The Chicago Trubune
Julie Deardorff

Marathon Runners Go Extra Mile
Lakeshore Race Turns Out To Be Mile Too Long!

Published June 3, 2005

All 529 runners who finished Chicago's Lakeshore Marathon set a personal record for the distance. The problem was the race -- 27.2 miles -- was a full mile longer than a traditional marathon. But participants didn't know about the mistake until the event was over Monday.

This gaffe, along with other organizational disasters, including missing mile markers and unstaffed aid stations, unleashed a firestorm of criticism from Chicago's running community over Illinois' only spring marathon. Some runners are so livid they are urging the city to stop issuing permits for the Lakeshore Marathon until it's under new management.

On Thursday, after nearly a week of mounting fury on Web sites among many of the marathon's entrants, race founder and organizer Mark Cihlar issued an apology on

"[Last-minute changes] caused us to miscalculate and we foolishly added an extra mile--how terrible!" he wrote in the memo to Lakeshore participants.

For the first time in four years, Cihlar plans to relinquish control over event coordination--he has had sole responsibility for 90 percent of the marathon's planning--and is seeking qualified directors and coordinators to help on the 2006 race.

But some participants, who first suspected the race was too long when they checked their GPS watches during and after the event, were not immediately mollified. Though there is good support for a spring marathon to serve as a smaller alternative to the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, Chicago's marquee 26.2-mile race held each fall, participants like Hugh Mainard of Chicago want Cihlar run out of town.

Mainard, an attorney, was so furious that he complained about Cihlar to the officials at Chicago Area Runners Association, the Chicago Department of Special Events, the Chicago Park District and the Boston Athletic Association.

Dozens of participants from as far away as Seattle were running the Lakeshore Marathon, hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Though the Lakeshore course was too long, Boston officials have made exceptions in the past.

"It's hard for me to fathom how someone can get the most basic element of a race wrong," said Mainard.

The competition, which filled a gap in the running calendar when the Lake County Marathon folded in 2000, was not registered with the Chicago Area Runners Association this year. But CARA officials are concerned that its poor reputation could hurt the running community. Leesa Drake, CARA's immediate past president and a member of the board, said it's possible that CARA could offer technical support if Cihlar asked.

"It does reflect on CARA if there is a bad race that isn't getting any better," said Drake, who ran the Lakeshore Marathon but vowed she'll never do it again. "[Cihlar] has good ideas but trouble executing. He really doesn't have an infrastructure in place."

Cihlar said the 27th mile came from last-minute second-guessing and adjustments, such as the inclusion of Navy Pier and Park District construction at Diversey Harbor. That extra mile -- a mental and physical blow to some runners -- showed up near Montrose Harbor. Ultimately, Aurora's Dan Martin, 46, won the men's race in 2:50:24. The top woman was Chicago's Megan Smiley, 30, who clocked a 3:12:53.

More defibrillators ordered

Paramedic Hector Contreras, the director of security for the race, said he was so unnerved by the death of a 28-year-old runner in the Soldier Field 10 Mile race the day before that he reassessed the medical situation. He ordered more defibrillators, more water stations and more medical tents. "We started adding things and got all screwed up," Contreras said.

Adding to the chaos was the half-marathon, which also turned out to be too long and poorly marked. Some participants were so befuddled, they were running in circles.

Bridget Sullivan was the lead woman for the first part of the half-marathon when she was directed off the course at Fullerton Avenue and the lakefront. Course marshals sent her to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

"I started to pass the marathoners, and a few of them tried to save me by telling me the half turned `way back there.' I was so confused at this point that I wanted to cry," said Sullivan, who was trying to obtain a competitive starting time for the Chicago Marathon. She eventually ran into another misguided half-marathoner and the two rejoined the race after running a mile out of their way. "I lost a lot of momentum due to the drama," said Sullivan, who finished third among the women and said she never saw a mile marker after mile 6.

Cihlar, who has run 25 marathons himself, says he understands why runners are frustrated. "We've been undercapitalized and under-resourced, but it looks like we're rounding the bend," he said. "Sponsors are taking a legitimate interest for 2006. There are lots of things we can improve on, but we're starting to make some headway."

Some runners were able to enjoy the race, simply because of the beautiful Memorial Day weekend weather. "Obviously, there were organizational problems but I'm not angry about them," said Danielle Coffman, who ran the half-marathon. "I personally would like to see this race succeed and continue, but I think it probably needs to be handed over to new management."