Category Archives: Chicago Marathon 2011

Blog posts related to my training for, running, and afterthoughts from my first marathon!

Water, Water (and Trash) Everywhere

The 2011 Chicago Marathon, my first-ever 26.2, was sweaty, painful, taxing to my physical and mental limits – and one of the best days of my life. So much was wonderful; the weather, the energy of the other runners, and the cheers of the crowds lining the course. Yet there is one disturbing image that sticks in my mind about that race:

Blue sponges.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Somewhere in the middle miles, an aid station handed out large blue sponges soaked in cold water. Oh, how fabulous, I thought as I took one and cooled off my steaming head. But then I looked ahead to a curb-to-curb sea of sponges on the road for at least 50 yards. Volunteers were trying to sweep them away, but the runners were too thick. So I gingerly ran through the mess, hoping I wouldn’t slip and get trampled by my fellow sponge-bearers.

At other aid stations it was empty water cups everywhere, although nothing quite like the sponge station. I’ve run enough races now to know this is pretty common, and that most are well-run enough to pick up after themselves. Even so, that’s a lot of cups, sponges, and other detritus that end up in a landfill.

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Let’s look at just one resource critical to a race: potable water. There needs to be plenty of it, delivered quickly to runners in stride and to exhausted, dehydrated finishers. But it’s heavy and bulky, and needs to be at several locations along the course, along with its packaging and distribution materials. This means a lot of plastic, transportation costs, and manual labor – and a lot of trash.

Here, for example, are some numbers I found from the 2011 New York Marathon, with 47,000 runners and Lord knows how many volunteers, crews, and spectators. Just making water available during the race resulted in the following:

  • 237,200 free disposable plastic water bottles
  • 93,600 eight-ounce bottles of water
  • 2,300,000 paper cups

All of which contributed to the more than 100 tons of trash collected afterward, including six tons of paper and three tons of metal, glass and plastic. (See more interesting numbers from the marathon here.) It led Mother Jones to write an article entitled, “Are Marathons Bad for the Planet?

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of the water stations.

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of at least 7 water stations.

As the 2011 NYC marathon raised $33 million for charities and generated roughly $250 million for the city’s economy, I’d argue that it was a positive event overall. But it came at a substantial cost in setup and cleanup. Is it possible that those costs could have been reduced – substantially reduced, even – while maintaining the quality of the race experience?

The good news is that the answer appears to be yes. From simple “cup-free” races to internationally recognized “sustainability certification” some events are reducing their impact on the environment, and the associated costs, through innovative approaches and better management of existing methods. Here are just a couple of recent examples.

From Running USA:
Sonoma‘s Destination Races Strives For Zero Waste

ONOMA, Calif. – In July the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, presented by Newton Running and produced by Destination Races of Sonoma, achieved an impressive 96.98% landfill diversion rate…compostable products [replaced] all the water bottles, coffee cups, paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils that would typically be headed to the landfill.  This plan also resulted in a 62% reduction in greenhouse gases.
Read the full article here.

And this is from the website for the Two-Hearted Trail race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this June.
Environmental Measures

  1. Greenlayer, eco-tech shirts made from 100% recycled polyester.
  2. Each runner must carry a functional hydration system or a minimum 20oz water bottle. There are no cups at the aid stations.
  3. Food served after the event are either locally produced, organically grown, or both.
  4. Medallions and glasswork awards are made by Michigan artists.
  5. Food waste is composted and all other materials are recycled.
  6. Course is marked with reusable flags that are removed after the event.

And while this 2009 festival in New Zealand was not a race, it shows what a day-long event with 25,000 attendees can achieve in waste reduction. Highlights include 5,200kg of materials recycled or composted vs. only 550kg to landfill, an 86% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the need to landfill contaminated recyclables – a reduction 640kg of waste over the previous year.

Next up: an organization that has created a multi-level certification program for recognizing races that reduce waste, conserve resources, and promote local businesses. It seems to be catching on. Stay tuned!

Bluntly Speaking – $2 Bills and Legal Pot

Thomas Jefferson may have grown hemp, but I doubt he’d be happy with the latest association of his name with it.

A "toke-n" of my appreciation?

A “toke-n” of my appreciation?

Regular readers know that I stamp $2 bills to shamelessly plug my blog, and distribute them mainly as tips at coffee shops and such. With the blog name change, a new stamp was needed, and it recently arrived, so my tips now properly advertise The bad news is that according to the Detroit Free Press, apparently someone has stolen my idea of using the $2 bill to shamelessly plug something – in this case, a push for the legalization of marijuana.

MORE: Click here for some amusing, and possibly true, stories about people who thought that $2 bills were phony.

According to the Freep, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization groups are trying to demonstrate their “economic clout” by using at least one $2 bill in every cash purchase they make. Michigan has 130,000 registered medical marijuana users and 13 percent of Michiganders surveyed admitted to using it last year, so there could soon be a serious push to loosen current restrictions.

Given the nature of this blog, you can guess how I feel about recreational use of marijuana. I run, bike, and train in Aikido to improve my body and mind, and smoking (anything) or using mood-altering drugs would do the opposite. If you have a genuine medical condition that marijuana relieves, hey, do what works. Otherwise, I have a suggestion – put down the joint and go exercise the ones you were born with. You’ll feel better and live longer. And yes, the “runner’s high” does exist. It took a while for me to experience it, but it was worth the effort.

Want to feel good about yourself? Finish a marathon. (Finish line, Chicago 2011)

Want to feel good about yourself? Set a goal, train for it, and accomplish it. (Finish line, 2011 Chicago Marathon)

So should you come across a $2 bill stamped with either or, be assured it represents something very different from promoting legal cannabis. It means, rather, that I appreciate the effort you put into making my cappuccino for a ridiculously low wage, and please visit my blog, nudge-nudge wink-wink.

On the Road Again

RAN FOR THE FIRST TIME POST-MARATHON this afternoon. This was by design – Coach Marie had labeled my training calendar Monday through Friday with identical instructions: “No Running!”

Hey, Coach's orders!

Even had I tried to run, I wouldn’t have gotten very far. I had no lingering pain and was walking normally by Tuesday, but there was no spring whatever in my legs and knees. I also reluctantly skipped Aikido; I would have focused overmuch on not getting hurt, which meant I would likely have gotten hurt. Besides, it wouldn’t have helped. All the sites that cover marathon recovery stress that muscles need time to repair themselves, and restarting training too early will only lengthen that process. Rest is best.

But today I was cleared to begin running again. My calendar read 3-4 miles easy, if I felt up to it. I did, and naturally felt I could do a bit more, so I set up a two-mile loop followed by a three-mile loop, for five in all. If something didn’t feel right, I could cut it short after two. I wore my regular running shoes instead of the minimalist Kinvaras, as I thought the extra padding would provide a bit more foot support. It was a reasonably warm day but blustery, with strong wind gusts, and running mile 4 uphill into that wind was challenging; I figured I was breathing harder than I had at any time during the marathon. But all went well, and the final mile downhill with the wind was worth the push the mile before.

So all is set to begin getting back into a regular schedule. Next race is the Holiday Hustle 5K on December 3 (my birthday), with a goal of a new PR (personal record), and if possible, finish in under 20 minutes. As that requires an average pace of 6:26 per mile or better, and I’ve only run one mile at that speed so far, I have some work to do. But we’ll see how much all that summer marathon training has helped toward this goal.

P.S. I haven’t had time to set up a marathon gallery yet, so here are a few more photos from last Sunday. (Click on the images to see enlarged versions.)

Funny shirts appeal to me, so I took a number of these photos. I was really surprised by how many runners ‘make a statement’ with their shirts. See below for another example.

All unclaimed or discarded clothes are collected by race volunteers and donated to charity.

One popular way to handle cold race mornings is to bring an extra shirt you don’t care about, then pitch it after you warm up. At the Martian Invasion of Races in March, where I ran the half marathon, I saw castoff hats, shirts, and gloves in the road the whole way. I found out later what happens to them (see caption).

A lot of runners were running for a charity or some other cause. The race packets even had a special sign you could pin on that said, “I’m Running For…” with a space to fill in whoever you wanted to honor.

Any suffering we may be subjecting ourselves to during a marathon is temporary, and we have the freedom to stop running if we want to. May I never take that for granted.

A Little Sunday Morning Run

(I will have more photos and comments on a separate page shortly.)

THE 2011 CHICAGO MARATHON IS IN THE BOOKS, and I’m home safe and sound starting my recovery week. I hear that some people experience a letdown after completing a marathon, but only two little things bothered me; I had hoped to run faster, and I had to go back to work on Monday. Other than that, feeling good!

That's the per minute pace, right? Yeah, that's my pace! "Uhh, no, sir, that's 5 hours..."

Because this was my first marathon and didn’t want to push too hard, I decided not to run in a seeded start corral (those with an expected pace time) and chose the Open field instead. I knew it would be crowded at first, but the crowds always thin out after a few miles, right? Perhaps I should have gotten a clue of what lay ahead when our part of the field finally got to the official starting line 20 minutes after the opening gun.

I learned my first lesson pretty early on – if you’re running with the crowd, the streets of Chicago are not wide enough. I dodged, ducked, squeezed through, and otherwise tried to make some headway, but mostly waited for the crowd to thin out. And waited. And waited… Sometimes there would be space for a half mile or so, but at the next aid station, the road narrowed, people slowed down, and it was right back to the cattle drive.


One benefit of a slower pace was that I had time to take in more of what was going on around me – the cheers from the crowd, the signs they held up, and the slogans and such on the shirts the runners wore. I have a Panasonic Lumix camera for just such events, and as you can see, the image stabilization is excellent – I took just about all the photos while running. I wasn’t able to get shots of many signs, as by the time I saw them I was nearly past them, but here’s a sampling of what I saw:

  • Run Like You Stole Something
  • Pain is Temporary – Pride is Forever
  • If This Was Easy, *I* Would Do It!
  • Chuck Norris Never Ran A Marathon

And at least 4 signs that read, “GO JEFF” so I must have a lot of fans!

They had Gatorade and water at the aid stations (about 1.5 miles apart). The challenge was to avoid slipping on the carpet of discarded cups and dodging the volunteers raking them to the sides of the road. At the stations where they handed out sponges, it became a real obstacle course. There were also a number of spectators with sprinklers and hoses spraying into the street, and on a warm day with no clouds, they were very popular.

The food started appearing around mile 16 – a good thing, since one of my gels had fallen off early in the race, and I used my remaining one at mile 14. I discovered that a Jolly Rancher lasts about five miles, and in addition to providing a nice steady trickle of sugar, kept my mouth from drying out. Something to remember for future long runs.

It would sure work for me! (Click to enlarge the picture if you can't read his sign.)

They say “the wall” hits most runners around mile 20 or so. I never hit it, but things definitely got more challenging at that time. My calves began to ache, and it took significant mental effort to keep running. The aid stations became an excuse to walk for a few seconds rather than hydrate, and I was thoroughly sick of Gatorade and tepid water. It didn’t help that my Garmin said I was running farther than the mile markers indicated, and it got worse every mile. Which to believe? No matter – the finish line was the finish line, and I had to ignore the watch and just gut it out.

To my surprise, however, my breathing remained regular and smooth all the way through, even on the long hill leading up to the finish. I passed a lot of winded people those last six miles. The crowd got bigger and louder on the final mile. Shouts of, “You got this!” and “You’re almost there!” rang all around. And as I crossed the finish line, the announcer congratulating first-time marathoners called out my name. Woo hoo!  I was further congratulated by the volunteers handing out the foil blankets, finisher medals, and cold beer. (Yes, everyone, I had a beer. Deal with it.)

Here is how my time of 4 hours, 11 minutes, 54 seconds fared. Not as fast as I’d hoped, but my main goal was just to finish, and to be in the top half of my age group ain’t too shabby.

  Total Me
Finishers 35,558 11,155
Male 20,154 8,098
45-49 2,432 1,022

Am I glad I went? Absolutely. I had a great time. Should I go back next year, however, I will definitely use a seeded start corral, so I have a shot at a much better time and less of a mob around me.

P.S. Yes, I am aware that a woman gave birth just a few hours after running the marathon. Does it bother me that earlier this year, already pregnant, she ran a marathon just 12 minutes slower than my time? No. Not at  all. Not one bit…