I Skipped the Chicago Marathon

Oh! The pain in my arms!
Oh! The pain in my legs!
Oh, my shiftless body. *


So you may have heard that Chicago held its annual marathon on Sunday, October 9, on what everyone assumed would be a crisp, cool autumn day.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions.

On that 90-degree Sunday, I was at a neighbor’s backyard party, enjoying some tasty mozzarella sticks and sweating profusely into the crudité dip. Someone mentioned the marathon, and we all shook our heads in disbelief and sympathy. Who could/would run on a day like this? People must be dropping like flies.

That was an understatement. At least 300 people were taken to the hospital with serious heat-related conditions; several hundred more were ambulanced away with lesser problems. And a thirty-one-year-old man died. He had a heart condition that may have been responsible but almost certainly was aggravated by the conditions. For the first time in the history of the marathon, the race was cut short after 3 1/2 hours.

I found an interesting article on chicagotribune.com: “Nobody Forced Anyone to Run” by Mike Downey. Basically, Downey says most of the participants were idiots to even set out that day, much less continue once it was apparent that they were probably going to drop like the aforementioned flies:

If you are foolhardly enough to run a marathon when the temperature outdoors is up to 88 degrees, then it is your fault, no one else’s.

Nearly 10,000 of the people who filed entries for this 30th annual race were smart enough not to run it.

I’m not much of a runner myself. OK, I’m not a runner at all. I have run. I know how to run. There was that time a bus came barrelling down the street, headed right for me, and I was able to break into a weak trot to save my life, but the thought of running any distance in hot weather . . .

. . .

Sorry, I passed out a little there.

But for many people, this long-distance running thing is enjoyable, a challenge, perhaps even a triumph over past illness or injury. And marathons, even under ideal circumstances, are HARD (I’m guessing), and those who choose to run them, for the most part, are prepared for that. That’s not to say they were prepared for the conditions of this particular October day, but I can kind of understand how hard it might have been to wake up that morning and say, after all the training and anticipation, “Eh, too hot. Bag it.”

Remember the movie Chariots of Fire? It was about two British runners competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics. The story dealt less with winning than with the joy of running. One of the characters, a Scottish missionary, says

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

Now, people, I love that last line. Lest I incur anyone’s wrath, let’s put aside the God issue and just assume there’s a higher power out there. Haven’t there been times in your life when you “feel His pleasure,” even if by “His” you mean something, someone, anything that’s beyond your little center of existence?

(I know I wouldn’t feel God’s pleasure if I started running. He’d be all, “JD, I made thee for a purpose, and it ain’t running. I also endowed thee with a bunion and weak ankle ligaments, so stop running lest ye incur my wrath.”)

But I know God—or whoever—has been pleased with me at times. I’ve felt it. And I bet a lot of those marathon runners felt it too, even as they were passing out from heat exhaustion.

If you want to run a marathon:

Don’t look at me. What did God just say about my bunion? Be careful, get good shoes, train, make sure you’re in decent physical shape.

And, if it’s really hot, take Mike Downey’s advice:

Stop running. It’s just a race. Don’t die for it.

* Today’s lyrics are courtesy of Morrissey.