The 30th edition of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon was run in oppressive heat and humidity that challenged everyone on Sunday (7).
By the time the runners left the starting line in Chicago's Grant Park thermometers were registering very high temperatures and the air was thick with humidity. Conditions deteriorated from there and race organisers were forced to suspend the race before noon, turning back runners who had not yet passed halfway but allowing others to finish the last half of the course. Tragically one runner died after collapsing on the course near the 19 mile mark, and only 24,931 of the more than 36,000 starters finished the race, according to race officals.
At the start it was 73 degrees F (22 C), a new start temperature record by three degrees, and a couple hours into the race temperatures had soared to 88 degrees F (31 C), four higher than the previous high set in 1979.
"It (the temperature records) is not a record we wanted to break," said race executive director Carey Pinkowski at a pre-race briefing for the press on the planning for the event.
Ivuti and Adere win at the dash
Despite the challenging weather both the elite men's and women's races featured stirring finishes that resembled the final metres of a track meet.
On such a day each of the runners probably wished they only had to run the final 385 yards and not the 26 miles before that. Men's winner Patrick Ivuti of Kenya won a see-saw duel with two-time IAAF World Marathon champion Jaouad Gharib of Morocco by finding just enough to surge past Gharib at the tape in 2:11:11.
Both were given the same time with Ivuti's margin of victory being five one hundreths of a second. Defending women's champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia made up 30 seconds in the last two kilometres, most of it down final, strait to blow past a shocked Adriana Pirtea of Romania in the final 50 metres to win by three seconds in 2:33:49.
Each winner collected $125,000 first prize, plus 25 points toward the series prize of the World Marathon Majors. The winning times were the slowest in over a decade. Both races were tactical battles that tested both the runners physical and mental capabilities to the max.
The men's race started out with a pack of 12 feeling out each other and their bodies' reaction to the heat. Shortly after halfway, the racing began. Gharib made the first major moves to shed the competition. At mile 18 he made a burst that cut the lead pack to four. In the 23rd mile, defending champion Robert Cheruiyot threw up. He and eventual third place finisher Daniel Njenga dropped off the lead as Gharib and Ivuti surged away.
"They saw I was sick and they sped up," said Cheruiyot, who faded to fourth place. Gharib continued to throw in little surges, attempting to drop Ivuti, but the Kenyan hung on. Coming up the final hill just before 26 miles on Roosevelt Avenue, Gharib surged again and opened up a small gap, but by the time the pair passed 26 miles and turned onto the final straightaway, Ivuti closed the gap and they raced side by side down the road. Gharib pushed again half way down the straight and seemed to be starting to pull away for good, but Ivuti would not break.
"I was almost finished," said Ivuti. "I had no power, but when I looked up and saw the finish tape I decided to go." Inch by inch Ivuti came up beside Gharib, swung by his outstretched arm just before the finish and thrust his shoulder ahead over the finish line. The women's finish was equally dramatic. After pulling away from Adere around the 35K mark Pirtea seemed to be on her way to a comfortable victory in her debut in a major marathon.
Adere and Pirtea had been running in single file since the 18th mile, with Pirtea tucked behind as if running a track race. Adere would often turn toward Pirtea urging her to share the lead or go in front. "She did much strategy," said Pirtea of Adere. "She was trying to get me to take the lead. How could I lead somebody like her?"
Having collapsed at 37K of her only other marathon seven years ago, Pirtea had vowed never to run the distance again. Her coach Augustin Barbo convinced her otherwise, and at the top of the final straightaway she appeared to be ready to pull a major upset. Adere had other thoughts, however. She had fallen 30 seconds behind Pirtea by 40K, but could still see her and noticed that the gap was not getting any larger.
The 2003 World Indoor 3000 champion said at that point she felt she could win. "The last 2K I sprint," Adere said. "I changed into track racing." While Pirtea was waving to the crowd, oblivious to the fact that Adere was sprinting down the homestretch.
On her toes and in full flight, Adere, flashed past Pirtea, passing several men in the process and missing the finish tape that had been stretched out for Pirtea. By the time the Romanian, who had attended the University of Texas, El Paso in the US, realised that Adere was anywhere near her, it was too late.
"I didn't realize what happened," Pirtea said. "Probably that was my mistake. I didn't check. I thought if somebody was coming everybody would be screaming." After she finished, stunned, Pritea said: "I didn't know what to feel. When I realised what had happened I had tears in my eyes."
Jim Ferstle for the IAAF
1 Patrick Ivuti (KEN) 2:11:11
2 Jaouad Gharib (MAR) 2:11:11 (same as 1st)
3 Daniel Njenga (KEN)2:12:45
4 Robert K. Cheruiyot (KEN) 2:16:13
5 Ben Maiyo (KEN) 2:16:59
6 Christopher Cheboiboch (KEN) 2:17:17
7 Bong-ju Lee (KOR) 2:17:29
8 Michael Cox (USA) 2:21:42
1 Berhane Adere (ETH) 2:33:49
2 Adriana Pirtea (ROM) 2:33:52
3 Kate O'Neill (USA) 2:36:15
4 Liz Yelling (GBR) 2:37:14
5 Benita Johnson (AUS) 2:38:30
6 Nuta Olaru (ROM) 2:39:04
7 Paige M Higgins (USA) 2:40:14
8 Yolanda Fernandez (COL) 2:45:23