Posts Tagged ‘grand rapids’

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#34 – 2007 Chicago Marathon: A 16-Mile Disaster

12 October 2007

End of the Road at the 2007 Chicago Marathon

Photo: Princess Runner

A marathon is supposed to be 26.2 miles, yet some 6,500 runners at the 2007 Chicago Marathon were forced to end their “marathon” after 16 miles. Officially the race was canceled due to record-high heat but reading between the lines, it appears that the race director called off the event due to poor planning by the organizers. Sadly, this is not the first time that the Chicago Marathon has suffered an embarrassing mistake that jeopardized the health of its runners.

In the 2006 race, winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped as he crossed the finish line, losing his footing on a slick-surfaced sponsor logo placed on the road in front of the finish. Cheruiyot hit his head hard and was taken to the hospital; thankfully his injuries were not very serious. Why in the world would any race director allow such an obvious risk, especially given the wet conditions of that year’s race? 45,000 runners had signed up to attempt crossing that finish line and I find it appalling that safety was not a higher priority than the shininess of a sponsor’s logo. The logo was quickly removed and I’m not aware of any other runners who fell at the finish that year.

Sadly that lack of planning in 2006 did not motivate the organizers to be any more proactive when planning for 2007. The possibility of record heat was known to forecasters at least two weeks in advance and it should’ve been a contingency scenario from the outset – one of the few things a race director cannot control is the weather.

Many runners, aware of the heat, chose to not even start and save their efforts for a better day. According to MarathonGuide.com, there were “48,165 registered, 35,798 starters, 35,300 runners with a 10K split, 25,989 definitive finishers.” What really shocked me was MarathonGuide’s tally of the non-finishers: “1,000 runners who did not finish due to normal attrition, 6,500 runners who were removed from the course by race officials”. 6,500 runners forced to abandon! That’s 18% of all starters who were forced to cut short their dreams of finishing a marathon through no fault of their own.

I’ve been following the blog of Princess Runner as she trained for her goal to run her first marathon. After setting her sights on Chicago 2007, she was one of those unlucky 6,500. She wrote about her frustrating experience, including: “The reality of what was happening suddenly hit me like a sledgehammer. I was not going to finish the marathon. I could do it, but the race officials were not going to let me.” How devastating.

Her brother, Shore Turtle, also ran the marathon and was able to finish – he posted a respectable 4:13 – but had to endure seeing the letters “CXL” replacing the numbers on the race clock during the last mile. Many commenters on MarathonGuide.com related similar stories and sentiments about the 2007 race.

What really angers me about the decision to cancel the race for those who didn’t reach halfway fast enough is that the Chicago Marathon caters in particular to that demographic of novice runners. I researched the results of dozens of marathons using MarathonGuide.com and found that the Chicago Marathon has the slowest average finishing time (4:35 in 2006, 5:02 in 2007) of any marathon I checked. With 45,000 registrants Chicago is one of the largest marathons in the world, but also one of the slowest.

If record-high temperatures are combined with thousands of inexperienced runners, you had better expect a sharp increase in both water consumption and medical emergencies. Indeed, runners are responsible for their own preparation and I do find it annoying that so many folks allow themselves to get in over their head, but I was once one of those runners. I ran the 2005 Grand Rapids Marathon and was forced to walk almost 10 miles due to cramping caused by insufficient training. However, I was aware of my safety limits and the race organizers were well prepared for runners like me just in case I pushed myself too far. After all, even the elite runners can push a little too hard sometimes.

Ironically, the Chicago Marathon also caters to the elites thanks to a large prize purse as well as being part of the World Marathon Majors series. Yet as Robert Cheruiyot can attest in 2006, Chicago has not been fully prepared to protect their safety. Fortunately nobody tried to blame Cheruiyot for losing his balance, but in 2007 race officials pointed their fingers at the novice runners that they’ve courted for years. Sponsor LaSalle Bank’s vice president inexplicably claimed that “planners did not anticipate runners would use drinking water to cool themselves” by pouring it on their heads. Oh really? At the 2007 Riverbank Run I watched aid station volunteers frequently use cups of water to treat runners with a refreshing “shower” despite a high temperature of just 67 degrees. Nobody planning for the Chicago Marathon could’ve thought of that?

Given how things have gone in 2006 and 2007, one wonders just how much planning takes place for such a premier event. Apparently not much – see this quote about the debacle from Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski: “Probably we should have been a little more proactive about that.” No kidding. FYI, 2008 is just 12 months away…

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#32 – Fun and Frustration at The Bridge Run 5K

15 September 2007

Continuing my quest for a 20-minute 5K, I spent the morning in downtown Grand Rapids to race in The Bridge Run. The event sports both a 5K and a 10-mile run with most of the fast runners racing the longer distance, but that was fine with me. Under clear blue skies and unseasonably cool 45-degree temperatures the 10-milers lined up at 8am for the start of their race. I watched from the sidewalk since the 5K folks started at 8:10 and it was fun to see the speedy runners up close – you know, the ones who can run almost a 5:00 pace for 10 miles!

Soon enough it was 8:10am and I was running due north through downtown. I’m still no expert at pacing myself so I could only hope that I was hitting the 6:30 pace that I was targeting. The entire first mile is a straight shot north along a closed road, so it was a neat experience to run for so long in the same direction without having to navigate any obstacles like curbs, intersections, cars, etc. Unfortunately I never spotted the 1 mile marker so I couldn’t gauge my pace, but I later learned that it was at the turnaround.

Heading south now, the route carried us back along the road a ways before veering west across the 6th Street bridge and then down along the riverfront pathway. The mile 2 marker was at the entrance to the waterfront where I arrived at 13:50, a very disappointing 6:55 pace. I tried to speed up but my body wouldn’t have it – either I can’t run any faster, or the preceding two miles at that pace had ingrained that speed into my system. Shortly after the 2 mile marker an acute side stitch manifested itself and I got that fizzy/weezy feeling in my lungs. I was pushing as hard as I could.

Finally the finishing stretch came into view – it was about 100 yards of brick-paved street with barricades just like a big race despite there being just 700 runners combined in the two races. Stepping on to the bricks I accelerated into a finishing kick and noticed that I was gaining ground rapidly on the guy a hundred feet ahead of me. Involuntarily my legs flew into a full sprint (yes, I’m competitive) and I passed him just ten feet from the finish line. While that final kick was satisfying, seeing the clock read 21:33 was very disappointing.

For the time being I tried not to worry and focused on the food – a post race spread of 100% organic sustenance! I ate half an orange, an energy bar, two fruit-leather-type strips, an organic soda, and some water and enjoyed every bite and every sip. Organic food always seems to sit well with my stomach and taste buds! I didn’t have much time to enjoy it though as the elite 10-mile runners were due to finish soon and I wanted to grab my camera from the car to get some photos. I wound up jogging the half mile to and from the parking lot and made it to the corner of the home stretch just as the race winner, 2001 Michigan Runner of the Year Kyle Baker, cruised past. I hurriedly yanked the camera out of its case and managed to snap a shot just after Baker crossed the line as the #2 runner pulled into view.

I hung out at the finish for a while watching a couple co-workers finish the 10-miler while I chatted with another acquaintance. After a while I wandered around the food tents just taking in the crisp, sunny morning and watching more runners. Then my frustration set in as I thought about my race. In March I ran a 21:07 5K but since then have run four races at 21:26, 21:37, 21:45, and now today 21:33. I was hoping that today’s cooler weather would help, but apparently such speed was not in the cards for me. Once they posted the results I was even more vexed – I just missed winning my age group by 10 seconds! It’s not very often that I have a chance to win anything in a running race and this one had certainly been within reach.

Well, I tried. I have to wonder, though: 1) Couldn’t I have run 10 seconds faster? 2) Will I ever approach 21 minutes again? 3) Will I ever reach my 20 minute goal? 4) Did running a marathon a month ago slow me down? Hopefully all those can be answered with “yes”. In the meantime, it looks like I’ll be doing more speedwork…