October 7, 2007 over the Thanksgiving weekend, Ladysmith
Mountain ran the 30th Anniversary Edition of the
Chicago Marathon. This marathon turned out to be
the hottest marathon ever in Chicago and results
in many heat related injuries including one death.
The story below is John's account in a letter
addressed to his family and friends. John was accompanied
in Chicago by his wife Cindy who was at the finish
line to cheer him in.
Greetings Family and Friends,
And all the best on your Happy Thanksgiving Sunday! I hope that you get a chance to spend some time this weekend with those who are special in your lives.
That said... Cindy and I will be looking to tuck into some turkey tomorrow here in Chicago as we finish our mini-holiday in the windy city. Of course, we didn't come to here for the turkey, we came so I could "lace'em on" and take to the streets for the 30th Anniversary Chicago Marathon... a world renown run that is one of the marathon majors... Boston (done it), London (on the list), Berlin (definitely want to do it), new York (yup, Cindy wants me to do it), and Chicago (done it). So I have a lot to give thanks for on this day... I am thankful that I have my health so I can participate in these long runs... and I'm thankful that I have the support of my understanding and patient wife (Love you Honey), and thankful that I had the where-with-all to recognize the extreme running conditions in today's race and adjust my race plan to allow a finish rather than a crash and burn.
Three years ago Cindy and I traveled to Boston and the race-day weather turned extreme to make it the second hottest Boston marathon on record at 86 degrees at midday... this year in Chicago the weather turned severe like Boston three years ago but this time it is hotter... today at midday it was a record setting 88 degrees making it the hottest Chicago marathon on record. While I managed to
endure and finished both races, I'm sorry to add that this extreme heat in Chicago actually may have claimed the life of a 35 year old marathoner today and caused over 250 other participants to seek medical assistance on the race course. I personally witnessed many runners flat on their backs on sidewalks and/or street boulevards. As I said earlier, this carnage caused me to adjust my race plan just in order to survive... I gave up my 3:40 target finish time and focused on just finishing... which I did in 4 hours, 30 minutes, and 41 seconds. Under the circumstances, I am very pleased with this finish.
My Chicago marathon was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Imagine... the marathon start was a sea of runners for as far as the eye can see in both directions... and once the gun is fired, it turns into a tidal swell flowing north out of Grant Park towards Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district. There were 45,000 runners registered for the 2007 Chicago marathon with 36,000 actual starters toeing the start line... it was unbelievable. I was not a seeded runner in Chicago and by the time I got to the start line, six minutes had passed from here I started near the front of the open starting corral. I could just barely see the starting line banner through four starting corrals for seeded runners and one for the elite runners in front of me and I didn't even start moving ahead for three minutes. This was a memorable start in my mind because you really had to pay attention... pay attention to where you were going to put your next step as you were shoulder to shoulder with other athletes... pay attention to where you were going to put your next step because some of the runners waiting in the corrals ahead simply left their expired water bottles in the middle road so there was great risk to stepping on a plastic water bottle which can be like sliding on grease... and to pay attention to where you were going to put your next step so you won't trip over an article of discarded clothing and go down under the feet of the 30,000 runners that were pushing you from behind. I have never experienced a start as memorable as this... not even in Boston.
My race plan was to embrace a 3 hour and 40 minutes finishing time and I registered with the 3:40 pace group at the pre-race expo on Saturday morning in order to accomplish that finishing time. But because of the heat today, I adjusted the plan right away and decided to run with the 3:50 pace group which worked well until about the halfway 13.1 mile mark. It was there that the I really started to feel the heat... in fact, so much so that I think I "bonked" at this point which is the earliest that I have ever hit the wall in a marathon... wow... it took me by surprise.
My race from this point on was to merely to get to the finish line. I knew that if I continued at a sub-four hour pace I would wind up taking the DNF bus or an ambulance back to the finish line in the later stages of the race. Luckily, I have enough running experience to recognize my limitations and slowed my pace. I loped the rest of the race course at a 10 minute per mile pace and walked through all the water stops. Unfortunately, others didn't and I saw the collateral damage of the high temperature for the remainder of the race... temperature that was high enough for the Race Director to call the race and close down the course for those who had not passed the half-way point by 12 noon. Even with the controversial decision to close the course, over 250 runners still needed medical assistance for heat related problems.
As mentioned before, my pace took me through the halfway point before 10am CST so the course closure did not effect me. I really cut myself some slack from then on in... I walked at times without beating myself up which is hard for a runner to do... I even stopped and sat down on the curb at the 20 mile mark in order to remove my shoes and squeeze the water out of my socks knowing that wet feet can cause blisters as the skin on your feet absorb moisture and swell up. I even happily chatted with spectators along the way.
Spectators on the entire course were lined up on the side of the course two and three deep and I would say that there was way more than in Boston. These folks were very supportive to everyone and I'm sure that this is part of the draw that brings runners from all over the world. It was estimated that 1.8 million people stood on the side of the road this year to cheer people from over 75 countries and spectators at many times were called on to provide interim medical care until the paramedics could arrive. I recall a middle-aged Police Officer around the 22 mile mark carrying in his arms a young lady that was completely out cold where he was rushing the girl to an area that paramedics could attend easier... and I recall a group of people in yellow T-shirts working on a young man that was flat on his back with ice and leg massage... truly a scary sight.
I finished the marathon in a time that I am really happy with considering the weather conditions... I feel that I ran a smart race and look back with no regrets. You never know what mother nature will lay in your path... you just have to deal with what comes your way. I had no way of knowing that
unseasonably high temperature would engulf the Chicago area when I registered for the marathon back in April... and no way of knowing the physical risks of running a marathon shoulder to shoulder with so many other individuals for almost the entire 26.2 miles. Thirty-six thousand runners started the race and I was one of the finishers... a race that set records in more ways than one. And did I mention that the winner broke the tape in 2 hours and 11 minutes? Unbelievable that someone could grind up the course and tame the heat of a day like today... even if it was a Kenyan... it was pretty spectacular and that runner is so-so-far out of my league. In fact, compared to this guy I am on another planet!
That's all for now... I survived. Cindy and I will enjoy some sight seeing tomorrow and start our journey back to BC on Tuesday morning... we'll see some of you then. Take care all.
John and Cindy
Best Western Grant Park Hotel