Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of stories about the upcoming Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon.
The trio of little paint dots doesn’t look like much. Just wait.
Spray painted onto a parking lot near Loomis Street and Porter Avenue on the east edge of the athletic complex at North Central College, the string of splotches marks the starting and finish line for the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon.
The event — which on Nov. 10 will draw 3,500 runners to the city core, and hundreds more to support them as volunteers and fans — is being put together with effort from organizers and law enforcement intent on seeing that the city’s first marathon goes as smoothly as possible.
Dave Sheble and Craig Bixler, two of the marathon’s five codirectors, tapped their own experiences as early hosts of the four-year-old Fox Valley Marathon when they set about planning Naperville’s first big run.
“We’re taking advantage of that expertise,” Bixler said. “We saw things that we liked, and we saw things that marathons would provide that we didn’t like.”
Running a course that stretches more than 26 miles is one thing. Making the plans that make it happen is entirely another.
“It’s just amazing, looking at it from the other side, how much we don’t see from the race,” said Bixler, who knows that’s how it’s supposed to go. “If the organizers do their job, the runners never see it.”
A case in point: three incarnations of the route were put forth for the city’s special events committee, factoring in such concerns as road access, risk exposure and practicality of traffic control. One would have launched at Neuqua Valley High School, dipping into north Plainfield before curving back up into town. Another took the runners through portions of Lisle and Bolingbrook. The version the committee and the downtown business owners liked best created a home base at North Central College and looped through two sprawling preserves in the city’s southern half. Bixler said the course is beautiful.
“It’s got a nice mix of downtown and neighborhoods,” he said, estimating that nearly half of the distance is in open lands.
All of the participants will circle through Springbrook Prairie, and those who do the full run will also cover a curving route through the Greene Valley Forest Preserve on the east edge of town.
“Runners are going to get a nice mix of parks, forest preserves, trails, woods, prairie,” said Bixler, who lives in St. Charles.
The long course is broken up into six sections, and areas will be designated where friends and family members can gather to offer encouragement as the marathoners go by.
“That’s a huge mental benefit,” Bixler said. “Anything that you can do where you’re not thinking, ‘OK I’ve got 18 miles to go’ is a help.”
A sufficient sensation of safety also will help the runners do their best. The bombings that tore through spectators and runners near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last April were never far from the minds of those laying plans for security at Naperville’s marathon.
“Basically, it’s 26.2 miles of area that obviously we’re going to have people posted along,” said Ray McGury, director of the Naperville Park District and a former longtime police officer, who is coordinating security for the marathon.
He’s not expecting any problems at all, he said, and that’s because he and the rest of the security detail know they have plenty of backup.
“The same motto we’ve said over and over is, ‘If you see something, say something,’” McGury said. “I’d love to tell you it’s the police and security at these events, but really it’s the people at the event. … I don’t want to get corny, but it really is a group effort. We can’t be everywhere.”
While the ultimate goal is for everyone to enjoy the day, McGury is keenly aware that means exercising an appropriate level of precaution. And that means something different from what it did before the Boston tragedy — or Sept. 11, 2001, for that matter.
“If you had told me 10, 15 years ago that today I’d be taking off my shoes and belt and emptying my pockets and then going through an X-ray machine before I could get on a plane, I’d say you’re nuts,” he said.
Layers of security
McGury echoed Bixler’s observation that a great deal of what goes into staging a marathon takes place outside of public view. That will include plainclothes officers mingling in the crowd, perhaps bomb-sniffing dogs, and discreetly placed cameras.
“In light of what happened in Boston, they’ve encouraged us to have increased videos,” said Naperville police Sgt. Steve Schindlbeck, who coordinates security at special events for the department.
The Boston bombings, he said, inspired three things in Naperville: plainclothes people working in the crowd, video surveillance and an increased police presence. Collaborative partnerships are a crucial part of the marathon as well.
“We’ve been working really close with the college, because that’s where it starts and ends,” Schindlbeck said. “The primary focus, especially at the beginning of the race, is going to be the college area, because that is where the greatest single concentration of people will be.”
Security planning, which began last spring, has also entailed working with other local, state and federal agencies. Schindlbeck said the work took on significantly greater urgency after Boston was hit by alleged domestic terrorists.
“That lent itself to Ribfest, the summer parades, Last Fling. It’s lent itself to most of what we’ve done since then,” he said.
McGury said an acquaintance with whom he consulted on the Boston Marathon last spring sent him a digital photograph of the finish line there, shortly before the bombs went off. Something about the image struck him as odd.
“It occurred to me: all the security people, all the officers, they were watching the runners. They weren’t looking at the crowd,” he said. “It’s simple: let’s not shy away from why we’re here.”
There will be much effort directed at avoiding the sensation of a police state at Naperville’s first marathon, McGury said. But no one want to take unnecessary chances, and security planners aim to strike a balance.
“We didn’t create this situation,” he said. “It was handed to us, but it’s the world we live in now.”