Mother Nature conspired against this struggling marathon Sunday, serving up balmy, windy weather and wilting both the men's and women's fields.
Temperatures during the Old Style/Chicago marathon hovered in the mid-60s, with 53% humidity. The heat sapped the strength of most runners, giving the patient and steady runners a distinct advantage. Among the men, Paul Davies-Hale of England proved the most patient, winning in a rather pedestrian 2 hours 11 minutes 25 seconds, in his first marathon ever.
It was the slowest winning time in this race since 1982.
Among the women, Lisa Weidenbach of Issaquah, Wash., repeated as champion, with a personal best of 2:28:15, impressive under the circumstances.
It was the second-hottest race in Chicago history, only 1978 was worse. By comparison, last year's race was 30 degrees cooler at the start. Most distance runners prefer temperatures in the 40s, with cloud cover.
The race conditions were simply more bad luck for the 12th running of Chicago's marathon, which has been fighting for respectability since losing its sponsor in 1986 and staging no race in 1987. After a week of summer-like weather, race organizers hoped to be salvaged by a good race ; to have, if not impressive times on this flat and fast course, at least a memorable race.
That developed, at points, Sunday, as about 8,000 runners started at Daley Plaza downtown and wended their way through city streets. A pack of five men took off fast, maintaining a 2:09 pace at nine miles.
Those early leaders: El-Mostafa Nechchadi of Morocco, Don Janicki of Colorado, Gerardo Alcala of Mexico, Carlos Montero of Spain and Gabriel Kamau of Kenya.
They did the early work against the wind, while a second pack hovered 20 seconds behind. The lead pack went through the half-marathon at 1:04:50, a pace that would wither in the second half. No one who was in the lead pack at the halfway point, with the exception of Montero, finished in the top five.
Davies-Hale had been among those who had cagily stayed back, going with a more conservative approach. "I was concentrating on running five-minute miles," he said.
He accomplished that, almost exactly. His time works out to 5:00.8 mile splits.
Davies-Hale caught the second pack at 13 miles and met up with pre-race favorite Steve Binns, who lives 30 miles from Davies-Hale in England's West Midlands. The two quickly went in different directions--Binns falling back (he eventually dropped out) and Davies-Hale moving up.
"I asked Binnsie who was in the first group, he told me, and I went," Davies-Hale said.
At 22 miles, Davies-Hale was in the lead and in control, running smoothly and not appearing to labor under the bright sun. Following him, and likewise picking off the fading runners in the first pack, were Ravil Kashapov of the Soviet Union, who was second in 2:13:19, and David Long, also from the British Midlands, who was third in 2:13:37. Ed Eyestone was the first U.S. finisher in fourth, 2:14:57.
In the women's race, Weidenbach had not been the favorite and she agreed with that handicapping.
"To be honest with you, I was afraid of Cathy (O'Brien)," she said.
With reason. O'Brien, a 22-year-old from Boston, has been on the verge of a breakthrough for a long time. She took off in Sunday's race with authority and ran with a 20-30-second cushion for 15 miles. Then, the heat from the sun and the perceptible heat of Weidenbach constantly gaining did her in.
At 18 miles, Weidenbach came up on O'Brien, her New Balance teammate. They shared some water, then Weidenbach tossed aside the water bottle and put on a surge that left O'Brien flat.
It was the same spot, the corner of Wells and North Avenue, that Weidenbach had taken the lead in last year's race. It was also where dozens of her family members and friends were posted.
Carla Beurskens of the Netherlands, at 37 still an amazing runner, eventually passed the struggling O'Brien and placed second 2:30:24. O'Brien was third in 2:31:19.
Given the heat, the humidity and the wind, Weidenbach's time might have been as much as two minutes faster. Even the 2:28 is respectable--only five U.S. women have run under 2:30.
"I guess when you are having a good day, nothing is going to get you down," she said.
Davies-Hale, a former plumber from Rugeley, Straffordshire, seemed bemused by the attention and nonplussed that he had just won $50,000 in prize money. About as far as he seemed willing to go, on the celebrity scale, was to say he had pitched the plumbing job.
"I'll still do the odd washing machine . . . good rates," he said.
Davies-Hale, 27, came to the United States in 1985 and settled in Boulder, Colo., the nation's unofficial running center. Davies-Hale may have shown a liking for running in heat when he won the Boulder Bolder that year in terrific heat.
He was a 1984 Olympian in the steeplechase and, on the advice of others, moved up to 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
Still, Davies-Hale is unsure what his future in the marathon is. Like his fellow countrymen, he's low-key and practical and not interested in speculating.
"I've already had a great track season," Davies-Hale said. "I may run another marathon next year . . . but I really want to get back on the track."
Race organizers insist that this race is at a world-class level, especially pointing to the world's richest purse. That may be so, but all major marathons have drug testing and Chicago has none. Race director Tim Murphy said the race was not selected by The Athletics Congress, which governs the sport, to conduct testing. . . . Men's and women's winners won $50,000, second place won $30,000 and third place $20,000. . . . Scot Hellebuyck won the men's wheelchair race in 1:45:30. Ann Cody Morris won the women's wheelchair race in 1:58:51.