Why I Run the Chicago Marathon – And Why You Should Join Me

April 23, 2007

by Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director

Noting last week that the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon just closed registration after reaching its capacity of 45,000 runners — six months before the race date of Oct. 7 — Chicago Tribune columnist Julie Deardorff wrote:

If you missed the deadline, you can still get into the event through one of the event’s 85 charity partners, affiliated international tour groups or the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA).

My question is: Why would you want to?

The marathon is just too crowded, especially if you’re a serious runner, but not good enough to get an elite start. It’s like the insanely congested LaSalle Bank Shamrock Shuffle 8K, which now draws 30,000 people but only gives seeded starts to those who have run a LaSalle Bank sponsored qualifier.

First, let me get it out of the way — Healthy Schools Campaign is one of the charity partners and we have slots available for those who want to join HSC and our honorary captain, NPR’s Peter Sagal, running on behalf of improving school health. (Come join us — volunteers and supporters, as well as runners, are welcomed!)

Second, I have a very different perspective on the Chicago Marathon. In 2002, though, I agreed with Julie completely. I had run enough marathons that I didn’t want to deal with the crowds of Chicago anymore. I was committed to running only small marathons, which have an excitement of their own.

In October 2002, I ran the Milwaukee Marathon and loved it. It was a beautiful and relatively intimate race. I loved ending the one-way race at the lakefront.

The Chicago Marathon was taking place the next weekend, so I decided to go downtown to check it out -– confident that I would be happy to just watch and stay out of the huge, crowded race.

What ended up happening wasn’t what I expected. As a runner, I felt that I was missing something by not participating in the Chicago Marathon. I could hardly stand to just watch while the runners raced by with the incredibly motivating and contagious energy that only this kind of race gives you.

The Chicago Marathon has such great positive energy that it’s impossible to not get caught up in it. I really wanted to be in the race that day. I decided that the only way I could not run the Chicago Marathon was if I was out of town so I wouldn’t feel first-hand the disappointment of being a non-participant.

So this year I’ll be one of the 45,000 training for my 11th Chicago Marathon (and my 14th marathon overall — In addition to Milwaukee, I’ve also run Anchorage and Cincinnati).

Why would I want to join the masses? Because there’s nothing else like it. For me, the question is how anyone could resist.

UPDATE MAY 1: HSC has filled its bibs for the marathon. However, if you are already registered and would like to join HSC’s charity team, or volunteer on the day of the race, please contact Cheryl Kaplan. Donations and sponsors are also welcomed (here’s the contributors’ site). Thanks for your support!