Marathon runners celebrate identity — and going the distance: ‘If you finish, you’re doing something special’

With a new nonbinary division and a strong draw of international and local participants, the Chicago Marathon united a diverse group through athletic accomplishment.

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Runners on Roosevelt Road near Grant Park, approaching the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022.

Runners on Roosevelt Road near Grant Park, approaching the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Out of an expected 40,000 runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Cal Calamia was one of 70 runners entered in the nonbinary category, a new division also added to several other major marathons. 

Despite receiving hate messages online since speaking about the new category — “rot-in-hell type stuff” — Calamia “couldn’t be happier” after beating a personal goal of finishing in less than three hours, completing the 26.2-mile run with a minute and 10 seconds to spare. 

More than 10,000 international participants ran Sunday, many showing pride in their heritage, wearing their country’s colors or carrying flags or other national symbols with them.

Kenyans Benson Kipruto and Ruth Chepngetich came in first. Kipruto finished in 2:04:24. Chepngetich was the top woman for the second consecutive year, finishing in 2:14:18. Emily Sisson finished second and set a record for an American woman at 2:18:29.  Susannah Scaroni, a three-time Paralympian and a world-record holder at 5,000 meters, won the women’s race in 1 hour, 45 minutes, 48 seconds. 

Calamia hopes this level of excitement is extended to nonbinary participants in the future; the addition of the new category was not promoted for this year’s event.

“The first step is for marathons to just begin celebrating what we have,” Calamia said. “It doesn’t matter what time you run or who you are, just prove that you can do whatever it is you want to do and that you belong in whatever space you want to be in.” 

Cal Calamia, from San Francisco, runs along South Columbus Drive near Grant Park on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. Calamia was among those entered in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s new nonbinary category.

Cal Calamia, from San Francisco, runs along South Columbus Drive near Grant Park on Sunday. Calamia was among those entered in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s new nonbinary category.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

They said by celebrating the communities that make up the marathon’s participants, others could be inspired as well — something they set out to do by being vocal about entering the race in the new category. 

“I’m here to connect with other people like me and inspire other people like me,” said Calamia, who lives in San Francisco. “That’s why this category is so important. It might seem like a small thing for an organization like the Chicago Marathon, but it’s huge for those of us who have had to deal with the dissonance of trying to pick a category.”

Ariel Robbins and Theo Espy cheer on Cal Calamia near the 17-mile mark during the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. Calamia was one of 70 runners entered in the event’s new nonbinary category.

Ariel Robbins and Theo Espy cheer on Cal Calamia near the 17-mile mark along Jackson Boulevard during the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday. Calamia was one of 70 runners entered in the event’s new nonbinary category.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Calamia’s goal resonated with some cheering onlookers.

David Florian-Carlson, 21, and Andrew Golba, 19, were among four cross-country teammates from Bethel University who came to Chicago specifically to watch onetime NCAA champion runner Conner Mantz compete in his first marathon.

Golba had been to the marathon before; he was here when his father ran it in 2016. Golba said he started training with his dad at a young age, riding on the back of his mom’s bike until he started riding himself and eventually running. 

Now, after seeing his dad and Mantz run it, Golba said he wants to compete in the marathon as well, but he doesn’t plan to stop there. As soon as he finishes college he wants to “start knocking off” the six Abbott World Marathon Majors: Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, New York, London and Chicago.

Thomas Eller from Essen (right center) after crossing the finish line along South Columbus Drive.

Thomas Eller from Essen, Germany (right center) after crossing the finish line Sunday along South Columbus Drive.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Finishing the “Big Six” is a draw for many, including marathon participant Wesley Jacobs, 47, who spent 25 hours on airplanes to get to Chicago from Cape Town, South Africa.

Jacobs had finished the Berlin marathon a few years prior — that course was much flatter, he noted — and plans to tackle London’s next year. 

Alice Ni, a Connecticut resident, also plans to complete the “Big Six” in her lifetime, though she said Chicago’s course had impressed her. 

“I don’t even know how the others can compare,” Ni, 30, said. 

Ni had to postpone last year due to an Achilles tendon injury caused by running “too many miles” before she was ready. This year, she “took it more seriously” and trained with a coach.

Alice Ni, 30, on South Columbus Drive just after finishing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. She had to postpone last year due to an injury.

Alice Ni, 30, on South Columbus Drive just after finishing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday. She had to postpone last year due to an injury.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Just getting to see Chicago is another draw for many runners.

“Chicago is my favorite city in the world,” said Enrique Vazquez, a 53-year-old from Mexico City, shortly after completing his ninth Chicago Marathon. 

This one was special though — Vazquez only had eight weeks of preparation, half of what he would normally do, after he fell and broke six ribs. 

“Just running the marathon is the result of really large discipline, and setting that goal is worth it for everyone,” Vazquez said. “If you finish [the marathon], you’re doing something special.” 

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Enrique Vazquez, 53, from Mexico City, broke six ribs in a fall earlier this year, so he was able to train for less time than he normally would. But he made it across the finish line Sunday

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Contributing: Associated Press

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