Marathons aren't for the squeamish, but maybe the foolhardy

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

At the recent Chicago Marathon held on Oct. 7, three local runners had what might be described as interesting experiences. All three are seasoned runners and, by the way, all are healthcare professionals. Helen Nuttall, a member of the Oak Park Runners Club, and Dave Chen, a member of the OWies Runners Club, are doctors. Eileen Skisak, another Oak Park Runners Club member, is a nurse.

Nuttall is one of the region's better female runners and had trained hard for a possible new personal record in the marathon. She was running according to plan.

"I felt fantastic until around (mile) 23," she remembers. "Suddenly, I started feeling dizzy, my vision went blurry, and I felt like I was going to pass out."

Nuttall wasn't sick and her legs felt great, but she says she barely recalls the last two miles. She crossed the finish line, collapsed and woke up in a wheelchair.

"I didn't even stop my [GPS watch]," says Nuttall, who still managed to finish with a new three-minute personal record. Not quite what she hoped for, but still a record with a fine time of three hours, 13 minutes.

Turns out Nuttall took too many gel packs during the race — per her coach's instructions — and experienced a sugar spike followed by a crash. She will experiment with different fueling techniques before next spring's Boston Marathon.

Chen suffered a fracture in his left foot at about the nine-mile marker, obviously causing him to reduce his pace. But he soldiered on to the end, later commenting, "I finished, although one could argue how wise that was."

The following day Chen was in a fracture boot and was hobbling around on crutches. But he finished in a very respectable time despite the injury.

"I credit the support and influence of the OWies to always work hard and persevere … and I didn't want to be called a wimp by the group!"

Skisak, who ran an incredible 70 races in 2011, was her usual cheerful, boisterous self when she passed the Oak Park Runners Club water station at Mile 18 on Taylor Street. She even took a moment to give me a hug. Post-race, she sent an email, casually mentioning that she had rolled her ankle the day before the marathon. A photo was attached to the email showing her ankle just after the race with a huge bulge on the side. However, she didn't say a thing about it at Mile 18, and finished in just over four hours.

Fortunately, all three are now doing fine.

And Dr. Chen admits, "Doctors make the worst patients."


Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club and the OWies.

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