Marathon runners brave cold weather for good cause

Ali Elkin

As the runners warmed to the morning’s frigid weather, they began quickly shedding their outer layers – as Sunday’s Chicago Marathon got underway, various articles of clothing could be seen sailing through the air.

Before the race, McCormick sophomore Alvin Tan, of Singapore, said the stray clothing was somewhat difficult for him to reckon with.

“It’s sort of hard for me because littering is illegal in Singapore,” Tan said. “But I found out all the clothes go to charity.”

Despite the cold, an estimated 45,000 runners braved the marathon Sunday, and more than 1.2 million spectators cheered them on. Sammy Wanjiru, of Kenya, was the first male finisher, with a record-breaking time of two hours, five minutes, 41 seconds, shaving one second off the previous record and achieving the fastest time of any American marathon.

The first female finisher was Liliya Shobukhova, of Russia, with a time of two hours, 25 minutes, 5 seconds.

Though most runners were clad in the customary spandex and sweats, several completed the marathon in elaborate costumes, including a Minnie Mouse dress, a neon green face-encasing unitard and a banana suit.

This was Tan’s first ever marathon, but he said he was pleasantly surprised by his time. He said he expected to finish after about five and a half hours, but ended up running the race in four hours and 54 minutes. Still, the weather was one of the biggest challenges Tan said he faced.

“I’m used to 32 degrees Celsius, not 32 degrees Fahrenheit,” Tan said before the race, walking toward the runner check-in area. “The Kenyans and I will be freezing.”

He said he began running seriously while performing his required two years military service before coming to Northwestern. During the summer he trained locally by running through Wilmette, Kenilworth and Winnetka, though he said he had never run the full distance of the marathon before.

Tan was among several NU students on the course. Weinberg seniors Ali Melnyk and Kacey Albertine began the race together, though they split up along the way. Albertine had run the marathon in 2007, while Melnyk ran for the first time. “It was 90 degrees then and it was 30 today, but I actually ran the exact time today that I ran in 2007,” Albertine said.

Melnyk said running the marathon was something she wanted to do before graduating.

“I didn’t know when after college I would have time to train,” Melnyk said.

Though she had not been feeling well this week, Melnyk said seeing her family in the middle of the race, as well as the other spectators, inspired her to power through.

“Seeing them smack in the middle of the race was a really good feeling,” she said.

Tammy Ogaard, of Rolling Meadows, Ill., waited with her two sons for her sister, with whom she has run other marathons in the past.

“When you run a marathon, it’s either that you finish one and you never want to do it again, or you want to do them all the time,” she said.

Ogaard said she plans on running another marathon of her own soon.

At the home stretch, spectators lined the road, shaking cowbells and indiscriminately shouting encouragement over the blare of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

“They showed up to encourage random strangers like me,” Tan said. “That was a really nice thing.”

The connections among runners who raced on behalf of the same charities also propelled runners through the 26.2-mile stretch, they said.

Tan ran on behalf of World Vision, a charity that works to provide clean water, among other services, to impoverished communities around the world.

Though he did not know any of the other World Vision runners before the race, he said he felt a “special bond” with them through their shared cause.

Melnyk ran on behalf of the American Cancer Society, emphasizing how important the fight against cancer is for her.

“The last two miles I was really hurting, but I wore ribbons on my back in remembrance of and in honor of people,” she said. “And thinking about those people who have struggled so much more made me keep going.”[email protected]