Friday, October 12, 2007


That's a lot of crazy runners.

Last Sunday was the annual Chicago Marathon. My hubby, Jeff, ran it for the fourth consecutive year. But this Chicago Marathon, the 30th, was unlike any other Chicago Marathon. This one was run in record high heat. With temps soaring to near 90 (freakishly hot for a Midwestern October day) runners were keeling over, emergency teams were taxed, and the organizers ran out of water. They were forced to cancel the race before even half the runners were done.

Jeff, walking and running, managed to finish the race but it took him much longer than usual. While he ran the course he saw people vomit, lose control of their bowels, and fall down to be carted away by ambulance. More than 350 people were taken to area hospitals and one man died. But still, most of the runners hung in there. In fact, even when the police announced on the bullhorn that the race was over and they should stop running, they kept running. Only when the police lied to them and said the clock had been stopped did they stop running and walk the last four miles.

By now, unless you are a marathoner or married to a marathoner you are no doubt shaking your head in disbelief, wondering (not for the first time) why on earth someone would even want to run 26.2 miles (yes all marathons are 26.2 miles and by the way if you want to make a marathoner crazy, be sure to ask him, "So, how long is this marathon?") let alone run it in dangerous heat.

Well, I would have wondered that too a few years ago but by now, after living with a crazy runner for the past four years and watching how it all goes down, I get it. I mean I really get why 35,000 of the 45,000 people who signed up for the race last week showed up to run despite heat warnings. And I get why 25,000 of those who started that race managed to finish it.

So as a fairly sane, non-running, yoga-practicing person, I feel I am uniquely positioned to translate for you why Jeff ran in that blistering heat last week.

First off, you need to understand that just to CONSIDER marathon training requires a certain obsessive personality. Type B's need not apply. If you have never stayed up late cramming for an exam, pushed yourself to lift a weight you had no business lifting, or stubbornly hung on as every one else fades away in boredom so you can claim victory over a monopoly game, then you are not someone who would even think about running a marathon. This trait--obsessiveness--is the main ingredient. It is more important than all the others that seem needed such as an abundance of freetime or an incredibly healthy physique. In fact, you don't need either of those. You just need drive, will, chutzpah, obsession...whatever you want to call it.

So you start with an obsessive person who by nature is already busier than you and I are. Now you take that person who has to cram hours (yes hours) of running time into his already busy day. He will do it. He will give up sleep, bartime (though not much--most runners are big drinkers too--did I mention they have obsessive tendencies?), family time, and TV/leisure time to log the running it requires to train for a marathon. If he does this properly, he will do this for nearly six months. He will run almost every day. Not once or twice or even three times a week but almost EVERY DAY for six months.

Day after day, week after week, while you and I slumber under the warm covers he gets up, laces on his shoes and goes out into the chilly darkness of a pre-dawn morning. Night after night, as we sip a glass of wine on the couch and noodle over a crossword puzzle, he is at the gym on the elliptic machine putting in his cross-training time.

Now you take these two factors together--an already obsessive person who has given up DAYS of his time prepare for this one day event and you can see how it is that he would be a tiny bit reluctant to miss the big day. This person is unlikely to let a little heat warning get in his way.

So, that, my friends and family and strangers, is why Jeff ran the marathon despite the dangerous heat, the bodies falling, the amublances wailing. Because he is the kind of person who runs marathons.

I do not pretend to be this kind of person, but I am married to this person. And I have to say, having a marthoner in the house is both enlightening and inspirational. I have come to realize that like all great achievements: the novel written, the summit scaled, the foreign language mastered--the marathon is run by taking first one step, and then another, and then another, until one thinks he cannot take another and then take one more.

It is that simple, it is that impossible.

And I'm glad there are people that crazy. How wonderful for us mere mortals to see 25,000 people limp, hop, crawl and jump over a finish line that they have run thousands of miles to get to.

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