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Chicago Marathon: Steve Jobs changed how we race (and cheer)

October 14, 2011 – 3:27 PM

By Laura Pappano

Yes, we’ve heard the exciting Chicago Marathon results. Despite the heat (78 degrees according to my iPhone) Moses Mosop set a course record (2:05:37) and Liliya Shobukhova finished in 2:18:20, making it her third straight Chicago win, and her the second-fastest woman behind Paula Radcliffe who holds the women’s marathon record with a 2:15:25.

The elites commanded the headlines, but if you were in Chicago this past weekend – as I was to cheer on my 19-year-old daughter as she ran – you bore witness to the collision of two major cultural events: The Marathon and the Mourning of Steve Jobs.

It was impossible to miss pilgrimage to the Apple Store on North Michigan Ave. with it’s growing shrine of colored, handwritten post-its, flowers, candles (and, of course, apples) – juxtaposed against the running-shoe clad marathon throngs (45,000 runners!) prepping for their personal journeys.

The connection was in plain sight: Jobs has changed how we marathon.

From the iTunes playlists downloaded onto shuffles to the ability to track your runner or navigate a new city, Apple has altered the race. I saw it over and over yesterday as I joined the shadow marathoners – loved ones with neon posters, pomp-pons, clown wigs, (anything to catch an exhausted runners’ attention!) trying to spot runners at various points along the route.

Because Chicago has a looping course (unlike, say, Boston), it’s possible to pop on and off subways to cheer for your runner in multiple spots where CTA stops coincide with the marathon route. But the sheer volume of runners means that to know when your runner will be at any given spot, you rely on text messages to your smartphone.



Chicago Marathon route map with subway stops

Throughout the race, my iPhone pinged me at various markers along the course with an update on my daughter’s progress, pace, and expected finish time. And I wasn’t the only one glued to these messages; the audible pings of people’s iPhone updates became as much a fixture of the day as the guys in yellow shirts handing out water and Gatorade.

It was common to hear a “ping” and then see people sprint for the subway station with rolled up signs tucked under an arm. I found myself, in between the pings, using the calculator to re-figure when she’d arrive where I planned to be. Then, of course, I used the map feature as I walked from Mile 20 to the finish (taking a shorter route than the runners).

And as my daughter finished, I received her unofficial time, pace, and the real time so I could guess when to meet her at the family reunification area. By the time we met, she’d taken out her ear buds and turned off her iPod shuffle. After her roommate called (she’d been getting the pings, too), I took a photo of her that she immediately posted to Facebook (using her iPhone app) — setting off a popcorn of pinging congrats.


Apple Store shrine the morning of the Chicago Marathon


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