Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is the Chicago Marathon debacle a positive for the sport?

Greetings from China once again. It’s already Thursday early morning here. I had a brutally long journey back to Chengdu (another marathon, you could say) and a full workday yesterday.

I left Chicago quickly on Monday morning and have missed out on the exciting press coverage and the passionate commentary on the aftermath of the race. I finally got a chance peruse some of the editorials and printed comments from people in the Tribune, Detroit Free Press and others on the web.

Some people bashed runners for being so stupid to run in the heat, others have condemned race organizers for lack of preparation, even some more criticized various newspaper columnists for writing opinions that conflicted with their own.

If nothing else, there is a huge amount of interest marathon running now. And I see this as a good thing. I don’t want to underestimate how terribly tragic the loss of a runner was on Sunday. However, while it may be an unpopular view, the Chicago Marathon debacle may have inadvertently raised the profile of the sport.

Why? People know how difficult it is now more than ever. The press coverage has been one massive free commercial for marathon organizers all over the world. This will attract many more newcomers who are goal-setters, challenge-seekers, and those who realize the positive personal impact of achieving such an audacious feat. If it were easy, none of us would do it. And the glory of finishing a difficult marathon, especially in warmer conditions, just became greater.

There will be a Chicago Marathon in 2008. And I’m willing to bet they will sell out the 45,000 entries even faster than they did this year.
I’m not going to give the blow-by-blow detail of my race on Sunday, because frankly it wasn’t that interesting. I used probably seven times the amount of water I normally would (sorry to the other later runners) and slowed it down to walk some on-and-off on the back half.

Minutes after the race, I rested underneath a tree just outside the finishing area. I borrowed a fellow runner’s cell phone to call my wife so we could meet up.

Strangely enough, this guy looked fresh and unfazed by the hot conditions. I commented how these were the most difficult marathon conditions for me out of nine. He said it wasn’t difficult for him, since he cut out after the half point. Apparently, he knew he wasn’t going to make his goal, which was 2:50, so he dropped out.

This made me think. My instinct going into 9 marathons this point has been to (a) run a smart race as fast as possible, and (b) finish, no matter how difficult. Now that I am experienced and high expectations of time, should I start to think differently like this guy did? It’s not about finishing for me anymore. It’s about time for me now.

I realize Sunday’s conditions were quite rare so hopefully a decision on an intentional DNF wouldn’t come up too often in a marathon. But this guy knew he wouldn’t reach his goal at the half, and he knew his body would get beat up trying the second half, so he cut it short. Now, he can make the decision to enter another marathon this weekend or next if he wanted to. Maybe I should have thought about that up front? I would be ready to run the Grand Rapids marathon no problem on Oct 28th.
I am still contemplating my next move. I am fairly disappointed that I did not capitalize on my fitness and run a fast marathon. Here is the list of marathons I am eyeing up.

Huntsville, AL – Dec 8, 2007
Jacksonville – Dec 16, 2007
Phoenix – Jan 13, 2008
Miami – Jan 27, 2008
Austin – Feb 17, 2008
Ft Lauderdale – Feb 17, 2008
Myrtle Beach – Feb 17, 2008
New Orleans – Feb 24, 2008
Virginia Beach – March 16, 2008

I am qualified for Boston 2008 from last year’s Chicago time, but something doesn’t seem “right” about using the same race result twice.


Garou said...

I think, in the long run, it may well be a net gain for the sport. My biggest concern, however, is how the RD and other officials seem to be sticking to the "No, we didn't have any problems" line. Failure to acknowledge mistakes is the first step on failing to learn from them.

I would like to know why they waited so long to turn on hydrants, why all the misting stations, ice and sponges were placed in the final stages of the course, why the extra assistance seemed be to so hastily thrown together, despite months of planning time and almost a full week of warning.

I bailed after 14, unsure if I would make it to the first mister. I wish there had been one earlier - I have never, until Sunday, failed to finish any race I have started.

jen said...

I think you would have regretted the DNF. Is it really just about time? I hope I never lose the desire to finish just because of my projected finish time. Dropping out due to injury or conditions - that's different. Every marathon is a journey and you never know what can happen. I feel like I am signing up for a 26.2 mile experience and I know there is no guarantee of how it will turn out. If I only finished "good" races my name would be missing from a lot of results listings. Dissapointment is part of being a runner, and it is what makes a "good" race "good." You can't have one without the other.

Anyway, you did awesome, and will get that sub 3 someday soon. Your time in those conditions clearly shows that. :) Have a safe trip!

Jim said...

I agree with you the a DNF would have been ok under those conditions. Normally I would NEVER want to quit a race but these conditions rarely happen and after putting in all the work why put your body through that experience when you can cut it short and go after the goal you have been training for a few weeks later. Now that you have finished it you will have some good war stories in a few years and I am sure you will get your sub 3 in time.

yumke said...

You make a choice based on logic but on race day you make one based on emotion. Nice to see you're eyeing another one so quickly.

I too agree that having people pay attention to marathons is a good thing. But one think I don't like is the assumption that some commentators have asserted, that marathoners are a foolish bunch who risk their lives. I guess such writers haven't looked at a 16 to 24 week training program (and the base it took us to start contemplating long distances)....

Bob said...

Funny I thought you were going to come from a completly different angle on that one. Not sure marathoning can get any more popular then it already is. It's a fringe sport so to speak but it has really seen an up tick in the last few years.
You are likely right though Chicago will likely sell out faster then ever next year.

Ryan you are a very acomplished runner but someone that I have never looked at as someone that perseverated on time. You understand that it is the journey and the joy of finishing that complete the experience. Try not to lose that, run fast but hold on to that part of it.
I am very good friend that was an high level runner back in his 20's. Completed 9 Marathons under 3 hours PR of around 2:30. His last was Boston and he stepped across the line slower then he had hoped for and said to himself "why did I just do that?" Like I said he never ran another. When it's all about time it becomes hollow very quickly I think.
You earned Boston, if you want to run it run it on last years time, that is within the rules.

Firefly's Running said...

Go for Phoenix. You will love it (and they will have PLENTY of water too)! I would also shoot for Boston as well. GO FOR IT!

Theoutofshapeguy said...

How did i already know that you used all my water, thanks buddy!

Have a safe trip

adidas San Francisco Urban Run said...

Consider the Napa Marathon on March 2nd 2008!

Steve said...

If you would have borrowed a phone from me, I thought you would have been talking about me. ;-)

For me, the allure of the marathon is a matter of will; and the challenge always is "Can I endure”? With each cycle of training and each marathon I progressively redefine the bar. At first, it was to finish…then it was to finish faster. For me, to not raise the bar each time would be to become complacent with personal mediocrity. To give anything less than the best is to sacrifice the gift.

On one hand, I am disappointed I stopped at the 30k mark. That is just the competitor in me…if I wasn’t I would be asking myself why not? But on the other hand it is a testament to my maturing as a ‘crazy marathon runner’ to realize that at this year’s Chicago the deck was stacked against me. I will live to race another day.

Like anything in life, we have to live with our decisions. Did I fail? Absolutely not. Did I succeed? Absolutely not. I just turned the day into a training run and postponed the ‘test’ to another day. Again, I will live to race another day. And most of all, I was not going to let a ridiculously and unseasonably hot Chicago day deter me from defining myself.

My current goal is to run a sub 2:55 marathon. I had hoped it would be Chicago, but it will just have to wait. Learning the lesson of patience and the importance of 'listening to my body' was worth lining up at the start and enduring the conditions for 18+ miles. I will live to race another day.

So what is your goal?

Darrell said...

I think I'm more of a B guy. I go into each marathon with the goal of crossing the finish line no matter what. Although I would like to BQ, for some reason I've put that goal on the back burner for now. Stopping my race when a time goal is out of reach seems too much like admitting defeat. Tough call I guess. If you decide on Rocket City, maybe I'll see you there. The conditions in AL in December have got to be better.