Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chicago .... my kind of town, my kind of marathon

The songwriter got it right:

"Now this could only happen to a guy like me
And only happen in a town like this
So may I say to each of you most gratefully
As I throw each one of you a kiss
This is my kind of town, 

My kind of town, 
My kind of people too
People who smile at you."

And there were 45,000 other runners smiling at me and thousands more on the sidelines cheering.

I'm still smiling because my run in Chicago can’t be separated from the journey that got me there.

Way back in 2009 I was introduced to Team World Vision, a US concept where runners fundraised to support clean water projects for children in Africa via World Vision. I was immediately hooked.
A great cause, a great charity and - most important – a real solution. Over the years I’ve worn the orange Team World Vision top in many memorable runs.  New York, Melbourne and others.

I always remembered seeing this photo of the Chicago Marathon and thinking "wow":
Team World Vision Chicago in the early days (This year the group was too big for a photo!)

I had the pleasure to meet the Director, Michael Chitwood, and run with him in Melbourne.
I told him how since I had seen this picture that running for TWV in Chicago was on my bucket list, He said, "when we started back 12 years ago there were 100 people who ran".  Fast forward to 2017 and I was lining up with 2,000 TWV runners.  That's a lot of orange!

My ballot entry came through and the travel planets aligned. Let’s do it.

The fundraising was a joy when 18 of my nearest and dearest friends from Melbourne helped raise nearly $2,000 to contribute to the programme in one of the most enjoyable evenings ever. We will talk for many years about how special that night was – thanks Phil Readman, who it couldn’t have been done without. Overall the target for the 2,000 runners was $2.5 million for the event. That’s US$2.5m.  Wow.

Team World Vision pre-race pasta party
So here I was, at a sold out pre-event pasta dinner and we were already helping 43,190 people with more to come. This was inspiring.  I got to meet dual gold decathlon Olympian  – and “the world’s greatest athlete” – Ashton Eaton.  He was one of those rare celebrity athletes who was genuine in supporting, hanging out and, in discussion, being genuinely more interested in hearing about my race plans.  Top bloke.
Ashton Eaton
His wife Bri, also an Olympic medalist, ran her first marathon the next day for TWV. Superstar athletes, wearing orange, just like us.  Her husband cheering on the sidelines, just like us.

The night was full of church leaders and pastors, as well as the top fundraisers who were recognised. Kudos to one who raised $26,000 after having injured herself 6 weeks out and couldn’t run, so she poured the time she would have been training into fundraising and raised US$1,000 per mile. (And she was one of the loudest cheerers as we ran past!), These fundraisers weren't a one off thing either - the culture of support means that they now do this year after year.
The oldest fundraiser/runner in the room.  86 not out!
The guest speaker shared from Phillipans 2: "In humility value others higher than yourself". This well summed up the event - and actually the entire weekend.

At 5.30am the next morning we were all in a tent near the Chicago Marathon start singing 'Amazing Grace'. It was as passionate as the Grand Final singing of Richmond’s victory the week earlier!
Then it was a sea of orange as we marched to the start line ...

Chicago, hat’s off to you.  You showed the world how an event should be run. Brilliant.

Security, just days after the horrific Vegas shooting, was superb to calm an edgy field., 

Technically, this was the modernist of modern events.  At the Expo all the bib checks were scanned and pre-loaded so as you walked up to collect it you were personally welcomed and handed your gear. Impressive.

It was the 40th anniversary of the event and the City really embraces it brilliantly. Unlike some of our Aussie events where I feel like we are a hindrance and inconvenience to the city, here they say “we’re closing this city down for the day and this is our city's event and we’re going to stand here and make it great and cheer you all the way.”

And the cheering is amazing. What else makes people stand, sometimes many people deep, for hours cheering on random strangers?  This idea of just coming out on Sunday and cheering on as a thing to do intrigues me.  Everyone is there for a good time and the atmosphere is contagious.

They had the best signs – so creative.  Lots of political ones like “You run better than our Government” and anti-Trump statements as well.
This event treats all the runners like VIPs. It’s all about us.  After the event I had a goodie bag so full it was bursting with so much stuff!  Apples, bananas, water, popcorn, a shop full of Gatorade etc.
And who doesn't love that they hand you a beer straight after decorating you with a medal!  That was sweet!

All the drinks were needed because the day was hot – up to 70 which, coming out of Melbourne’s winter made for a toll. Thankfully there were plenty of drink stops and so so many volunteers along the road.

But what's with that road? Come on Chicago, do some road works.  The track was really rough with potholes and manholes everywhere waiting to trip you.  I saw one guy go down – hard – and you had to really watch your feet. Thankfully the course was rarely crowded with both sides of the major roads open. This was great and a big difference from most events.

The funniest photos of the day.  Check out my face - the fake smile (really a grimace) shows the pain....

The course I would describe as OK.  Chicago doesn’t have the landmarks of a New York or Paris. Sometimes I felt like I was just running any old place.  Yeah it was cool to run through 29 Burroughs of Chicago but their Greek town or China town are great but hardly world famous. But what a skyline .....

The on course entertainment was good – the Elvis impersonator was a favourite. I could hear it before I saw him and, let’s just say, his voice was a better impersonation than his red velvet looks!

This is Pastor Steve Spears. He ran from LA to NY. As you do!

Says it all. 
Charities were everywhere, someone said charities from running will raise over half a billion dollars this year. Impressive.

Organizing 45,000 runners is always amazing.  Again, the logistics were perfect and meant it ran as smooth as anything.

There were some notable Aussies there too like Lisa Weightman (6th outright), Kurt Fearnley
(2nd) and Michael Shelley (10th).

That's what 45,000 runners looks like 

Chicago you even know how to organise perfect blue skies!
Chicago will always be – for me – remembered as Team World Vision and being part of a team of 2000 people raising water for 50,000 people.

With TWV's Michael Chitwood and Rusty Funk.  Got a lot of time and love for these guys.


Its the first time I've ever given this score but well deserved.

Great open roads, nice and flat ... with one sneaky rise with 300m to go that feels like Everest!'

The aid stations were excellent. Again there is nothing runners couldn’t ask for. Everything is there and in abundance.
This is the only time I will ever know what its like to compete with a Grand Final crowd

Excellent. Oh yeah, and did I say I got to meet running royalty, Deena Kastor  
Runner’s pack
A nice Nike t-shirt and after the race - oh boy, so much stuff! 
One blister. 

Take it out songwriter ....

"Chicago is
Why I just grin like a clown
It's my kind of town

Chicago is my kind of razzmatazz
And it has, all that jazz

And each time I leave, Chicago is
Tuggin' my sleeve, Chicago is
- the marathon - Chicago is
for the runners. Chicago is
One town that won't let you down
It's my kind of town..."
Obligatory daggy kiss the medal photo

8th October, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

42.8km. A new marathon distance ... with an extra mile. Geneva 2017.

Going the extra mile is never easy.
Going after having run a marathon is crazy.

One of my favourite Bible verses talks about "going the extra mile" which means to do more than is needed. Running this year’s Geneva Marathon reminded me of this.A highlight was the opportunity to run “The Extra Mile” and raise funds for Unicef.  It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

Crossing the finish line meant the usual good stuff:  medals, food, drink, high 5’s …. and stopping! And now you want me to go further!  What???  To butcher another Bible verse – “the spirit may be willing, but the legs sure aren’t!”
So having stopped and taken on fuel  I moved to the ‘start line’ of the Unicef Extra Mile. It wasn’t a real mile – more of a metaphorical 600 metres -  restarted my watch and …. wobbled like a newborn giraffe!  And stopped.  And walked a bit.  And started again. Repeat. etc.

But this concept of going the extra mile was inspired (and a first for this event).  Here was a microcosm of my marathon.  Doing it tough for others.  Perseverance.  Thinking not of yourself but what you can do for others.  All this happens not just in a (relatively) short  600metres but seemingly in a headspace of hours thinking about it during the run.

Why do I run? How can I help others?  See the type of things that go through my mind when I’m running marathons.  (Along with the all too often cry of “when can I stop!”)  But there was no way to stop in this extra mile.  This was for children. This was to build wells.  Wells of hope.  Funded by Mont Blanc (and conveniently right outside their store!).

This extra mile was for wells and drinking water for children and their families. For real people. Water has a particular fascination for marathoners and this event was no different. We get wonderful refreshments regularly.  And I spit most of mine out or throw it down my back! If you’re tired and thirsty, just wait a few kms and there’s guaranteed water.  That’s why I wear Janji clothing because they make running gear that generates funds for water projects. Running marathons for those who cant get regular safe water … the irony is powerfully motivating.

After my second finish line for the day a digital sign flashed the good news of how many people had done this.  Raising CHF10 each. Overall, nearly CHF40,000 (basically the same as US$).  Great work all of them.  Great inspired idea Geneva Marathon and great branding/sponsorship Mont Blanc.

So that was a highlight.

The rest of the event was equally impressive:  with all the very best of modern marathons. The ‘user experience’ was excellent and included all the good things that makes for a great marathon experience today -   free public transport, a great app, live runner tracking, lots of photos, etc etc.
If you don’t have these things nowadays you’re going backwards. These are what we’re expecting today and our Australian marathons will need to keep up or risk falling behind.
I guesstimate about 80% of the run was in the country
And beautiful countryside it is (but keep an eye out for the horse poo on these trails!)
Today there were 2,300 runners in the full event but 17,000 overall; aged from 7 to 86 across 8 events in a 2 day running carnival.  Well done Geneva – running is alive and well and your ability to mix the event with a social conscience shows the heart of Geneva as a home for NGOs and community involvement that is alive and well. Yes the event is sponsored by a fitness club but it is called the “Geneva Marathon for Unicef”. Impressive.
... and then you catch your first glimpse of the Lake and The Jet and you know you've arrived in Geneva
Ah, the Geneva Jet -landmark of the city

I get the feeling that this is Geneva putting its own unique spin on a marathon.  And it worked. I wanted to run it not just because I love Geneva but because of what this event stood for.  This is their 13th edition and, again in true Geneva style, runners represented 113 countries.

Interesting other events also included were a female only event for 1,400 to “Run like a girl” and junior races, even nordic walking events!  Also, the full marathon was a relay event for 350 teams of 4-6 runners.  It’s rather strange to be passed mid-race by someone with fresh legs and full energy as they start out on their relay leg ….


- the closing of Mont Blanc bridge for the finish line  was spectacular.  I always get excited when the very heart of a big city is closed especially for us runners.
Great finish line on Mont Blanc Bridge - right in the heart of the city

- Running with my Geneva running friends – the ‘Geneva Runners’. They are a great bunch of folk who run socially and there’s some handy athletes in there … this year we won the teams event in the Marathon, 3rd in the half and 2nd in the 10km.   Bravo!
Proud to be part of Geneva Runners

- Cool bibs - love the flag of the country (even though someone cheered on New Zealand within the last 100 metres!)
It was wet and puddly all day. 
And I think compression gear is the new black.  Compression is expensive and I noticed more than normal in this rich city.  I wish I felt its magic touch made that made difference.

A great expo

A chilly start ...

... soon warmed up.

No idea what this guy was chatting about (in french) but it went on and on and on mid-race!

First finish line of the day!

The last competitor (just ahead of the sweep bus)
This remains for me a highlight. I never fail to be inspired by the marathoners' human achievement, persistence and good old hard work, guts and determination. 


Dare I use the cliche "ran like a swiss watch"?  But it did!

Amazing drink stations. Water, sports drink, bananas, oranges, gels, even biscuits! (no, I don't know why either!)   Plentiful! We couldn’t ask for anything more. I even photo-bombed one of the official photos!

It’s more of a country run and less of a city run than I expected. Probably 80% is in the countryside along quite beautiful paths and trails.  It’s a flat course so a fast time is possible.

The winner was, unsurprisingly, Kenyan, in a course-record 2:10 and the last person just avoided the sweeper in 6:05. 

With much of the run in the country side the quietness of the country with few spectators is unusual. But the embracing of the event by the city makes it special.

Not bad (see above)
Very good for the size of the event. Right in the heart of town.   Post race-massage was very appreciated.

Classy.  Like the event and the city.
Runner’s pack
A bag, a performance finishers tshirt and plenty to eat and drink. 
One black toenail. The poor one that had just grown back :(

And, as always, the obligatory daggy post-run kiss the medal photo!


In summary, this was modern marathoning at its best. Everything we runners could want and need. And then adding the extra mile was a lovely touch.  Well done Geneva.  Bravo!
Running for others, going the extra mile, made it all worthwhile today.  For Unicef, for the kids, and for me.
5-6 May 2018