October 8, 2007

Mother Nature is a Cruel Lady

For one of the few times in my life, I am at a loss for words. I have been waiting to post until I get my thoughts together - but unfortunately I do not see that happening any time soon. Anyone who has followed my blog, or the Chicago Marathon, should (by now) have some sort of awareness of what happened yesterday. Extreme heat and a variety of other factors created situations severe enough that the organizers actually shortened/cancelled the event. There are conflicting reports everywhere, and I don't want to get myself into the current banter. I cannot even explain in words the things I saw or what type of experience I had. While some were able to complete the actual marathon course, I was not one of those individuals. After being diverted back to the finish from mile 16, I entered Grant Park and was informed over the speaker system that those that did not have the opportunity to complete the full course had participated in a "fun run". Yeah, right.

Before I move on, I do want to say a couple of things "on the record":
  • I confirm many of the reports about the lack of water and Gatorade. Patti and I had to stop and drink some dirty standing water from a big fountain (there were many others doing so too) after not getting water for 5+ miles. We finally found water at the 3rd station...almost 6 miles in. The first tables were all out and we did get some at the end of that aid-station. Patti had to get water poured from a gallon straight into her mouth and I got a cup finally at the end table. There was no Gatorade at any of the tables.
  • Despite the race organizers repeated claims that they knew they might have to cancel the event and were prepared for having to do so, I experienced what was close to chaos and did not see an ounce of indication that there was some sort of structured contingency plan.
  • Communication about what was happening was nill. I was informed by (what looked like) High School volunteers at the aid station just before the 16 mile marker that the marathon had been "cancelled". From that point I did not hear any additional information until we reached Grant Park. The majority of the runners and spectators around me did not have a clue what was going on - and we didnt really believe what we heard. I called my husband who was waiting for me further into the course, and he hadnt heard a thing.
  • From the point where we heard, we had to walk 2.12 miles to Grant Park. Even if there was water at the aid stations (as organizers claim) ... there wasnt a single aid station on the re-route until we got to Grant Park. So in addition to the confusion, there was a 2+ mile walk (or run, for some who had no clue what was going on) until a temporary aid station was set up. That station had water only (no Gatorade).
  • Organizers claim 24,933 finished. But when I got to Grant Park and went to chip removal - they told me I had to cross the finish first. I had to walk several more blocks to the finish line, cross, then walk back to chip removal. So individuals were basically "forced" to finish - and now organizers are reporting those as some sort of official finisher count.
  • Many articles, comments, bloggers, are talking about the one positive note: the support of spectators. The amount of injuries (and perhaps deaths) was kept LOW in compared to what it could have been - thanks to the awesome people out to support the event. Individuals were setting up their own aid stations - offering water, ice Gatorade, hoses, YOU NAME IT! I have never seen so many selfless acts. Individuals buying water/Gatorade/ice at local Walgreens and standing on the course just handing it out to runners. People standing in front of their homes spraying hot runners with hoses. Strangers asking runners "is there anything you need?" or "is there anything I can do to help?". It was simply amazing and I applaud each and every one of these individuls - they truly made a difference and likely saved some lives.
In my opinion this experience was a debacle. While after reading about the injuries, heat impact, etc, I am leaning towards agreeing that cancelling the event was logical. But those orchestrating the event were ill-prepared, communication was poor, and the entire situation was generally out-of-control. With proper resources during the race, and clear communication when cancellation was decided, I believe that while runners would be saddened and dissapointed ... they would have understood. Perhaps it would take a few hours (or days) for this understanding to occur, but it would have happened. Now we have issues all over the board that will be difficult to resolve - and thousands (even 10's of thousands) of individuals who believe they have been wronged. Many of whom (I believe) will be stirring things up for the forseeable future. I would not be suprised to see several lawsuits initiated by the end of this month.

What's Next?
As I said, I dont want to keep re-living this experience. Instead I do need to move forward ... and more importantly think of the positives :)

I have trained for a Marathon, and I intend on completing a Marathon. I have done some searching and there are still some events that take place before the year ends with some open spots. I have a feeling that I am not alone in thinking this - and so many of these events may be seeing some increased registration in the next few weeks. I need to figure out what one I would like to do soon so I dont miss out on the opportunity in the event spots fill!

Upcoming events:
Grand Rapids (MI) – 10/28
Raleigh, NC - 11/4
Philadelphia – 11/18
Atlanta - 11/22
Memphis 12/1
West Palm Beach (FL) 12/1
Sacremento (CA) - 12/2
Las Vegas – 12/2
Tuscon 12/2
Jacksonville FL 12/16

Good Things
Can "good thing" actually have come out of this whole experience? Its hard to think of this in a positive light, I know - but I need to try.
  • More time to work on healing/improving my back problems
  • More time to train
  • Opportunity to travel to a new destination
  • The next Marathon I attempt should practically be easy compared to yesterday's experience. At least ... its impossible to have any worse of an experience!!!!

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends. Jeff and his family were there to cheer me on repeatedly during the course, and to console me after. My sister met me just as it felt my world was about to collapse - at mile 16. Her support and silent understanding helped me keep my cool, and I think is a large percentage of the reason I feel more optimism than anger or regret today. I also want to thank the family and friends of those I have been running with (specifically Patti's family & friends. Her sister was a guardian angel). You were there to offer us bottles of water and Gatorade. To offer us hugs. To offer us support.

While yesterday was one of the most challening experiences of my life - it would have been entirely different had these individuals not been there. They made everything seem ok, and made me optimistic that I can still do this. I WILL DO THIS.


chata said...

I'm glad you aren't letting this debacle stop you. Keep running!

Amanda said...

I can't imagine this happening on a first marathon. Good for you in picking out another one, you deserve to finish and have that meaningful moment.

Midwestern Progressive said...

Perhaps it would take a few hours (or days) for this understanding to occur, but it would have happened.

I hope this understanding comes to you! Here is something to consider:

All anyone can do is to follow the instructions of race officials. That is vital for the protection and safety or everybody.

Is it somewhat disappointing? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, if you were on the course when race officials "called" the race, then you finished the 2007 Chicago Marathon.

Don't ever let anyone else tell you differently.

And wear your 2007 race t-shirt with pride in that accomplishment.

(This advice brought to you by someone who had a very similar experience in his first triathlon. Very similar advice was given to me after that, and I decided to believe it. I hope you do the same.)

Anonymous said...

It was heartbreaking not to finish, that is for sure, but I know it was in the best interest and it was the right decision.

I saw the people drinking from the fountain in Lincoln park. The thought crossed my mind for a second. I don't think I could have done it.

I day removed, I'm happy with the experience overall. The spectators along the course were amazing. Both in the cheering and the random acts of kindness they exhibited.

All that said, I still want a real finish. I'm signed up for Grand Rapids, which works out pretty well. Three week "taper" after the long 17.5 mile "training" run I did.

jazzyjo said...

Just an FYI, there's also a marathon in Springfield, Missouri, on 11/4, which is a close choice (Google "Bass Pro Marathon"). Last I checked there are direct flights from Chicago to Springfield every day. And we have a local running club that can get you up to speed on the details of the route should you need them. Best of luck!

lifestudent said...

Thanks for all the comments and well wishes. Still figuring out which race to run - Nov or Dec. I am looking at facing my future race without my most devoted running partner (due to scheduling conflicts) and am having some fears facing that challenge ... but should know by the end of the week which Marathon I will run "for real".

Derek - I looked at the Grand Rapids one, but have a wedding that date!

Jazzyjo - thanks for the suggestion. That MO marathon is only about a 7 1/2 hour drive for me ... so its a real option.