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“ALMOST AT THE START,” our daughter Laura texted. She was among 40,000 participants in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The race had begun for many of them; she awaited her turn.

This was in response to an earlier text from me offering encouragement, a simplistic: “Woohoo!” That from the coffee shop of our hotel.

“Haven’t crossed the line yet,” Laura texted back.

“Don’t wear out your battery,” I cautioned. I often offer runners advice, both online and at expos. Those using my training programs frequently stop by my booth at expos, seeking autographs, snapping iPhone photos, scoring a final tip before embarking on voyages of a lifetime. But one day out, little remains unsaid. I often struggle to find encouraging words.

“Start slow,” I offer. But given the fact that so many run with iPhones, maybe I should advise: “Charge your battery.”

My own battery definitely needed recharging—and I don’t mean iPhone battery. I had spent two days at the Expo meeting and greeting people. These are individuals who for 18 weeks had relentlessly followed one of the training programs available on my Website, many receiving daily emails telling them how to train, others using apps with my cheery voice coming through their earphones as they covered the miles necessary to prepare for a marathon. “Looking great!” I tell them. Runners today definitely are wired-in. Sitting in a coffee shop, I still was able to send a texted message to our daughter.

Watching the Elites

A few minutes earlier, I had watched the elite runners whisk past our hotel where marathoners cross the river headed south on State Street, just short of the 2-mile mark. Whisk! Whisk! Whisk! They passed so fast, I captured only a single image on my iPhone camera before rushing upriver three blocks to intersect them doubling back north on LaSalle Street just before the 3-mile mark.

Whisk! Whisk! Whisk! A front pack of a dozen or so elite male runners. A gap. A similar-sized pack of slightly slower runners. Gap. Pack. Gap. Pack. Soon came the elite females with a covey of somewhat fast males trying to hold onto their pace. Many more minutes would pass before State and other Chicago streets would fill sidewalk to sidewalk with the 40,000 or so remaining runners in the field, including our daughter, still patiently waiting in her starting corral. I headed back to our hotel, knowing another hour would pass before Laura appeared in pursuit of the elites.

Sidewalk Stander

During the four-decade history of the event that began in 1977 as the Mayor Daley Marathon, I have run the race on nine occasions, finishing first in my age group one year, leading pacing teams other years, being content to run among the masses still other years, or stand on the sidewalk cheering those masses.

That was my self-appointed duty. I chose to be a sidewalk stander and cheer Laura and her training partner, Susie. Having dinner the night before, we did the calculations. Laura and Susie were starting in the second wave at 8:00, a half hour after the elites. It would take her 20 minutes to cross the line and a near equal time to reach our designated cheering spot. “Look right after you cross the bridge,” I instructed. My calculations suggested she would come into sight around 8:40 A.M. By that time, the lead male runners would be past the half marathon mark, the lead women runners not that far behind. As the winners crossed the finish line, there would be runners covering close to 20 miles of Chicago streets. The city more than tolerates those runners, the marathon reportedly contributing $237 million to Chicago’s economy.

Finishing our coffee, we positioned ourselves on the sidewalk, looking for Laura’s silver shirt with “Run Like Hal” on the back. She spotted us and we spotted her, offering obligatory cheers. Quickly we headed to LaSalle Street for a second sighting and more cheers. Finally, we checked out of our hotel and headed to the finish line on Columbus Drive. Too late unfortunately to see the men finish, but soon enough for the women. 

Then we waited. Our granddaughter Angela had paced her Mom between 10 and 13 miles. After changing, she appeared with a friend from college. The four of us sat in a tent near the finish line, tracking Laura by computer and by iPhone, getting updates every five kilometers. Susie had fallen a few minutes behind, but Laura was maintaining a steady pace that would lead to a 5:00 finish. After she passed 40 kilometers, I texted her, “Start sprinting.”

Rather than sprinting, comfortable cruise was more like it as Laura approached the line. We cheered. I raised my iPhone camera for a final memorializing shot. Alas, my battery was dead.

We talked to our daughter briefly through a chain link fence as she moved through the recovery area of blankets and bananas. It was a perfect day for all the runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. And next year, whether I run the race or not, I will make certain my battery is fully charged.



Hal Higdon is a contributing editor for Runner’s World and author of the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide.