CHICAGO; WIND, FREEZE, RAIN, FUN
Not even a two hundred member drill team or a Jamaican Reggae Band could do it. Neither Grammy-award winning singer, Chinese dragon dancers nor 1.5 million spectators could help take my mind off the 30 to 40 M.P.H. winds and temperatures which dipped into the mid 30’s during the 2006 running of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.
Early morning before the race, hundreds of runners gathered in the lobby of the Hilton Chicago Hotel, race headquarters. Karen and I sat, drank coffee and chatted with the other runners many of whom were from the area, locals. Several of the people we spoke to had done the race many times. “Always” they said, the temperatures were near freezing. I was trying not to panic. Quietly, I spoke to myself praying for some confidence that all would be okay and I wouldn’t suffer death by bone numbing cold. I couldn’t remember ever reading the headline “MARATHON RUNNER FREEZES TO DEATH”. At least, it wasn’t supposed to snow until the end of the day.
Two hours later we were off and I snuggled among some nearly 35,000 runners. I was determined to master my fear of the weather. The elements are supposedly mental, so I’ve been told by experienced racers. I surmised they must all come from Minnesota or Michigan. As the winds spiraled around Chicago’s tallest buildings and then picked up momentum as they came across Lake Michigan we were slammed repeatedly. At times I felt as though I wasn’t moving forward, and then suddenly the wind would die down. It always returned a short time later with more force and, after 26.2 miles of this kind of battering, I can honestly say I have never, ever been so glad to see a finish line. I was reminded of those silly old winter cartoons where the character runs out in the snow and slowly freezes into an ice statue in mid air unable to move. That was me. With every mile, my muscles tightened just a little bit more from the prickly, stinging cold. By mile 23, it felt as though I was moving in slow motion, each step becoming more difficult. I’m convinced that certain people are just built for running. Certain people are definitely built for speed. I am just as convinced that I am neither of them. Even in the best conditions my strong suit is endurance. I can talk myself into enduring almost anything. Running for me is a game of wits, me against me! It’s all about battling my own negative thoughts. Anything is possible; I do believe that. And with each marathon finish those sentiments are confirmed.
Having successfully talked myself into mastering the cold in the beginning of the race (the temperatures fell continuously during the day), I insanely yet confidently discarded my gloves and announced boldly to myself that this wasn’t going to be too bad. Not as Karen keeps asking me, “When will you ever learn to dress properly.” She couldn’t believe I had thrown my gloves away. During the last couple of miles, not only did I feel like I needed a rope to pull on to keep me upright, but I was certain if I had tried to bend my fingers that one or two of them would have surely broken off like frozen icicles. It mattered very little to me that my time was 5 hours and forty-eight minutes. What was paramount was that I was not one of the 5,302 no shows. I was not going to be intimidated by a little wind (what an understatement) and freezing temperatures. I was going to finish my eleventh marathon in eleven months. And no way was I going to let a little rain, sleet or HELL stop me from crossing the finish line.
I was bone chillingly and inconsolably frozen by the time 26.2 miles was behind me. The weather was so frigid by this point, like me, that I completely forgot about having my timing chip removed. I’ve never done that before. Stumbling past the finish line and never stopping, I slowly but determinedly made my way back to the hotel and into a steaming tub of hot water, soaking for more than an hour. For God’s sake what was I thinking? I am a Florida girl. Chicago in October, (painful, painful), the temperatures back in Florida were nearly fifty degrees higher, fifty degrees.
Karen finished happily around the same time, and didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather in the least. All she could think about while I was whining and shivering under the covers frozen blue lips and all, was how soon room service could deliver a New York Strip, (God, how I love traveling with that woman).
Although forever the completer, I have to admit the thought of running Antarctica was a little more remotely removed from my brain after Chicago. Had I been able to finish the race in 2 hours 7 minutes 35 seconds (maybe in my next lifetime when I come back as a Samburu warrior) like Robert Cheruiyot from Kenya, I might have beaten the falling temperatures. But oddly enough it wasn’t the temperature that made front page news. Cheruiyot inches from victory, slipped bizarrely, like a man tumbling on ice; as published by a reporter in the Chicago Tribune. The young Kenyan runner lay flat on his back. He skidded and went down on the red finish mat hitting the asphalt so hard that he cracked the back of his head against the pavement and had to be rushed to the hospital. Who would have ever guessed that crossing the finish line could be so dangerous? Wet conditions were blamed for Cheruiyot’s slip across the finish line. “Luckily for him, he slipped forward,” race referee Pat Savage said. Cheruiyot’s victory was the fourth straight by a Kenyan man, and definitely the most unusual in Chicago Marathon history.
Cheruiyot was held overnight for observation. I prayed that the $125,000 he collected for the men’s first prize eased his headache just a little. He did make national news after all; it isn’t everyday that you see a finish like Cheruiyot’s.
Jimmy Muindi, 33, of Kenya, was in contention for this year’s title until the final miles. Muindi according to the Chicago Tribune said the wind made it impossible to dip into the 2:06’s. “It was terrible,” he said. “I wanted to make a powerful move at 30 kilometers, but the wind would not let me. I would just mess myself up.” Muindi ran 2 hours 7 minutes 51 seconds and finished third behind Kenyan Daniel Njenga who crossed the finish line 5 seconds after the winner. This was Njenga’s fifth consecutive top-three finish. Both men had hoped to finish first.
Also big news in Chicago was San Francisco native Dean Karnaze’s completion of his 36th marathon in 36 DAYS. Wow, the obvious question is why any one would want to run 36 marathons in 36 days. But Karnaze had 14 runs left to finish his goal of 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. Known to runners all over the world as the Ultra Marathon Man, Karnazes would eventually complete his task by finishing his 50th race in 50 days at the New York City Marathon. I just love this guy. Why not set a goal that perhaps no one else in the world could accomplish even if they wanted to, but Dean’s goals are pure. He runs for many reasons, some are personal, but mostly he runs for awareness. His non-profit organization Karno Kid’s mission is two-fold. First Dean and his kids want to support, encourage, and motivate fellow youth to get outside and become physically active. Secondly, they want to restore and preserve the environment for future generations, (you can read more about this wonderfully fit human being at Ultamarathon Man Dean Karnaze). It is people like Karnaze who inspire and make you want to go out and do it all over again. I for one however, am extremely happy that my next marathon is in good ole sunny Florida.
One more race chillingly, but completely, completed.