Radio (and coffee) as an important race tool


I HATE getting up really early. So much so that 30 years ago, when I last took myself seriously as a runner, I often vowed that there would come a day when I would not have to get up at the crack of dawn to train. My favorite races were always those that started at noon.  Give me sleep and give me a good breakfast!  Then I could run all day AND take on the world’s problems.


But in my life now as an afternoon runner, I still have to get up early for race broadcasts and for the occasional participation. It is just as hard as it ever was, but I always try to find the worthiness in these early mornings, even though they never include breakfast.  Last Sunday morning at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon was a case in point.  I had to get up at 3:30AM to be on the set at 4:30AM for the radio broadcast of the race that began at 5AM.  There is no point in asking who is listening to the radio at 5AM; apparently a lot of people are, including the station general manager, who is probably the most important listener of all!


One of the most enthralling sights in running is watching a major race unfold in the pre-dawn hours, and as I walked from my hotel in utter darkness to the start area, it was inspiring to see race volunteers working in the glare of car headlights and portable lanterns to set up traffic barriers, banners, and timing mats. It is kind of like watching a speed camera of plants growing —from ordinary fields and roadways emerges the structure of a major marathon.  Then slowly cars begin arriving, people emerge and spots of color dot the landscape as the sky lightens to grey, and then lilac.


Before I get too romantic about this vision, I have to confess that I agreed to help with this broadcast only if they had hot coffee on site, and they did, God love ‘em. But what was particularly worthy about this show was that it was an exciting ‘first’- a combined broadcast of six radio stations:  WIXY (who also did a series of Marathon Monday shows leading into the race), Mix 94.5, 92.5 The Chief, 97.9 True Oldies, WIXY Classic 99.1 and eXtra 92.1.  We had an expert on sports, on weather, on traffic, on news and a great MC. The 5AM-8AM broadcast was ostensibly for the general public, taking them live into the starts of all the races.


But once there, and feeling intense humidity in the atmosphere, I saw it as a major service to the 14,300 runners who were waking up, eating, dressing and driving to perhaps the most important race they’d ever run.  If they were tuned in to us, we could give them very helpful information.  With six stations on the job, we had a chance to reach a lot of them, especially those driving in.


The night before, Champaign-Urbana had narrowly avoided a Tornado. Predicted rain and windstorms worried competitors and bedeviled race organizers. In the face of this, the morning air at 5AM seemed excellent for running.  But it was 88% humidity with strong prevailing winds from the southwest.  Standing in it at 62 degrees dawn you felt you needed long sleeves or a light jacket.  Running into it was going to be another matter.


Again and again we gave listeners the weather and told them what that could mean as runners.  Basically I kept saying Wear As Little As Possible and take plenty of electrolyte replacement drinks.  If the sun comes out, be prepared to slow down or walk.


The sun came out and it was beastly sticky.  At the finish line, seeing the number of  half marathoners still in sleeved shirts, capri pants, and even tights (! Can you imagine?)   I surmised not all of them had their radios on that morning, but enough did to take heed and say thank you.  Seven people were taken to the hospital with heat related problems, but all were fine.  Out of a field of 14,300, that is remarkable and I think we made a contribution to that safety. Then the humidity dropped a bit and it got cloudy, and this favored the marathoners, all who seemed to finish in good health and spirits.


Indeed, the spirit of the whole race, and the execution of it was fabulous.  Finishing in the great Memorial Stadium, on the hallowed ground of the legendary Red Grange, was awesome.  Shaking hands with the finishers was a sweaty but heart-warming experience.  And afterward, sitting in the stands and having a free pizza lunch sure beat out the routine of finish line bananas. It was a most satisfactory ‘breakfast.’


Don’t miss this race next year, and be sure to  tune in!


Posted in In the News
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