Chicago Marathon? Hey. Hi there. Uh, what are you doing?

What is wrong with the organizers of the Chicago Marathon? After heat-related hospitalizations and deaths marred the 2007 race, you’d think they’d be on their toes. Yet the 2011 edition, which is eight months away, has already featured two huge, easily avoidable missteps.

Misstep 1: The race will take place the day after Yom Kippur, for which observers are required to fast for 24 hours. Sure, you can race a marathon after fasting. But don’t expect a PR; there’s a good chance that it will be an awful experience too. I’m not Jewish. Nor am I Christian. I don’t think any holiday should dictate a race director’s decisions. But Yom Kippur is major — it’s kind of like failing to notice Christmas, and then scheduling the race for that day, and then saying, “Sorry! We spent years planning this — and did not look at a calendar during those years — and things can’t be changed now.” I understand the consternation.

Misstep 2: You can register for the race online, but registration starts at midnight tonight CST. Boston’s 2011 race filled up in a mere eight hours (and that’s only because a broken registration link sent runners off into the weeds for several hours). Will Chicago fill up this fast? I don’t know. I guess if I want to be certain of getting in then I have to stay up until 1 o’fucking clock in the morning on a weeknight to register. Or get up at a reasonable hour and hope there are spots left.

Why, Chicago Marathon? Why? If you were hoping to generate excitement by opening up registration at midnight, then guess what? You’ve failed. Instead, you’ve generated anxiety and resentment. I haven’t even registered for your race yet and I don’t trust you to care about my experience as a customer. Nor do I like you all that much. Nice job.

6 Responses

  1. I blogged about the Chicago Marathon and Yom Kippur recently. This year’s marathon is the after Yom Kippur not on Yom Kippur. To me, there’s a big difference. As an observant Jewish marathoner, it doesn’t bother me that the race is the day after YK. The Triathlon World Championships in Kona are on YK this year. They basically took the attitude that you mentioned above. Since I don’t live in a Jewish State, I don’t expect anyone to cater to my needs. I agree that scheduling the triathlon world championships on YK is cold and insensitive. As for the Chicago Marathon, there are plenty of other fall races to choose from.

    • That’s interesting that you make that distinction, Ari. I feel that, for the issues it causes Yom Kippur observers who want to run well that day, it’s still a rather insensitive move.

      I don’t want religion to dictate race calendars by any means, not the least of which is because I’m an atheist. But by the same token — assuming all Sundays are logistically equal — if a race can be easily slotted into an earlier or later Sunday by a week and avoid a major religious holiday in the process, then why not do that?

  2. Those are huge errors. Why would they think midnight would excite runners, the people who are more likely to have to get up early to run? :)

  3. I’m with Julie. I don’t care about holidays — I’ve actually run races on my birthday — but for the big ones think about it.

    The website says:

    “Yom Kippur
    The date of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon falls the day following Yom Kippur. We appreciate the fact that this may impact some runners’ plans to participate. To that end, we have been consulting the Chicago Jewish community for advice on ways to accommodate runners observing this religious holiday, and we will continue to do so in the period leading up to the race.”

  4. Julie,

    First, I agree with you about registration opening at midnight tonight (1AM EST), which is indeed crazy. Should there be technical problems these will not be quickly addressed, and while West Coast friendly will create a problem for the working masses in the east coast and the Midwest.

    However, as to the YK adjacency issue, since at least 2004 (when I first ran the Chicago Marathon) it has always been scheduled on the Sunday preceding Columbus Day, which is always the second Monday in October. The timing of the Chicago Marathon during what for many people is a 3-day holiday weekend works out great, somewhat comparable to the success of the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day.

    Conversely, looking at the observance of YK as a non-Jew I was curious and found it to vary wildly. For or 2011 it happens to occur latest on the calendar, i.e. 2011: October 7-8; 2012: September 25-26; 2013: September 13-14; 2014: October 3-4; 2015: September 22-23. So, should the Chicago Marathon organizers have altered their 2011 scheduled date just for 2011? If anyone were to ask my vote I’d say ‘no’.

    • Yeah, YK moves around, like Ramadan.

      Listen, I’m the last person who wants to get into a debate about anything religious. Primarily because I don’t care. :) If Columbus Day Weekend is Chicago’s “tradition,” then so be it.

      I’m going to bed now. If Chicago’s still open whenever I wake up tomorrow, I’ll sign up. I just feel sorry for the poor IT guy who’s manning the servers tonight.

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