Chicago Marathon: Defending Slow, Fat, Poorly Trained Runners

Posted by Filed Under: News and Opinion

By now, most of us have heard about the terrible heat and humidity that lead to the closure of the Chicago Marathon only three hours, thirty minutes into the race.

Chicago Marathon organizers say they were prepared for the heat and had plenty of water on the course, but marathoners say something completely different – that there wasn’t nearly enough water. Many runners have said some of the first water stations were dry very early on in the race.

While watching the Chicago Marathon organizers and media spin their spin, I’ve become compelled to speak out against what I think is a grossly inappropriate attack on the majority of people who took part in that marathon and, for that matter, all marathons.

I’m angry and disheartened to see attention being deflected away from the real issue – poor race organization – by suggesting that the runners were unprepared, poorly trained (even fat and out of shape), and had no business lacing up their shoes in the first place.

In one article I refuse to link to, runners were told they have no one to blame but themselves – that they should not have run the marathon.

And in another post the Chicago Tribune draws a line in the sand at the three hour, thirty minute mark – the point in time when the race was officially ended. In the article, it is implied that those who had not crossed the finish line by 3:30 did not do so because they did not respect the distance, were ill-prepared, ill-trained or simply too out of shape to be on the course.

And with those posts, and others like them, 90% of marathoners are being flamed all around the web.

According to Running USA marathon statistics, 90% of marathon finishing times are slower than 3:30. The statistic is based on hundreds of marathons – most with much cooler temperatures than Chicago’s 2007 marathon. If you combine that statistic with what was said in the Tribune article, the message you get is that nine out of ten people have no business running marathons.

Every time I read about garbage like this – garbage that tears down people doing something about their fitness, improving their lives and challenging their spirits – it makes me madder than spit.

The article and comments were ignorant. Ignorant of the time it takes most runners to finish a marathon, ignorant of the training, preparation and motivation those runners put into their races, and ignorant of the guts and determination slower runners must possess to finish a marathon.

To assume a runner does not “respect the distance” or is not qualified to run it based solely on an arbitrary finishing time is ludicrous. To assume the same thing at a race with soaring temperatures and inadequate water supply is even worse.

I know this from first-hand experience. In 2002, I ran the Edmonton marathon in 90 degree temperatures and I know for a fact that I would have never finished that marathon without having adequate water – water that should have been and WAS supplied by the event I was at.

I was well trained, was prepared for the distance and finished strongly in four hours, thirty minutes. It wasn’t pretty but I did it and, to this day, it is still one of my proudest achievements – even alongside the 3:30 PR I set just last month.

But what is more impressive than what I did was that hundreds of runners finished up to two hours after me – in 90 degree heat. I think if they were given a chance, and had been provided with adequate water, the Chicago Marathoners would have done the same.

So, to you people doing the criticizing I say: Please don’t make the mistake of believing 90% of marathoners are not prepared to run a marathon. They are. Most of them spend several months to a year training for their event. How much determination and training do you think it takes to be on your feet for six hours in 90 degree heat? Do you think someone who can accomplish such a feat deserves to be ridiculed and berated for attempting something 99.9% of the population will never do in their lifetime? Do you really think it was their fault there wasn’t enough water?

Marathoners generally don’t make it a habit to blame organizers for poor results or DNFs (did not finish). But, when mistakes like the ones in Chicago are made, they want organizers to own up to them and promise to do better next time. After all, if the front runners didn’t get enough water, you can bet they would have complained. You can also bet no one would have criticized them for doing so!

And so I ask the organizers: Did the people running in your marathon get their money’s worth? Did the millions of dollars you collected in entrant fees benefit the runners who funded your event?

What would you do if all those runners said they didn’t get their moneys worth and demanded a refund?

Finally, I say to the 90%: Keep the faith. Keep improving and challenging your body and spirit. You’ve worked hard and no one – no matter how cynical and negative – can take that away from you.

Keep on running.

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. Chicago Marathon: Runners Share Their Side of the Story » Complete Running Network on October 15th at 6:01 am

    […] on Chicago Marathon: Defending Slow, Fat, Poorly Trained Runners: I hadn’t read much press other than the fact it was called off early, but that is ridiculous to […]

  2. Brian on October 17th at 11:09 am

    Mark, You nailed it!
    It was my first marathon, and at age 46 I trained through injuries and sickness. I was a Charity Runner and raised money for ACS. Huge amounts of money was raised by runners supporting dozens of charities. For many it was more than a sporting event, it was a LIFE EVENT. I am not bitter, angry, or sad, it was a great experience and I will do it again. Those who speak negatively are ignorant and narrow minded. The race was a success for many on so many levels. I can’t wait until next year. Last but not least… Thank you to all those who lined the streets encouraging the runners!

    Brian – North Carolina

  3. jeff miller on October 22nd at 8:39 pm

    i am a fat guy; i finished the “chicago fun run” despite the heat, lack of water and advise from chili dog eating chicago police persons. many of the “monday morning quarterbacks” are just that…never done it, never will…but they can still critisize and critique. we run because we want to, love to, or in my case – for lasagna. we run because we choose to run regardless of our size, or speed. NO ONE CAN EVER CRITISIZE MY PACE, MY SHAPE, MY ABILITY UNTIL THEY FINISH THE SAME EVENT IN FRONT OF ME!

  4. my chicago marathon experience on June 4th at 10:06 pm

    […] strong but was … I am not bitter, angry, or sad, it was a great experience and I will do it ……Bank of America Chicago Marathon Gain Inspiration … dream became a reality and my goal was […]