Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chicago Marathon...My Perspective

I have yet to post any of my thoughts on the Chicago Marathon fiasco because I really wanted to read some of the stories, blog comments, etc...before I spouted off, but I have grown more and more upset over the past few days, so I think it's time to share a few thoughts.

I was not in Chicago for the marathon, so I was not able to experience the events first-hand (I was, though, supposed to be in Chicago for a certain un-named baseball team's playoff game scheduled for that day...but they never got that far...sigh...). My thoughts come from what I have heard, read, seen...and from my experience as a race director.

Let me say, as someone who has been a race director for most of the past decade, I am EXTREMELY offended by the comments of race officials, LaSalle Bank officials, and columnists and editorial writers of the Chicago Tribune who basically have blamed the runners for the meltdown on Sunday. They have given various excuses, including: A) runner's created "logjams" at water stops (well,...duh?); B) runners took too many waters for drinking, dumping over their heads, etc...; C) mid to back-of-the-pack runners were too fat, were not in good enough shape, or should have had the sense to get off the course.

I do not know Race Director Carey Pinkowski. I do, though, know several people who know him very well, and they speak of him very highly. Because of that, and what he has done to make this marathon one of the top five in the world, I have had a great deal of respect and admiration for him.

That being said, his public relations skills seem to be incredibly poor. Public Relations 101 says that you offer up the mea culpa on the heals of something like this. Say we screwed up. Say we underestimated the impact the weather would have on water stops. Say that race officials should have been better prepared.

BUT DON'T SAY: "Is there anything we could have done better? No...I'm very proud of the way things went."

I am sure Mr. Pinkowski is a very fine fellow, and I am sure this race will recover just fine, but his reaction to this year's race, as portrayed through the media, seems way off base.

As a race director, I AM ASHAMED of the way things went and I am just an observer who has nothing to do with organizing this race.

Runners are a very forgiving lot...but you gotta ask for the forgiveness!!!!!

Another thing that really torques me is that I read today that race officials have already concluded an "investigation" into Sunday's race and have determined they did all they could.

That is just BS!

This is a multi, multi million dollar race owned by one of the largest banks in the country (Bank of America now owns LaSalle). They should bring in an outside auditing firm. Thoroughly interview race and city officials, volunteers, runners, spectators, etc....then publicly release the results. Don't tell anyone you did your own "investigation" and it is done three days after the race!

One thing I have learned over the past few years: in today's technology age of blogs, the Internet, camera phones, text messaging, and can't hide anything. If you say that the water stops were adequately stocked, well guess what, I have news for ya...thousands of runners are telling you different and they have the video to prove it. Just go to YouTube and search for the 2007 Chicago Marathon. There are plenty of videos of the confusion.

I think there are plenty of things that need to be vigorously reviewed in light of this disaster (things we will review and implement with our very own Lincoln Memorial race committee for that matter). Doing a better job informing participants of race instructions and contingency plans; having rock solid communications with your volunteers on the course; having adequate supplies, etc...

And, yes, I think all runners need to educate themselves on what their fitness level is and how they recognize signs that they are in trouble. I think charity training groups such as Team in Training (and even groups like the Half Wits and Abe's Army) also bear a huge responsibility. These groups need to educate their charges on an wide-range of topics related to long-distance running. These are groups that have contributed to the surge of participants in these events and they also need to review how they do things.

A huge shout-out needs to go to the spectators and supporters along the route who kept runners going. I read accounts of people buying water and sports drink on their own and handing it out to runners; of people bringing out dozens of bags of ice; of people turning on their sprinklers to cool runners. I believe people are inherently good in nature...and these people prove me right.

I guess in conclusion, I would just apologize to all who participated in the 2007 Chicago Marathon. As a race director, I don't think this should ever happen...but when it does happen, runners should expect a heart-felt apology from those in charge!

Let's hear what y'all think...


Anonymous said...

You've said it all. Thank you.

And even with the disaster in front of us - runners STILL ran by and encouraged one another. A simple thing I even teach to my girls in Girls on the Run - yes this is a competition - but we are all running our own race and appreciate all the support wherever we find it.

I, too, was offended at being BLAMED for being slow - or for taking TWO cups of water (water I had to find a cup and get filled myself), and for them saying there was enough water. It made me even question my own abilities and strength - but WAIT - I DID TRAIN FOR THIS!

But - we learn and move on down the road. Will I do Chicago again? I don't know. I love the city, the entire experience. Last year was so very cool and I was looking to prove to myself that I was even stronger and better prepared for this year. But I feel cheated. Not every race is going to be everything we want. But every race should have enough water.


Emily K said...

WOW Tim!!! This doesn't happen often, but I am speechless!!! That was so well said and SO POWERFUL!! I don't think I blinked once reading your blog!!!


Anonymous said...

okay - I shouldn't have read the article about the FAT runners - (the slower you are the bigger you are...) now I'm seething mad.

I'm not going to recap it here. You have to read it for yourself.

To all of us who just don't quite make the 6-8 minute per mile pace - don't let this guy tell us we don't belong on the road. Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhhh!!!!


debi m said...

Once again, you have said very elequently what most of us are feeling, but don't have the words to express. That is why the Springfield running comunity is lucky to have a dedicated, knowledgeable and committed runner and race director such as yourself. I agree with you that I don't think the events of Sunday will hurt next year's marathon. It is just sad that the "disaster" such as it was is now being blamed on the very individuals that make the Chicago marathon the success that it is-- the dedicated runners.

Anonymous said...

OMG Mary! I am so furious!!!! I will not be able to sleep tonight! I posted a comment on his article. If anyone is interested, please click on Tim's highlighted area in regards to the "mid to back of the pack", and read this guy's article! Then read my comment and add on to it. (For some reason they put me from Buffalo, IL) Someone that agrees with him will probably fire back on me~~ but who cares!!! This guy is an ASSHOLE!!!


Jeremy said...

I read through some of the articles yesterday. I couldn't believe it either. I found one poster who said they didn't think the aid station captains were anywhere near the water stop when it was chaotic and they didn't think the captain even knew what was going on.

I found a good article on CRN (Complete Running Network).

Defending Slow Runners

I think a majority of the running community is really coming out in support of the participants.

Anonymous said...

I love the Defending Slow Runners article. I was so irritated when I read the articles Tim listed. It is just mean spirited to degrade someones efforts when they are putting their best foot forward. How sad that in order not to accept blame the organizers would blame the runners. I was in Chicago watching and you were each putting in a great effort. Congrats to all of you who participated in the race, and in the training that it took to get there. My hat is off to you and I am proud of the heart that you all showed during one tough run. Lori

Anonymous said...

On behalf of all us - veterans and rookies alike: thank you. And now that my blood pressure is down - I'm off to drag my penguin self around the park a time or two!


Anonymous said...

Nicely vented Tim. Of course PR 101 has not been followed, but I can see how it's gonna be a no win situation for the organizers-they're gonna take the -no pun intended-heat for this no matter what.

Is an apology in order-absolutely!
Did the runners all sign the entrance form? absolutely.

Did the organizers hold up their end of the "deal"? hmmmmm

I'm not sure everything really is black & white on this, and unfortunately-as you have said-the "investigation" has been done.

I'm sure some class action suits will keep this topic fresh for a good while.

Anonymous said...

I want one!!!!

Anonymous said...

They are allowing 5000 more runners to register for the Indy Classic Marathon on November 3, 2007. I think I'm going to try it.


Anonymous said...

Marathon Discounts....

Denver is offering free entry for this Sunday. Iowa is offering $15 off for October 21st. Rock and Roll in Phoenix is offering a discount, too (January I believe).

I could resist - I ordered the shirt!

Tim said...

When other races are offering discounts due to problems with your own race...and people are printing t-shirts making light of the situation, you should know something was screwed up! But I guess they don't realize that is the case.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've been on pain killers since Wednesday morning because of my sinus surgery. I've been out of it and I don't know what you guys are talking about with the t-shirts. What t-shirt is on sale? Is there one for "I survived Chicago Marathon O7" or something like that? I will buy it!

Pamela in pain

Anonymous said...

Does anyone want to combine shipping on the shirt?

Holly said...

Did everyone get the letter/email from Carey Pinkowski? Let me know if you need a copy.

Aaron said...

I still haven't forgotten the pain of my first (and only marathon) but the Great Chicago "Fun Run" of 2007 has permanently eliminated Chicago from my list of marathons I might run when I feel up to it. I was always more of a St. Louis guy myself anyway.

Tim said...

Hey Holly:

Can you forward the Pinkowski e-mail to me?


Chuck B. said...

I found a copy posted via google:
Is this it?


Dear Runners,

For 17 years I have been honored to serve as Executive Race Director of The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, a race steeped in a 30-year tradition of providing the ultimate marathon experience for runners.

The record high temperatures and humidity at Sunday’s race made for a challenging day for marathoners. The conditions on Sunday presented me with the single most difficult decision I have ever made as race director. While that was a frustration to many, I stand behind the decision to end the race early– it was a necessary safety measure. However, I also recognize that because of the conditions and my decision, many of our runners did not have the experience they trained for and expected.

As an organization dedicated to providing the very best experience in the industry, the results have left us disappointed as well. Our team has spent the last several days reviewing the details and we are listening to runners, staff and volunteers. Rest assured that we take the day’s events - and your comments - seriously.

We are reviewing all details and feedback as we plan to continue the tradition of our race in 2008 and beyond. Offering the best experience possible to runners always has been our priority and it remains a commitment of the highest importance.

My personal gratitude goes to each of you, as well as to staff and volunteers, for participating in the race this year. I share in your disappointment, if you did not have the experience you expected.

I certainly hope to be able to greet you at our finish line in the years ahead, in the grand fashion that has characterized The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon for so many years.


Carey Pinkowski

Executive Race Director

Tim said...

Again, I don't know Carey Pinkowski but from what I have heard he seems like a very good man.

Still...I don't see an apology in his message.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I get the feeling most people are just looking for an apology.

He says the race organizers are also disappointed. He says they are taking comments seriously. He says their "tradition" will continue.

What it does not say is: "We are sorry. We'll use your comments and suggestions and learn from the failures this year. We promise things will be better in future years."

In situations like this, it is easy for people to have a "bunker mentality". That's exactly what I see has happened here. They've hunkered down.

Oh well...

Anonymous said...

Sure, Pinkowski could have been a bit more sensitive, but what's he supposed to apologize for? running out of water in certain spots? Perhaps. The weather?

Anonymous said...

He could have appologized for faulting the runners for the catastrophe. One third of the runner who run Chicago are first time marathoners. He robbed us of our first marathoron finish.

Emily K said...

"ANONYMOUS" 8:59 that could not write your name~

Are you SERIOUS???!!! Did you NOT read Tim's Blog??? And all the other stories he quoted???

He could have apologize for the fact that he KNEW 1 week before the marathon that the weather was going to be hot! Let's be for real!!! The money was there. Drinks for the pack that did not make it as far as the front of the pack could have been provided better!

Emily K said...

I want to add~ that NO I did not run Chicago~ but I DO worry of the fact that my friend could not urinate for 8 hours, or my friend could not feel her toes, or my friend cramped, or my friend became delusional, etc... yes because of the weather but also ESPECIALLY because of the fact that MY FRIENDS could have felt BETTER and all of these symptoms could have been avoided if "false advertisement" would have not teased them. So YES an apology would have helped eased some physical pain... But ya know~ that is just me not just thinking of myself but the fact of thinking of all of the others that DID suffer~~ It's called being unselfish!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emily. It's bad enough to run 26.2 miles in good weather but when you run it in 90 degree heat with little water, that's a problem. All the runners would have had problems in the heat but we had more without water and gator. I've been in some hot races but I've always had fluid to replenish with. It was hard to hear the stories of the runners who trained for months and couldn't finish the race.


Anonymous said...

On an unrelated note~
Happy Birthday Stephen :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emily water is a necessity at a marathon not just a bonus.

I really just wanted to wish Stephen a Happy Birthday too. Enjoy your day Stephen !!!:)


Dawn - Pink Chick said...

I'm a the committe for our local marathon. Each year as we plan for the next race we review what went right and yes what went wrong. Thankfully we have never had anything quite as major as Chicago's disaster. By the way I'm sure that will be brought up in our first meetings early in 2008. We do watch out for things that go wrong at other races.

Running out of water has happened at other races. Chicago knew about what the weather would be like that day and I think they could have and should have made arrangements to accomodate for the requirements the heat would bring.

I talked to a marathoner at another race, he packs his charge card so he can buy what he needs to eat or drink along the way. An intersting idea but like many other comments I have read elsewhere when you pay the fee you do you expect there will be water & ade along the way.

I was a back of the packer in San Diego back in June. It was a hot day and even near the end of the race the water stations were still full of whatever I needed. Just in case I did have my own for along the way cause in heat even stations a mile apart can seem a long ways a way.

Somehow the whole thing just seems all wrong and to blame slower, out of shape runners is in poor taste and extremely insulting. I know it's certainly something my race director would never do. As a matter of fact when I ran my first marathon in 2003 she ran out to the 5k mark and ran back to the finish with me. I was the last runner and as I rounded the corner I found the ribbon drawn across the finish and a cheering crowd treating me like I was the first runner to finish. I even got roses.

I've been on the race committee ever since. I do my training and I give back by volunteering.

L*I*S*A said...

Thank you for voicing the opinion I share.

I was one of the runners who made it to mile 17 before being diverted to Grant Park.

I posted my own account of the day's events at

Thanks again, and I am happy to hear from another race director regarding your perspective.

stephen said...

Anon & Marie - Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Stephen!!! -Em :)

Anonymous said...

Tim Mu,

I hope you get this burried in the 30 plus blogs. Yikes. I was wondering if you wanted to run Sat. morn. Pam mentioned to me that you might want to get a long run in. I am up for one. Email me and let me know mileage and time.

Anyone else is also welcomed. Russ - R U out there?? I'll call and let ya know what we decide. Maybe we can talk Pam into passing out water from her car at the half way point. She is not feeling real great after her sinus op. I feel bad. She got hit with 2 painful events all within a week.

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