses, allowing support vehicles to re-stock stations). And with things like 1200 km randonnée rides, there are prerequisites to entry: completing a brevét series of 200, 300, 400 and 600 km to show the ability to weather long, self-supported rides.

    Perhaps the “megathon” thing needs to be revisited. There are some that manage to do things well, others that don’t. In the cases of both Chicago and the Army event, the weather situation wasn’t adequately addressed, with disastrous consequences. The organizers of both should refund the entry fees of the entrants: the competitors didn’t get what they paid for.

  5. Firstly, I completely agree that every runner should have been provided with water, they shouldn’t have run out.

    However, how much more water should they brought in?

    They catered for 45,000 runners on a normal day, then due to the heat brought in over 200,000 units, only 35,000 runners started. That works out to 2 extra units per runner per waterstop.

    The water wasn’t just consumed by faster runners, it was poured over their heads. I know this, cause I did it and everyone around me. Where I would normally take 1 cup, have a couple sips and run on, on Sunday, I and everyone else was taking 3-4 cups and sometimes more. Most of that was being used to cool off.

    I travelled to chicago with 25 runners, who range from a 3.10 to a 5.40 finisher. Only one person had a negative comment about the marathon, and that was she wanted to finish running not walking. Out of the 25, 5 were affected by the ‘out of water’.

  6. Your rant, and the comments following are right on. I saw an article today that said the Chicago Marathon generates about $20 million for the local economy, and you can see the defensiveness of the organizers and business officials trying to protect those profits. I had a disappointing finish at 5:08 (I’ve run 4:48 before, and trained this year to break 4:30) because I was ordered to walk the last 5 miles.

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