Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Under the Same Roof - Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon 2013

"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof."
- Richard Bach, Illusions

I've said before that the marathoning community is more than just a group of people who share a hobby. There's a big gap between people who've never done a half or full marathon and people who've completed even just one. This April, during the Boston Marathon bombings, I noticed that gap closed quite a bit. Outside the race, marathoners are just people. We grieve. We suffer. We celebrate. We do this with people we barely know for no other reason but that we share a course for a few hours on a weekend.

The Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon was a three-act journey along the family theme. 

Act I:
First and foremost, we remembered a recent death of a fellow Half Fanatic, Bobby Prayther, who recently died suddenly at the age of 47. There was a moment of silence before the group picture at the Buckingham Fountain. Bobby completed at least 31 half marathons and was a double agent as a member of the Marathon Maniacs. Susan and I met him in St. Petersburg earlier this year. We didn't connect for very long, but we're sad to see him leave this world.  Our friend Kevin dedicated his race to Bobby's memory. Several racers were wearing signs on their jerseys with Bobby's numbers. HF#1807/MM#3492.

The Half Fanatics pre-race picture at Grant Park
Act II:
Ron's Race: Al made a last minute decision to register for the race since he was working a triathlon expo just over the border in Wisconsin. Long story short, with the pollen count off the charts, his nagging lung infection still not completely clear and a late arrival Saturday night, this was not looking like a banner race. After some early morning struggles to get his 4 bags down from the 34th floor without a working elevator, he was able to hop on the CTA and meet me at our hotel about 30 minutes before the 6:30 gun. We still had to pick up his bib for the race. 

Our hotel was about a mile from the starting line and we decided to take a cab. This should have been my first red flag about how Al was feeling. A cab? For just a mile? Since our hotel was on the course, the surrounding streets were closing down and the cab was diverted to a route even further than where we started. By 6:10, the cab driver was ready to run a barrier in the underground streets when a Chicago policeman yelled at him to stop. The policeman was actually reaching for his holster and radioing in for help before we backed out. We got about a half mile from the starting line before hopping out (tipping the cab generously, I would say).  The wave start helped us a lot. The line for race-day pick up was 300 deep and we had enough time to get into corral 25 to start. 

The second red flag came up about mile 2 when Al told me to slow down a bit. Apparently the NyQuil he'd taken to clear his lungs was still in his system and after describing the spots in front of his eyes that looked like Bat signals, I figured it was time to go into full support mode. He didn't think about leaving me in Seattle when I was hurting, so I was damned sure I was going to look after him this time around. By mile 6, I was walking at a relaxed pace and making sure he stayed vertical. Things got better by mile 7, but it was going to be a slow day for both of us.

Coming off the turn at 31st and Lake Shore, we were certain that Susan would have caught us by that point. A quick location check on Find iPhone showed her about a mile back. She was texting regularly, but something just wasn't feeling right. We ran into fellow Half-Fanatic, Wilbert, at mile 8 and Maryland TNT Mentor Caitlyn at mile 9. I checked in with Al and he sounded like he was OK to continue with Wilbert and Caitlyn for the last mile. Like I did in 2012, I turned back to find Susan and make sure SHE was OK.

Act III:
(Heaven on Earth)
Susan's Race: At the expo the day before, Beth gave Ron and me "get back UP today" today medals for being ardent supporters of a cause near and dear to her heart. This must have been some sort of foreshadowing of how my race was going to be that day. After hooking up in the corral and hearing about their adventures that morning, I let Ron and Al go ahead and decided to ease up and enjoy the race that day. 

Around mile 2 I saw two people carrying a sign that said, "Get back UP today Shannon!" I instantly recognized the sign and starting taking pictures. I introduced myself, asked them if they knew Jim and Beth (which of course they did) and said that I wanted to take a few pictures of them on the course. My plan was to continue on my way until I started to chat with Barbie. This was Barbie's second attempt at completing the RnR Chicago Half Marathon with her leg brace. Rick (who helped Barbie get fitted in the right brace) had decided the day before to do the half marathon (without training) so that he could be there to support Barbie. This was his first half marathon but his whole focus was making sure that Barbie had a good time this time around. 

While Rick was chilling to the music in his earphones, Barbie told me that Shannon (who the sign was for) was having back surgery the next day and they they were walking in her honor to give her strength. That's what seems to connect us back-of-the-packers most - the selfless attitude of helping others no matter what our own circumstance.

Barbie and Susan (with Rick from Allard in the background)

As soon as Barbie mentioned that she got swept at mile 9.5 last year and forced to take a bus to the finish, she had me at "swept." I instantly decided to stay with her and first-timer Rick to help them BOTH finish the race that day. We made it past both cut-off points at mile 9.5 and mile 11.9 with at least 10 minutes to spare. My most memorable moment of the race was when Barbie told me how elective back surgery had led to a severed nerve leaving one foot paralyzed and one foot numb. For five years she suffered until a friend saw Beth on TV describing foot drop syndrome and brace technology that can help you walk again. Barbie contacted her doctor who put her in touch with Rick at Allard. She went from stumbling and falling routinely without the brace to being able to dance at a wedding! Her spirit has not been crushed and she's on a mission to find others in need whose lives can be transformed just as hers has. Her students call her the bionic woman and she inspires kids with a variety of disabilities in her school because she's not afraid to "look different." 

Barbie and Rick nicknamed Susan their "Angel" for helping them finish the race.

Out in front of us were two women wearing MY sensational Gypsy Runner outfit for the upcoming TriRock Austin race that Ron and I will be supporting. It wasn't until Barbie, Rick, and I passed them that I realized that I knew them! We've been to so many Expos across the country that our frequently visited vendor acquaintances soon become destinations to say hello to at the exhibit hall. At each race I find something new to add to my collection of race gear and to share with friends and family as gifts. (Alisa - Your blinged out 13.1 car emblem is waiting for you!) This was a rare occasion where our vendor friends became fellow course participants. My favorite moment after the race was seeing Dave unveil that he shared the same bright spirit (underneath a pair of black shorts.) 

Amy, Dave, and Amy's sister Brenda from Gypsy Runner

Everyone on the course has a story. Some are whimsical ("I did this on a dare", "my significant other made me do it"). Some are moving, like dedicating a race to a fallen friend or coming back to overcome the odds. If you stop and listen to a few of these stories you'll start to bond with a wide variety of people like we have. 

Every race weekend becomes a family reunion.

The Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon was first held in 2009. Before being bought by Competitor Group, it was known as the Chicago Distance Classic and had been around for over 20 years. The event is held in mid July to early August.  In 2013, there were 14016 finishers (2:18 median time). There was a "Mini Marathon" (5K) added this year.

The course starts in Grant Park, crossing the Chicago River four times, first heading north towards the Magnificent Mile, back south then towards the Near West Side and Greektown, coming back east to Michigan Avenue down to 31st and back along Lake Shore Drive to finish right back at Grant Park. Ron still says this is his favorite urban race due to the scenery though the summer Midwest weather can make you feel like you're racing while wearing a Saran wrap suit. There are two cut-off points at mile 9.5 and 11.9. Participants are either bused to the finish line area or bused to the finish chute.

Weather: Temps range from high 60's to mid 70's for the 6:30 AM start. Humidity is a fact of life in Chicago in the summer and temps can climb 10 - 20 degrees by 10 AM. Hydrate, take advantage of the ice at the med stations and look for the cooling sponges t mile 10. Several local residents come out with hoses. Just remember to cover your electronics as you get a soak.

Things to do (or at least what WE did): We spent much of the weekend at the Expo and getting some extra steps in for our Weight Loss Challenge. Ron was able to complete his 2,000,000 steps in 5 months goal and Susan continues to lead her company contest with a 7% drop in the first month. The expo featured our friend and Rock n Roll gypsy, David DeNeire (runlikeaclydsedale.com) and three contestants from Season 14 of The Biggest Loser (Danni, Jeff and Francelina). Kevin, Susan, and Ron carbo loaded for the race at Noodles. Al recovered enough to be able to introduce us to The Purple Pig, The pork shoulder, the fried eggplant Parmesan balls and the assortment of cheeses were a fantastic way to top off the weekend.

Course setting: City streets, park and lake views. There's a great breeze near the south end of the course in the later miles. The tunnels under McCormick Plaza were a lot less oppressive with the addition of the lights display this year. Maybe next time they'll let us go though the inside with the AC going full blast.

Support: Excellent. Water, Gatorade Endurance every couple miles, Gu at mile 9, Med tents at regular intervals with bags of ice. The misting structure before McCormick was a good touch. Even at the 3:25 finishing time, there was plenty of chocolate milk, bananas, water and cold towels at the finish line. Since Rock n Roll Los Angeles in 2012, Competitor Group has used the Race Guard organization to monitor races. The volunteer first-responders are trained in race first aid and really make you feel safer on a course. With the hot and humid conditions, many of the dangerous conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be caught before they become life threatening.  

We signed up for RNR Chicago this year as a 'safety race' to ensure we'd get our 10 races in for Rock Idol. The 2014 race is on our calendar, but we haven't registered yet. That may change when the Tour Pass is announced for 2014... any day now...

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