Cheers to the End of Another Chicago Marathon!

Cheers to the End of Another Chicago Marathon!

By now the roads have reopened in Chicago and those that traveled to participate or cheer on a loved one have gone home.  Hopefully the hoards of visitors and street closures didn’t keep you from your favorite Chicago watering holes!  This was, of course, another in a long string of epic Chicago marathons, hosting a world record breaking performance and almost 50,000 runners from every state in the country, as well as runners from one hundred other countries!  Overtime, everything gets bigger and grander in Chicago and the marathon is no exception.  The first Chicago marathon was hosted in 1905 with twelve competitors and only seven finishers.

So if you finished the Chicago marathon, even without a world record, congratulations!

Ironically, the Chicago marathon was just becoming an annual tradition when it paused during the 1920’s.  This, too, may have been because of Prohibition.  The winner of the Chicago marathon in 1907 raced while doing shots of whiskey and the 1908 winner reportedly sipped champagne throughout.  Perhaps when the elites of the day were told they could no longer sip alcohol while competing in a 26.2 mile endurance run, they decided to just end the entire damn thing.  And who could blame them, really, water just doesn’t have the same spark!

In the absence of a long run bringing out the endurance athlete in us all, Chicago and most other major cities across the countries hosted dance marathons during Prohibition.  Unlike a one day marathon run, these marathons lasted for weeks at the time and thousands of spectators crowded into convention halls to watch the couples stay on their feet and continue dancing the entire duration.  It’s likely that spectators also enjoyed the drama of watching people actually collapse during the challenge.  In 1928, a woman named Peggy Rolls collapsed after she had danced for a week.  Later in the same event, a woman’s personal physician had to step in and demand that she leave the dance floor after finding her in a “state of collapse.”  She very well might have been unconscious at the time.  It wasn’t uncommon for partners to hold one another up while the other slept, fainted, or collapsed.  So long as neither partner’s knees touched the dance floor, the judges let the slow dance continue with the prize still in sight.

Why do people do this to themselves?  Even someone that finished the Chicago marathon on Sunday probably can’t tell you why.  It takes a special kind of crazy to run and finish any marathon.  The dance contestants, though, had big money on the line.  In 1928, the winners were awarded cash prices of up to $3,500, a vaudeville contract that could bring in another $1,000 each week and a trip to Los Angeles.  That balances out to approximately $52,000 in 2019 money, with a weekly income of $15,000 from the vaudeville contract.  (This may have been an early American foray into the obscene prizes we now give reality TV contestants that eat bugs for cash!)

What is known with certainty is that least the women that finished the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon did not have to wear high heels!

Written by Amy Williams

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