I’m not a marathon runner, but I know that most marathon runners will say that running 26.2 miles the day after fasting for 25 hours isn’t a walk in the park. But that’s precisely what Jewish runners in the Windy City will have to do if they plan to abstain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur this year and then run the Chicago Marathon the following day.
While I don’t think the schedulers of the Chicago Marathon were attempting anything malicious against Jewish runners, I’m starting to question if Yom Kippur even appears on calendars in the City of Chicago. This past Yom Kippur, a Dave Matthews Band concert was held at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on the night of Kol Nidre, the solemn prayer service commencing the full-day Yom Kippur fast. I know a lot of young Jewish Chicagoans who saw the Dave Matthews concert as a quandary testing their religious convictions. Now, many young Jewish Chicagoans who planned to run the Chicago Marathon will face this conflict.
Marathon runners typically eat a lot of carbs throughout the day before the marathon so the typical eating regimen on Yom Kippur of abstaining from food or drink for a full 25 hours and then gorging on such Jewish staples as smoked salmon, egg souffle, bagels, and coffee cakes cannot be healthy preparation. My friend Dawn Sherr is a dietitian in Chicago who will no doubt be asked to consult several marathon runners concerned about fasting before the run. She told me, “Fasting before a marathon is a hard thing to do. In the days leading up to the big day getting enough carbohydrates, protein, and fluid are essential for peak performance. Trying to cram in the all the fluid and nutrition after fasting can be hard to achieve and after spending so much time training many runners may not want to risk a bad run.”
The Chicago Tribune reported on the scheduling conflict yesterday in an article appropriately titled “Hurdle arises for Jewish runners in Chicago Marathon.” The Tribune quoted an angry Jewish runner who has run in four Chicago marathons. Chicagoan Barry Stoltze said, “To Jewish runners, you’re forcing a choice. Either sacrifice your running and don’t do the marathon this year, or sacrifice your religion and cheat on the fast.”
Marathon organizers did not directly address whether they considered the holiday in their planning but said the scheduling process was years in the making. The marathon, generally held on Columbus Day weekend, is planned with city officials so as not to conflict with other events and to ensure that area venues, such as hotels, can handle the thousands of out-of-town visitors.
“It’s not a simple date change,” marathon spokesman Jeremy Borling said. “It’s really wheels that are in motion several years in advance pointing to that one date.”
Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said there would surely be some annoyed runners but steered clear of calling this a controversy. The JUF was asked by organizers to provide outreach for Jewish runners who could be affected by the fast, he said.
I was contacted by a friend who told me he wasn’t planning to run the Chicago Marathon this year, but was disappointed that the city would schedule it without regard for the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. He was also outraged that the JUF wasn’t willing to advocate for the sake of the many Jewish runners who’s training and preparation would be adversely affected by the date of the Marathon.
No matter how many Jewish runners complain, it doesn’t look like the date of the Chicago Marathon is going to be changed. So, my advice would be that Jewish runners continue to train for the marathon (Judaism promotes exercise), but take this year off from the marathon rather than put their bodies in a dangerous situation. They should also exercise their right to protest by complaining to the marathon organizers, the JUF, and especially the Chicago Marathon sponsors. Hopefully, in future years the Jewish calendar will be considered before scheduling such a big event.