If it wasn't bad enough that I didn't feel adequately prepared for Chicago, you can imagine my dismay when I realized that the weather reports were accurate, and that I would in fact be attempting to run the marathon in sweltering, humid, city heat. I'm happy to say, though, after all of my fretting I ran remarkably well. I don't know if it was luck, divine intervention, or a fluke, or what. But unlike so many others, I didn't succumb to the heat, and I was able to post a 3:35:35 finish. This put me at 36th in my age group, 235 for gender and 1369 overall. Those numbers seem unreal to me--and speak to the number of people who didn't start, dropped out, or plain weren't able to survive the heat they way I was magically able to. I'd like to say that the numbers means I really was the 36th best female runner in my age group to run the Chicago Marathon this year. But we know that isn't true. I was the 36th best at surviving the heat, however. Compare those numbers to Boston, at which I ran a 3:31:43--five minutes faster than I did on Sunday--and at which I placed 802 in my division, 956 for gender and 5925 overall. I know that Boston draws a more competitive field than Chicago, but still, the difference is staggering.
Here's the gist of the race:
The heat was so bad they canceled the race at 4 hours and forced everyone still on the course to walk to the end. People at the 1/2 way point at 4 hours were bused back to the start. There was no water at the stops early in the course after the first waves of runners came through. I was lucky enough to never have any problem getting water or Gatorade. I guess this was part of the privilege of starting in Corral B and running relatively well. By the end of the day, 300 people went to the hospital--one died, 5, as of Sunday night, were still in critical condition.
The heat was like the air out of an oven -- emanating off bodies, the pavement, the sides of buildings. It was still and hot--75 at the start, 91 (according to a Bank sign) when I hit mile 16 at about 10:15 a.m. People were collapsing, throwing up. It was scary. There were people who were supposed to lead pacing groups who couldn't keep the pace they were supposed to run. I finished with one of the men who was supposed to pace a 3:20 group. Toward the end, with roughly five miles to go, I looked around me and estimated that about 80% of the people around me were walking--and these were people with bibs from corral A, Elites, people with pace markers stating they had clearly hoped to run 3:00 or 3:10. It was honestly like a death march. Runners were silent--.
Ange ran ahead of me most of the way and I found her with about 5K to go. She looked at me and said, "Mary Bancroft, help me through this!" Her last name is Bancroft. She was definitely out of it! I knew she was really hurting, but she's so tough. She stayed with me and kept running, despite the fact that everyone around us was walking. I wanted to try to talk her through it, but I was focusing so hard myself on continuing, that I just couldn't talk. With a mile to go she slowed at a water stop and waved me on. I picked up my pace a little, so eager to finish the race and be done with it. I finished about a minute ahead of her, and then waited for her to cross the line. When she finished she was weaving a little and so hot to the touch--I was sure she had the beginnings of heat stroke. We walked to the medical tent, and though she entered, they wouldn't even treat her! Apparently she wasn't bad enough and the tent was full. They gave her ice and had her sit down. They wouldn't allow me in to be with her, so I went to get her husband to tell her where she was.
Andy had been hoping to run between 2:50 and 2:55, but like so many others, he melted a little more than half way through the race. By mile 15 he succumbed to walking. He walked/ran to the end, finished the race, and crawled under a Gatorade table, which in his delirium was the only place he could find that was shaded. They basically hauled him to the medical tent where they proceeded to drain his toes of blood blisters and water. Apparently he, too, was not bad enough to receive care for heat exhaustion. Talk about a crisis situation!
I broke a sweat within the first quarter mile of starting. We entered a tunnel almost immediately, which was so hot and still and smelly, I wasn't sure I could stand it and it was only 5 minutes into the race! Anyway, I started out, as planned, at 8 min pace and held on until about mile 8 or so. At that point I didn't really feel the heat so much as I just generally felt tired. I knew this meant it wasn't going to be a great race for me. Usually in a marathon you don't feel tired until at least the halfway point. Mile 8 should still feel like you're floating on air! I slowed down to 8:15's and walked the water stops--taking a Gatorade and 2 waters at each one and then dumping one water over my head. People like me are the reason they ran out of water at the stops. I feel bad about that. When I passed Melissa C at about mile 15 or so I knew something was really wrong. Melissa looked like she was just exhausted--and that's not the Melissa I know--the one who definitely is capable of a 3:15. I began to notice that many people around me were dropping out, walking, cramping... By mile 20 I still felt surprisingly okay. I began to feel like I would finish, and I probably wouldn't totally fall apart. I did slow down, but I didn't have to walk, and I didn't think I showed real signs of major dehydration. I, did, however, began to feel like I was watching a movie in which I wasn't really a part. Sure, I was running, but I felt okay, and everyone around me was completely falling apart. It was a little horrifying. At mile 23 I found Ange, and the rest is history.
The whole thing was bizarre--almost surreal in retrospect. I still don't know why I was okay when others weren't. All I can think of is that I took it out conservatively and I am smaller than most everyone so I don't require as much fluid to stay alive.
I wish that my successful race despite the heat means I can go a lot faster--but I'm actually not sure that's that what it means. I DO think I can go under 3:30, but I think I need a lot more training before I can go much faster than that.
And that's the story!