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Hal Higdon's 7-7-70 Quest - 4. LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon

A Day for Records

Photo by MarathonFotoTHE ROCK BAND WAS RATTLING THE WINDOWS at the post-race party for The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. Several thousand runners, who earlier in the day had covered 26 miles on foot, were still vertical, swaying to the music in Navy Pier's Grand Ballroom. I stood on a balcony above the action with race director Carey Pinkowski. He was waiting to introduce the top finishers, including Catherine Ndereba, who had just shattered the women's world record for the marathon with a time of 2:18:46.

Looking down at the runners, Carey asked how many had prepared using my training programs.

"Everybody!" I replied.

So Carey invited me onstage along with Ndereba and the top men's finishers. Heavy company! I used my 26.2 seconds of fame to ask: "How many of you set Personal Records today?" It seemed like every hand went up. With cool weather, little wind and a flat course, it had been a marathon to remember for many runners, front and back of the pack.

I certainly had set a PR for someone running 7 marathons in 7 months to celebrate his 70th birthday and help raise $700,000 for 7 separate charities. Chicago was fourth of those 7-7-70 marathons, my time of 5:29:13 fastest so far. It had been a day for records, personal and world. Cool temperatures and gentle winds had created what Roger Robinson, a New Zealand friend, calls a "no-excuses" day. "If you can't run a fast time on a day like this," Roger said of one marathon we ran together, "you have no excuse."

No excuses

The post-race party came at the end of four busy days, both exciting and exhausting. My wife Rose and I drove into town Wednesday evening. I was scheduled to appear on Fox-TV's morning news and didn't want to have to fight Rush Hour traffic. Instead, I jogged along the lakefront from Hilton Towers to North Avenue Beach. The sun was rising; it was the beginning of a beautiful day, a wonderful weekend. I answered several questions, including one related to extra security.

Extra security was necessary because of the events of September 11. After the attack on the World Trade Center, training for a marathon no longer seemed quite so important. I lost five days staring at the TV set, waiting for some glimmer of hope. Eventually, I resumed my running routine, rationalizing that the five days of lost training qualified as "rest."

An NBC reporter found me at the noon press conference. We discussed my running 7 marathons in 7 months to celebrate my 70th birthday to help raise $700,000 for 7 separate charities. Everybody needs a schtick to get on the 6:00 news.

The next two days became a blur as I talked to runners, who had spent the previous 18 weeks using my online training programs. I signed books, programs, numbers, T-shirts. I posed for photos that would go onto refrigerators in 50 states and 74 countries. By the end of the second day, rising for photo-ops proved too much. I smiled at cameras while seated.

Rest needed

Figuring I needed all the rest I could, I set the alarm for an hour before the 7:30 start and barely made it to the starting area. In previous Chicago Marathons, I had led pacing teams, but on this day I was relying on the 5:30 pacing team to tug me to a respectable finish. (I figured any finish was respectable.)

I eventually lost the pacing team, because members of my family were calling to see how I was doing. I wore a cellular phone, but was not alone. Sometimes I would hear a ring, only to realize it was some other runner's cell phone, not mine. Rose called with news about Ndereba's world record. I heard from our daughter Laura, waiting for her husband Pete to finish the Twin Cities Marathon, held the same day. Grandson Wesley called, but I was passing a Rock Band and couldn't hear him. Spectators cheered. Friends and family members held signs. Kids offered High-Fives. A group of runners from Texas wearing cowboy hats chanted incadence. Someone was dressed as Kermit the Frog. Another runner kicked a soccer ball. Everybody needs a schtick to get on the 6:00 news.

Near 20 miles, I passed the aid station run by Steve Kearney, coach at Chesterton High School. Steve had helped pace me during my previous marathon in Columbia, Missouri, run on a hot day on a hilly course. I informed him that I was feeling better than during that run. "Stride on!" he said.

Strangely, the last hour of the marathon proved less stressful than the last hour of the Expo. I beat my goal time by 47 seconds and crossed the line smiling arms raised in victory. Rose awaited me. I had called at Mile 25 and told her to expect me within 15 minutes. We hugged and cried together.

Hal Higdon poses at a post-race party with race director Carey Pinkowski's wife Sue, world champion Catherine Ndereba and Sue's sister Kristy Sorensen, who qualified for Boston.After I showered, we headed to the top-floor suite at the Hilton for another party. Catherine Ndereba was among those present. With skin like ebony, she is the most beautiful of women. Ndereba also possesses a certain natural charm, apparent in public appearances, but even more when you talk to her in person. I seized one last photo-op and had my picture taken with the new world record holder.

Running a marathon always is emotional for first-timers. Because of September 11, Chicago was emotional for old-timers too. After a couple of hour's sleep, I was ready to attend the party at Navy Pier. Monday morning we returned home and it was back to business as usual--except I had already begun to look forward to the 2002 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.

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