We got into the city by 5:45 a.m. Caroline was running so we dropped her off at the Hilton. She was nervous/excited the usual gambit of emotions just before starting a race. She kept teetering on her finish time. She was well prepared and had her nutrition and hydration plan in place (she wasn't running with water just Accelerade, she planned to get water on the course) but the heat was causing her to question her plans for a final time. That would be decided when she crossed the finish line. We agreed on a meeting place after the run, hugged each other good bye and Keri and I headed towards mile 10.5.
Monday, October 8, 2007
I was so excited to help with the Chicago marathon this year. I've wanted to pass out water since 1994 when I saw that the volunteers got cool looking jackets. Ok, that sounds a little self serving, I really did want to help and not just get a free jacket.
Had some trouble getting to the right EL train. The first station we went to didn't have the train arrive until 7:20 - an hour after we needed to be to our water station. So we walked a couple blocks to the subway and got on a train that took us about 3 blocks away from where we needed to be. I got us lost coming out of the train station but managed to get us to the aide captain just before 7. Keri and I signed the waiver, picked up our jackets and caps (bonus, a cap too!) and found a table to hang out at. Met a mother and daughter from the West side. Turned out the daughter went to school with Keri's boss's son (the world is so small). Realized for some reason our table was placed on the sidewalk and not the street so we recruited a bunch of high school boys to help us pick up the table, which was stacked 4 cups high with water and put it where it belonged. Keri and I walked down to Starbucks to get a caffeine pick me up before all the mayhem began. We could see the helicopters to the east of us following the lead runners. It was exciting. Then a man with a bull horn came by asking us to step away from the street. The wheel chair participants were coming thru. The pulse of their race was truly palpable. These men were flying! It was very inspiring to watch. For the next several minutes they would fly by in packs of 3 or 4. It was obvious they were in an unshakable zone that not even the heat could interrupt. Then the helicopters were over us. We knew the lead runners were coming. They came. They went. It's unbelievable how quickly they move. In the blink of an eye they were gone and now our race began. It started like a slow drip. Runners came in small groups. Occasionally the cup would leave my fingers. Then it became a steady stream. Keri and I started to keep track of who had more cups taken, I think I was winning. Then the stream turned into a rushing river. The runners just kept coming. Grabbing 2 cups of water at a time. Before we knew it the table was empty. Keri was putting cups out. I was pouring. Then I was putting cups out. Chaos was an understatement. Runners were grabbing empty cups from the table or they had their own bottles and we filled them. The next hour passed quickly. I was trying to fill cups and felt someone hugging me. I turned around and it was Caroline. I hugged her back and I could see she was fighting the tears. I heard her say she couldn't go on. My heart sank, it actually hurt for her. I took her by the shoulders and told her she could. She has run in weather like this so many times and today was no different than being out on the lakefront with me and the guys. She started shaking her head yes. I hugged her again. You can do this I told her. I know you can. She kept shaking her head yes but was saying this was the hardest thing she has ever done. Keri came up to her and hugged her and then I gave her one more. Just before leaving us I told her she was going to be ok. She gave me a glimpse of a smile and took off. I wanted to go with her. I didn't want to leave her alone out there. Not if the rest of the race was going to be as chaotic as mile 10.5. I prayed she would be ok.
The water station was now completely out of water. I walked down to the palates that were once full of cases of water and they were empty. Keri and I said this would happen but seeing it happen left me feeling desperate. I grabbed a stack of cups from an empty table. I didn't want anyone putting empty cups out and frustrating the runners. Another volunteer was walking by talking to himself saying he couldn't believe there was no water left. A runner yelled to me that the gatorade station was out of cups so I ran down there. They were actually out of gatorade, they had plenty of cups and thirsty, sweaty runners. I couldn't just stand there. There had to be something I could do. I thought of running down to Walgreens, about a block away and buying what ever water I could. Then I saw 2 volunteers coming out of O'Briens. They were carrying water pitcher. I grabbed an empty gallon gatorade bottle from a table and ran into the restaurant. I don't know if it was the owner or the manager directing his staff and some volunteers but he was getting us water. He filled my bottle and a pitcher for me. I was back to the street filling cups and runners bottles. Within 30 seconds I was back in the restaurant. He was now filling buckets and 10 gallon gatorade dispensors. While waiting for my containers my phone rang. It was Keri, I told her I was in O'Brien's getting water to come down here and by the time I got back outside she was there with the young girl from the West side that we had met earlier in the morning. An older woman who could barely speak english was asking me something. She was a runner and I thought she wanted water. After several attempts she got the word GATORADE out. I couldn't even answer her. I couldn't tell her we didn't have any. I shook my head no and gave her water. She slowly walked away from me. UGH!!! This SUCKS I thought. Runners were thanking us. They were all walking now. No one was running. No one was smiling. Most of them were very quiet. This was the back of the pack. I kept going into O'Briens and refilling. I came out to Dennis and his buddy Hector. This was Hector's first marathon. Dennis told us that this was the 1st aide station that had water. Thanks to O'Briens that is. I high fived Hector and hugged Dennis. Told them to be careful and have fun. They were off. The sun was shining in full force now. It was hot. Volunteers were raking up cups into piles. I was looking around and it didn't look anything like it did at 7:00 a.m. when we got there. It looked like 35,000 hot, desperate, thirsty runners made there way thru a very narrow space in the matter of 120 minutes . I gave the last of the water I had in my gatorade container and Keri and I walked away. I was emotionally spent. I felt for every person on that street. The volunteers, the runners, the business owners, the spectators. Most of us were quiet. All you could really hear was the rake mashing the cups and concrete. Keri and I were talking softly, like if we talked loud we would disrupt the chaotic mess that surrounded us. As we walked we saw runners sitting on the curb. Some were laying on the side walk. We actually saw one guy lying on the side walk and it looked like 2 police officers were attempting to start and IV on him. I have never seen anything like it. This was supposed to be a fun experience. It wasn't fun.
Caroline finished!!! Unfortunately we didn't see her come up Michigan avenue. It may have been the police cars cruising up and down the streets telling the runners to walk that caused us not to see her. Or maybe it was the firetruck parking its engine right next to us and then turning its hose on the runners. Or it could have been the countless ambulances screaming to the north and south of us taking away yet another distressed runner. I wished I could have seen her. Been there for her. She described her finish to us on the way home. She said that she saw the sign for Roosevelt road and she said to cry. Not the gasping, choke just tears. Keri asked if it was because she did it, and Caroline said no it was because it was finally over.
Congratulations to everyone who participated. You proved that the human spirit is alive and well. When the going gets tough, we do take care of each other. Life is as good as we make it for each other.