Before I started working for Editor Jack Murray at the Regional, my only thoughts about the annual half marathon in Palos Heights were dark.
I didn’t call it the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon.
It was known to me as the #$%-ing marathon because three years in a row, it screwed up my Sundays. I didn’t even know it was a half-marathon but I cursed the halfwits who would help made my life miserable by closing down streets I needed to use to get my kid to a basketball tournament in the north suburbs. Half marathons three, four and five will always be remembered for having long trips made even longer.
So I get the job in this company in the late summer of 2012 and sometime around December, Murray tells me he wants me to start covering committee meetings for the marathon.
Ok, fine, when do the meetings start?
He said the first Friday in January.
THE FIRST FRIDAY IN JANUARY?!!?
But the half-marathon isn’t until May! What in the heck could they be talking about in January?
I have a pretty extensive background in sports. Not to brag, but I have had the luck and honor of being in the White Sox locker room in Houston almost 10 years ago when they won the World Series and my clothes were drenched with champagne. I have covered the NBA Finals during the Bulls runs. I’ve covered several Indy 500 races and the historic inaugural Brickyard 500.
Not many can say this, but I shook Kerry Wood’s hand minutes after he struck out 20 Houston batters in 1998, I shook Sammy Sosa’s hand minutes after he hit his 500th home run when he was with the Cubs and shook his hand after he hit No. 600 with the Texas Rangers against the Cubs. I shook Greg Maddux’s hand after he won his 300th game.
But of all the cool events I’ve been blessed to cover and all the background stuff I’ve seen, I have usually only seen the finished product and not much of the hard work that goes behind it.
They say you never want to see how the sausage is made, but I learned a lot about the minutia of running a huge event by covering the half-marathon committee meetings.
The two guys running the show – Jeff Prestinario and Mel Diab – did plenty of legwork before the first January. But once the committee people all gathered for their first meeting in a meeting room at the Palos Heights Rec Center and saw the first agenda, I realized that we were at the stage where this was the clay and there were five months to mold it into something special.
Even though they had run a handful of half marathons before, so much planning and work had to be done.
The cops and firemen from various municipalities and the county had to be all on the same page.
The Palos Heights Public Works department was in charge of getting permits and in charge of the logistics and setting up and cleaning up. Loyola University brought in the medical people for a tent that gets used quite a bit after people run 13 miles.
There are hundreds of volunteers needed and someone has to recruit them and have a game plan as to what they will do and when they will do it. Someone had to invite mascots from various schools in the area to have them run in a pre-race mascot race to entertain the kids.
Don’t forget the parking! You can’t have thousands of people show up for a race and not have a parking plan.
We’re not even close to being done, here. There are people behind the scenes working on hotel arrangements, public relations, putting out a race program, security, charities, vendors, refreshment tables, gear checks, goody bag stuffers and running the city’s business expo the day before the big race.
Last, but certainly not least, someone has to be in charge of the beer tent.
To put an added wrinkle on the 2013 race, there was the bombing at the Boston Marathon less than a month before Palos Heights event and there were the duties of adding extra security for the race.
I’m not going to lie, these monthly meetings could get dull. But as the months went by, you could see the mold take shape until April and there were still a few areas of concern that made me think “how in the heck are they going to pull this bad boy off?”
But they did.
When the 2013 race was over and the cleanup started and masterminds Diab and Prestinario looked like they just had all of the energy ripped right out of their bodies, I realized that I had followed this story from its infant stages until the end. I had never had the pleasure of covering something like that before.
By 2014, I was editor of the Reporter and Tim Hadac took over the monthly grind and I showed up for a few meetings for column material. It’s the same with this year. It’s not quite the same, but I get to see bits and pieces of the process.
The race itself is fun to cover as there are thousands of runners and thousands of great stories out there.
I have a great appreciation for the half-marathon. It’s no longer the #$%-ing marathon to me.
So for those of you who will have your Sunday screwed up because some of the street will be closed, you have a right to blow off some steam.
But keep in mind that a lot of good people doing a lot of hard work have been busy making this a special event for the thousands who participate or watch.