Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Part 2: Chicago Marathon 2010

Continued from Part 1.

The Start Line

The San Antonio Marathon, with 25,000 or so entrants, is not a small race. That being said, it doesn’t hold a candle to Chicago and it’s 40,000+ field. The race officially accepts 45,000 entries. About 40,000 of those made it to the start in 2010. Those extra 5,000 drop out for various reasons: injury, change of plans, lack of training, or, as I began to suspect, inability to find their start corral. With the masses milling around Grant Park, the start line was nowhere in sight when we stepped out of our cab. (Given our distinctly “non-Elite” status, it would remain out of site until about 20 minutes into the race.)

With Dad heading for the WC, I commenced to actually try to FIND the 4:45 pace group. Getting to the right place involved ducking under the arms of some inexplicably daisy-chained volunteers chanting “Red Rover”, tripping on someone’s sweatshirt, and trying to convince myself that it was just spilled Gatorade I saw on the ground.

I wasn’t the only one lost. Shortly after finding a good spot–along the fence, next to a crowd of jovial Brazilians—I was ambushed by about 45 other runners who decided that where I was standing was THE place to jump the fence and get into the start corral. I must say, watching people in skin-hugging spandex straddle chain-link is more cringe-inducing than you would think. I divided my time between scanning the crowd for Dad and holding my breath for random fence jumpers’…uhh…sensitive areas…

Around 7:27, 3 minutes before race time, it occurred to me that I might not actually find Dad in this craziness. I tried to squelch my startline nerves enough to come up with an action plan that would result in catching him sometime in the first mile or two. This went about as well as trying to come up with something intelligent to say when you bump into a celebrity on the street.

With 30 seconds to go, I was planless and partnerless. That was when I heard someone call my name. By some minor marathon miracle, Dad had seen me just as the gun went off. I started working my way back through the crowd, which was not unlike trying to get to the front row at the ACL main stage. Why more rock stars don’t quit the business due to fear of death by trampling is beyond me.

Once we were moving forward again, the time it took us to get from our start corral to the actual start line (somewhere around 17 minutes) convinced me that the Rock ‘n Roll races are completely misguided with their “waves” that go off every 2 minutes. Granted, it sure does seem like letting 40,000 people all start at once would be asking for trouble, but a race the size of Chicago must engender a sort of race-etiquette awareness that other races don’t share. We didn’t have to climb over any of those people who inevitably and mysteriously think it will take them less than 5 hours to walk an entire marathon, and therefore line up about 10,000 people forward of where they should be. Or maybe those people were there, but they were so terrified by the crowd swell behind them that they knew it was a run-or-die situation.

The Great Garmin Treason

Something many visitors to Chicago don’t anticipate is the propensity of city designers to run roads directly underneath other roads rather than mess with a traffic-snaring intersection. With Columbus Drive, on which the marathon starts, they actually built a triple-decker road. Now I suppose I should be understanding, as I’m sure it’s hard to get a satellite signal from the Chicago sewers, but having Garmin give up the ghost less than 3 minutes into the marathon did not put me in the best of moods.

“Lost satellite reception,” he bleeped.

No, no. Not possible. No. You did not already abandon me to guess at my mile splits.

Perhaps sensing my rage, Dad’s Garmin didn’t bleep at us. Instead, it decided to announce that we were running somewhere around a 7:00-minute pace. Perhaps it thought flattery would win the day?

“Okay,” I thought. “This will be okay. Garmin will rejoin us when we get out of this tunnel. The actual distance will be off, but it shouldn’t take too long for the pace to even out.” After all, it just needs to gather a few data points to recalculate your speed, right?


By mile 2, Garmin did start giving me pace numbers I liked a little better, in the 10:28 range, but it also started taking some alarming liberties with national and international standards of measurement. In fact, it ticked off so many “laps” in the first 3 miles that I started to wonder if it had switched to kilometers. I felt completely lost. How could it abandon me now? Now, after so many months of training? Now, after depending on it to know exactly how far and how fast I ran for ever run of the last 5 months? How could this $370 wrist ornament be such a complete piece of sh*t?

How Garmin Saw Our First 4 Miles

As we approached mile 4, I decided to take a deep breath and give Garmin one last chance. I would reset him, and just pretend this was a new-fangled 22.2 mile marathon. Alas, he never gave up on his belief that a mile is somewhere in the realm of 4,500 feet. All I could do was look at the average pace he was reporting and pray that it was somehow, magically, still valid.

Garmin’s Time Data for Our First 4. (Note how many times I approached the fabled 2-minute mile pace!)

Fan Support

Shortly after the 4-mile marker, my reverie on the failings of GPS technology was disrupted by screaming and cowbells. Not that there hadn’t been lots of that before, but this time it was particularly loud. The entire Handsome J clan, plus Mom, were lined up in the middle of the street holding an array of signs and a large Scottish flag. (So that’s what it looked like. Pre-race, I had asked Handsome J how we would find them. Handsome J: “We’ll be holding the Scottish flag.” Me: “Uhhh…”)

Fan Support! (Faces blurred to protect the innocent from the paparazzi that frequent this blog.)

It was incredibly invigorating to see so many friendly faces cheering us on. I felt like I could run for hours when we passed by them. (Which was a good thing, given we were at, uhh, mile 4.)

Miles 5 and 6 went by pretty uneventfully. We hit a bit of a traffic jam as we were onto the narrow streets of Lincoln Park, and I quietly cursed the organizers for setting up a water stop right as the street went from 6 lanes to 4, but it wasn’t long before Dad and I had worked out a system of announcing what, if anything, we’d be taking at any given water stop. I had my first Gatorade around 5 miles, at which point I silently thanked the running gods that it wasn’t Cytomax or Nuun or any of the other hot new energy drinks that taste watered-down Robitussin. Sometimes, the first guys on the scene get it right.

My other memories of this early part of the marathon include the first appearance of Canada man—who ran the whole race in a Dr. Suess-style maple leaf hat and kept loudly yelling that it was Melissa’s birthday. I also recall a picturesque scene of little helicopter tree seeds whirling down on the passing runners. I’m not exaggerating on the picturesque bit. The girl behind me audibly lamented the fact that she hadn’t brought her camera with her. (You know you’re slow when…)

Canada Man!


To be continued…

One comment on “Part 2: Chicago Marathon 2010

  1. Emily
    November 16, 2010

    so my garmin didn't betray me until mile 20, when it decided to just up and DIE. however, after my stomach troubles earlier in the race, it was already clear it would not matter how fast i ran the next 6.2 miles. I feel your pain on the betrayal though. all summer there are no problems and then you decide you can't handle one more stupid race???

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2010 by in Chicago, marathon, races.
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