Excuse me? What did Celia, the marathon official with the megaphone just say? That the marathon has been canceled? I was completely incredulous as I approached mile 23, wondering what she could possibly mean. It was almost noon, about 4 hours after the marathon began. I was just 3.2 miles from my final destination, and I was being told that the marathon I had trained for for 18 weeks was canceled. "Yeah right," I thought. "You'll have to drag me off the course in handcuffs if you want me to quit now." (You can read the Trib's story about the marathon here).
But I was also realizing that Celia wasn't the only one telling me to walk. My body was doing the same thing. I was feeling pretty good throughout most of the race, though I had been sweating profusely since Mile 2. I was keeping hydrated, downing some Gu (little shots of energy), and my new hat (modeled above, about mile 9, picture courtesy of Matt McKee-- thanks, Matt!) was keeping the sun off my face. But the shade completely disappears about mile 15, and it was taking its toll. In fact, the temperature at a bank we passed read 91 degrees. They probably should have just turned that thing off.
After mile 23, when I would try to run, my legs were fine, but my constitution was not. I was feeling queasy and light-headed. And the words that Heidi left me with that morning reverberated: “You can do another one of these if you want; just don’t hurt yourself today.” So I decided I would obey Celia and the other course officials, and I walked most of the last three miles. (Interesting graph from the Trib about when runners encountered the oppressive heat here).
I was hearing stories from people all around me, many of whom had flown in just to race, including a woman from Sweden, who was confused about the explanation of the cancellation. I did run the last quarter mile and finished in 5:04:25, about an hour after my anticipated finish. But pretty much everyone I talked to finished an hour after they hoped. I talked to a guy from Texas who had been training in the heat, and yet even he finished at 4:45, an hour after his plan. I feel especially bad for those wanting to run in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon—there were certainly no Personal Records to be had this day.
I got separated from Graham, my running partner, at about mile 18. I spent from about mile 7 until that point trying to motivate him to finish. His legs were cramping up, and he kept trying to get me to go on without him. So I'd try set little mini-goals like: OK, let's just go to mile 10. Let's just run to the water station. To which he replied: "You run to the water station." It was kind of funny. Our good friend Ryan Parschauer jumped in to run with us for a bit, and ended up going with him from then until about mile 23. Graham finished just two minutes behind me, which is especially impressive given the fact that he's getting foot surgery this Thursday.
My wife is the one that deserves the finisher's medal more than me because she allowed me to be gone so many early mornings and Saturday mornings to do my long runs, then got the kids and my mom and sister (who had flown in from Texas) down to the city via the CTA. They got to see me around mile 12, then again at mile 20 in Chinatown. It was so much fun seeing them along the course. The quote of the day was from Foster, who told Heidi that "Nana knew so many of the people running in the marathon." He said this because many runners write their names on their jerseys so the onlookers can cheer them on by name. So to a little five year old, all he knows is that his Nana knows EVERYone!
It was also interesting to hear the many ways the race officials were communicating the fact that they were canceling the marathon. At the finish line, they announced that "the marathon has been turned into a fun run." A fun run? For 26.2 miles? I don't think so. One police officer was saying through his loudspeaker: "Running is now a felony. Please walk." Another course official said as I passed him: "First place has been taken. You can quit running." Someone asked him: What about second place? He answered: "Second place has also been taken. But 22,578th is available." I found out that I actually got 14,482nd. I can handle that.
At the end, Graham and I were getting our pictures taken by his parents when a woman we had never seen before walked up, handed her camera to them, and asked for a picture...then proceeded to stand between us and put her arms around us. She had "Peru" written on her shirt, so she moved her bib to display the name, said "Peru!", then smiled for the picture, thanked us, and walked away.
There's been a lot of press lately about the aid stations running out of water. We always had plenty of water, but I was closer to the front so perhaps there was less for the end. I was amazed by the spectators who were turning on their own hoses and handing out ice; that was a lifesaver.
A few days later now, my legs are starting to be less sore, my toes (which still kind of look like someone dropped an anvil on them) are healing up, and there's still a nagging feeling that I could have had a better time or whatever. An article on Monday in the Tribune written by a Trib correspondent was an encouragement to that end. Here's what it said:
"As a member of the Chicago Marathon pace team, my job Sunday was to help runners achieve their goals in the race. This was my fifth consecutive year as a pace leader and my 15th marathon overall, but not even my first marathon back in 1987 posed the challenge this one did.
"As early as Mile 5, runners had already turned into walkers. By Mile 8, I saw my first runner on a stretcher. As we headed south, the shade dwindled and the full effect of the 88-degree heat could be felt. I really started feeling it around Mile 16.
"At Mile 19, I had to make a decision. My pace was slowing. It was becoming obvious that I wouldn't reach my target of 3 hours 40 minutes. I slowed to a walk; I wasn't alone. As I slowly moved to the next aid station, I saw many more runners being treated for exhaustion. It made my decision to stop at aid station 11 a little less difficult.
"I boarded a school bus with about a dozen others to head to the finish line. From that moment on, somewhere around 10:30am, there was a constant shrill of sirens. It hadn't stopped two hours later. When I returned to our team tent, someone said the race had been called off. I thought they were joking. How do you tell 35,000 starters to stop?
"To the 24,933 who didn't stop in nearly impossible conditions and finished the entire distance, treasure your finisher's medal. This was a race I will still be talking about 20 years from now."
So that's pretty encouraging. As hard as it was, it's fun to be able to have completed the one marathon people will be talking about for years.