Chicago Marathon Runners, Organizer at Odds Over Race Preparation

Monday, October 8th 2007, 6:21 pm
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) -- Some increasingly desperate runners taking part in the brutally hot Chicago Marathon passed around half-drunk water bottles offered by complete strangers. Others detoured to nearby convenience stores in search of the hydration they say they couldn't find on the course.

Others gave up, sat down and cried.

Still, race organizers on Monday defended their preparation for Sunday's marathon--during which one man died and scores were sent to hospitals--even as runner after runner told stories of fighting to stave off heat exhaustion during the race that ultimately was cut short.

Participants lambasted organizers for failing to provide enough water and sports drinks, but organizers argued needed supplies were available at the 26.2-mile race's 15 aid stations and underprepared runners may not have known how to cope.

Officials said the death was unrelated to the weather, but hundreds of others were treated for heat-related ailments after temperatures reached a race-record 88 degrees within two hours of the 8 a.m. start. Organizers stopped the race about 3 1/2 hours in.

Brian Mabee, a 43-year-old business owner from Shelby Township, Mich., said he spent months training for his first marathon, settling on Chicago for its prestige. He left town Monday disappointed and angry.

``I ran six days a week for ten months so they could not provide water?'' he said. ``I thought, if I could prepare, they should be able to do it too.''

Mabee said he ran by one depleted aid station after another. Finally, after nine miles without a drink, he waded into a public fountain on the city's North Side to cool off.

``I knew the race was shot at that point,'' he said. ``I knew the race was in trouble.''

Race officials said they had boosted the number of servings of water and Gatorade to help runners stay hydrated in the unusually hot and humid conditions.

``We did feel we had more than adequate water supplies out there,'' Shawn Platt, senior vice president of LaSalle Bank, the marathon's sponsor, said Monday.

Executive race director Carey Pinkowski said organizers increased drink servings from 1.6 million to 1.8 million, as well as provided misting areas, extra ice and water-soaked sponges.

What organizers didn't anticipate was runners using drinking water to cool themselves where misting stations and sponges weren't available, Platt said. He acknowledged many of those areas were toward the end of the route, instead of the early miles where runners first started showing signs of fatigue.

``Probably we should have been a little more proactive about that,'' Pinkowski added.

Chad Schieber, 35, collapsed well into Sunday's race--as did several other people, at least two of whom remained in critical condition Monday--leading to speculation his death was related to the blistering temperatures.

But Schieber suffered from a condition known as mitral valve prolapse and did not die from the heat, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. The condition is a ``common heart disorder'' that is in most cases harmless but sometimes requires treatment, according to

Schieber, a Midland, Mich., police officer, was pronounced dead shortly before 1 p.m. at a Veteran's Affairs hospital, according to the medical examiner's office.

``It sounds like he lost his pulse very fast and died on the race course,'' George Chiampas, the race's medical director, said Sunday. Chiampas said witnesses saw Schieber collapse and become unresponsive.

Pinkowski said organizers closed the race because of concerns that emergency medical personnel wouldn't be able to keep up with heat-related injuries as the weather turned hotter.

``We were seeing a high rate of people that were struggling,'' Pinkowski said. ``If you were out there at 1 o'clock, it was a hot sun. It was like a summer day, it was just a brutally hot day.''

At least 49 people were taken to hospitals, while another 250 were treated onsite. About 10,000 of the 45,000 registered runners never even showed up for the race, while another 10,934 started but didn't finish, officials said.

When organizers stopped the race about 11:30 a.m., runners who hadn't reached the halfway point were diverted to the start and finish area, while those on the second half of the course were advised to drop out, walk or board cooling buses, Platt said.

Not all runners heeded the warnings as helicopters hovered over the race course and police officers shouted through a bullhorn for runners to slow down and walk.

``People's bodies weren't necessarily responding like they hoped,'' Platt said. ``Runners are a very unique breed and they're very determined and they want to push themselves because of the all the time they put in preparing for the race.''

Lori Kaufman, a runner from St. Louis, said she was told to start walking at mile 14. She said the fire department turned on hydrants to hose people down along the course. She also noted a lack of supplies.

``We had a lot of spectators just handing us bottles of water, which helped a lot,'' Kaufman said. ``Every medic station that we passed was full of people. I mean they were not doing well.''