Posted by: Joe English | December 20, 2007

2007 Marathon Year in Review: The Ugly

This is part III of my series, 2007 Marathon Year in Review: The good, the bad and the ugly.
Part I: The Good
Part II: The Bad
Part III: The Ugly (this article)

2007 had its moments. For a lot of marathon runners, it will be a year that they would like to soon forget. This is despite all of the great things that happened this year. While we look back on some of the worst moments of 2007, let’s not lose sight of the fact that there were lots of great performances this year and thousands and thousands of runners had great experiences. But there will still be those that got caught in these disasters. To them, we feel for you and we hope that you’ll get back up and try again.

2007 Marathon Year in Review
Part III: The ugly

Chicago Marathon shrivels in the heat
There was a point this year when I thought that we just couldn’t possibly see any more bad weather in marathons. We’d seen horrible weather at the Boston Marathon and unseasonable temperatures in Europe in the spring. But the whole thing really came to a head when the Chicago Marathon quite literally had a melt-down.

Descriptions from marathon runners who were there in October, characterize the Chicago Marathon as a surreal heat-wave infected nightmare. Not only was it intolerably hot, but humid as well. The race started as planned, but organizers quickly determined that they were in trouble. As the day unfolded, the race would be cut off, leaving many runners helplessly confused. Some slower runners were diverted near the half-way point, while others were told to stop running in the later miles. Aid stations ran out of supplies. The finish-line clock was eventually shut down. Hundreds of runners were treated for dehydration and heat illnesses. One runner died.

The 2007 Chicago Marathon goes down as both horrible weather story and organizational debacle. Many runners felt that the situation was ultimately mishandled and showed a real lack of emergency planning and communication. Chicago is known for putting on a great race. This one is the one that they will hope they can soon forget.

Difficult debut in Atlanta
In almost an eerie parallel to the Chicago Marathon debacle, the inaugural ING Georgia Marathon this spring saw record heat as well. But in Atlanta the problem was the supply of their aid stations to help out the hot and suffering runners. Apparently supplies of fluid-replacement drink were not delivered on-time and many of the aid stations didn’t have cups anyway. Runners reported being without water from mile 2 onwards.

It goes without saying that you can’t put on a marathon without your aid station supplies. Doing so on a hot day made the situation even worse. Hopefully they’ll do better next time.

Timing problems at Honolulu Marathon
A story that is still fresh on our minds is the ugliest of all uglies: a total timing melt-down at the Honolulu Marathon. Apparently heavy rains before the start caused computers to perform a re-set, causing as many as 3,500 runners’ times not to be captured in the system at all. And worse, all of the times that were recorded were inaccurate.

Honolulu Marathon organizers are still digging out of the mess. They are reviewing finish-line video to try to reconstruct the correct timing, an effort that may take as much as 800 man-hours. That’s ugly all the way around.

Tragedy at the US Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials
Everyone in the running community was struck with grief when elite runner Ryan Shay died at the US Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials in New York on November 3rd 2007. People described Shay as likeable and a fierce competitor. He collapsed about 5 1/2 miles into the trials and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, most likely from an enlarged heart. (Read a commentary that includes more on Ryan Shay here.)

The Ryan Shay story cast a long-shadow over the Trials and the New York City Marathon the next day. It also put a spot-light on marathon running in general, causing many people to ask if more care should be placed on safe-guarding the health of our Olympic hopefuls and marathon runners in general.

With that sad note, I’ll end this walk through the 2007 year of marathon running. I’m glad to say that “the ugly” was the shortest chapter in this series of articles. Let’s remember all of the good stuff that happened this year: Gebs, Paula, Ryan, and Chrissie we hope to see more of your astonishing performances next year. 2008 will feature the Olympics in Beijing and perhaps another record-year for marathon finishes, maybe even the first ever marathon under 2:04:00.

Finally, I hope that you all have a great 2008 and live lots of “good” moments when you’re out there running.

Related articles:
Chicago Marathon sees record heat

Timing concerns widen at Honolulu Marathon

Hall breaks record at US Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials

Commentary: the athlete heroes are back

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
Running Advice and News (



  1. […] of my columns, will recall my year-end recap of marathon running listing out the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of marathon running in 2007: I think we may have our first entrant to the Ugly list for […]

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