CHICAGO | “Go, Freddie, go!”
That was the prevailing emotion of the multitudes Sunday along a 26.2-mile course, but never more fervent than two blocks from the finish line.
The exhortation came from Patti Seibel, of Lansing, wife of T.F. South cross country coach Fred Seibel. He finally practiced what he preached to his long-distance runners, plowing ahead in his first marathon at 44.
Smelling the finish line, Seibel didn’t make eye contact with his spouse, who barely had time to react to his display of kinetic energy pushing him forward before his legs gave out.
Some used a sound that was special and distinctive only to the immediate family.
Competing in her first marathon, 40-year-old Gayle Andrews, of Kouts, heard daughter Madison, 11, ringing a cowbell as she passed. That gave her inspiration while the younger generation was impressed with the new-found athletic ability of a parent.
“I told her, ‘Go, Mom,’” Madison Andrews said.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon had thousands of such bits of byplay on a cool Sunday that has to pass for Chicago’s big fall sports festival. On a day that only three weeks ago the White Sox were projected to host a postseason game, at a time when the lockout-idled Blackhawks don’t know when or if they’ll play this season, the marathon united the millions hungry for some positive athletic diversion.
All gaped at the feat of endurance mastered by the world’s elite runners in less than 2½ hours on a fast course that surprised even recreational runners, who blew past their own expected finish times. But it was also an excuse for a mass picnic and frolic in downtown’s Grant Park.
While another mass of runners picked up the pace to bore down on the finish line, those who came before them -- adorned in post-race wraps to warm them up -- reunited with family and friends on the grass. Others laid out blankets or posed among a series of sculptures while children romped and leashed dogs exulted in long walks.
Among the more than 38,000 who registered for the race were hundreds from Northwest Indiana. They arrived en masse, like the usual platoons from Valparaiso’s Opportunity Enterprises, whose bus departed for the race at 3:30 a.m.
They came individually, like Andrews and Highland’s Brenda Merschantz, a nurse at the Lake County Jail who ran her second marathon after six knee surgeries. Or they were already in the business of running, like Seibel and Valparaiso High School assistant cross country coach Lauren Hardesty.
They entered as families, with Seibel starting out in the same running pack as step-daughter Rachel Mueller, and Hardesty’s twin sister, Amanda, also pacing along.
Merschantz raised about $1,500 for the American Cancer Society, with family and friends who had succumbed to cancer remembered on the back of her shirt. Bishop Noll alum Liz O’Connor ran for Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.