This year's Chicago Marathon won't take place in the June swelter that plagued a Southeast side half-marathon earlier this year, yet that event--where 11 runners were hospitalized and one died--should prove as a cautionary tale for experienced runners come Oct. 9.
"I think experienced marathoners sometimes become self-confident beyond reason," said running coach Bill Leach. "No matter how many marathons an athlete runs, the next one is always going to be different. They need to be prepared for the reality that they are going to be new and different."
Experienced runners tend to be more goal-oriented, eager to chase faster finish times than first-time runners, Leach said. As a result, there is a tendency to overrun the first part of the race, burning off too much valuable fuel at the start.
The start design of the Chicago race especially encourages experienced runners to push themselves at the beginning, according to Leach. The marathon takes into account previous marathon times, positioning those with faster finishes in the front.
"I think it's one of the unusual things about Chicago," Leach said. "Runners who have had faster times in previous marathons are positioned at the front. They can get out early and overrun the early segment of the race without a mass of humanity to slow them down."
In June's 13.1 Chicago Marathon, 22-year-old Zachary Gregory, an experienced long-distance runner, died as a result of high heat during the event. The race began under a yellow flag advising runners of not-optimal conditions and was ended prematurely because of the heat.
While extreme heat likely won't be a factor for the marathon, experienced runners may be surprised by another weather-related challenge: the wind.
"When the wind begins to swirl, sudden gusts can affect runners, especially when they are running between the tall buildings in the Loop and even up that long stretch up to Addison," Leach said. "All of that plays with the runners, and it plays with their heads as much as their bodies."
While fueling up at aid stations is important, runners seeking better times should not be tempted to stop at the first tables of a water stop. Huge numbers of runners tend to gather at the beginning of a stop and experienced runners can quickly pass the masses if they go to one of the tables further down the stop, Leach said.