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It was like stepping onto the football field with Peyton Manning or throwing on a Miami Heat jersey to play with LeBron James.
Taking his place alongside the world’s elite long-distance runners, third-year Paul Vithayathil had to collect himself at the start of the Chicago Marathon early Sunday morning as he prepared to embark on the 26.2-mile trek.
With a record 38,131 participants running in this year’s marathon, the runners needed over 30 minutes to arrive at the starting line in order to begin the race.
For fourth-years Jonah Kind and Alex Sisto, who had run cross-country in high school, the marathon had gone from a quixotic aspiration to grueling reality.
“First year, it obviously wasn’t quite on my radar,” Kind said. “Second year, I watched it on TV and I guess it just motivated me even more, third year I signed up for it, but was abroad in Paris. So I knew that I had to do it this year, my last at U of C.”
Adhering to a rigorous training schedule all summer, Kind averaged about 30 miles a week during the summer before curtailing his running to 20 miles during school. His set his total for the year at about 630 miles.
The extensive training was vital on Sunday, as temperatures rose above 80 degrees. But even with hundreds of miles behind them on the way to this weekend’s race, Vithayil, Sisto, and Kind all hit the dreaded wall at some point along the course.
“When you get to mile 13, you are still feeling pretty good,” Sisto said. “But then it hits you, ‘I have to do this all over again.’”
For many runners and spectators, Sunday’s climate brought flashbacks to three years ago, when the extreme heat caused hundreds to be hospitalized and even a fatality. Since 2007, the marathon coordinators have been proactive by creating the color-coded event alert system about race conditions. By 11 a.m., race officials issued a red-flag warning——the second-highest warning——for “potentially dangerous conditions.”
“It was really hot. It’s something you really can’t control or even prepare for,” Kind said of the conditions.
Even limping and aching after the event, the runners couldn’t wait for another crack at the marathon.
“There are so many things you expect to happen when preparing for the marathon,” Kind said. “But when you are actually doing it, it’s the things you don’t anticipate that truly make this a great accomplishment.”