Five Questions: RBR Chats with Carey Pinkowski on the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, by Larry Eder

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Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director of Bank of America Chicago Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

So, here is how it started. Robin Monsky, the PR Goddess of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon starts texting me, only some five hours after registration opens for the above mentioned marathon. " Larry, registration is up 155 %, this is crazy."  So, I scribble something in my notebook. Six hours later. " Larry, tell anybody who wants to run to get to online registration soon as we are filling up fast. " I twitter a cautionary note to RBR's minions in twitterville.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon has gone from 51 days to 31 days to SIX DAYS, in three years. At the helm of the race for most of the past two plus decades has been the iconic Carey Pinkowski. (Note: Carey will tell you that it is a team effort, and he is right, but Pinkowski should get some credit for having such a strong team).

I use the term, " iconic" because Carey is, like all successful marathon visionaries, a bit eccentric, a bit old school and someone who loves and studies the sport. A 2.22 marathoner, Carey was one of three guys from Gary, Indiana in 1976, at same school, who broke nine minutes for two miles. I learnt about him in an issue of Runners World, and also the Indiana State Meet results (Rudy Chapa, Carey Pinkowski, Tim Keogh).  Pinkowski then went to Villanova, and raced well. His understanding of our sport is tremendous.

We asked Carey five questions after his race closed registration in six days. Still in a bit of a whirlwind, Mr. Pinkowski was eminently quotable (he always is). Make no mistake about it, like his fellow World Marathon majors, Carey Pinkowski bleeds for his city and his marathon. In the late 90s, I recall seeing Carey up at three am, on the race course, making sure all was good (the late Fred Lebow, impressario of ING NYC Marathon, who died in 1994, would have smiled at that).

Here is what the pied piper of the Windy City had to say:


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Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director of Bank of America Chicago Marathon, photo by PhotoRun.net

RBR, #1. Tell us about the speed with which the registration filled?

Pinkowski: We've gone from 51 days to 31 days to 6 days in the last three years---which is amazing on the surface of things but ultimately is a recognition of the quality event we stage and the great value and event day experience we provide. People who have run this race before, want to come back again and it is known far and wide, both domestically and internationally, as the best place to accomplish your first marathon. We think the speed of closing also reflects the growing popularity of Chicago as a destination city and of our dedication to our charity programs - and of course to the continued growth of distance running.


RBR, #2. What does that tell you about health of B of A Chicago Marathon?

Pinkowski: See above! Seriously, the city of Chicago and our sponsors, led by the Bank of America, are fully committed for the long term to providing opportunities for runners, their families and spectators to have a memorable weekend of activity and fun. We don't see that changing in the foreseeable future and in fact, we have some special plans for 2012 to celebrate the 35th running of this world-class event.


RBR, # 3. What does that tell you about health of sport?

Pinkowski: Marathon running is more popular than ever and that growth is certainly a factor in our success but it's not the only one. People come to our race because it is well organized, convenient and fairly priced for the value delivered... I don't see the running boom slowing down at all on the near future - and it might even become more popular because of the upcoming Olympics where we as Americans will get to see perhaps one of the strongest teams - top to bottom - that we have ever sent. A medal  - or medals plural! - on either the men's or women's side, could give marathoning yet another boost.    



RBR, # 4. Did you ever believe you would have a field larger than some towns in Illinois running the marathon?

Pinkowski: Wow, I never thought of it like that! But I just looked it up and we actually have more people running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon than live in Harvey, Illinois where I was born! And when you add in the spectators and volunteers, I am involved with an incredible event that impacts more people than currently live in Hammond, Indiana where I was raised. That's pretty cool! And no, I never really stopped to think about how big the race would get. I still remember my first year as Race Director back in 1990 when I literally had race entries and bibs in my back pocket on race morning and would let people fill in the form and send me a check later! Times have changed, huh?


RBR, # 5. What do you enjoy most about your race?

Pinkowski: I have always enjoyed working with the elite athletes but the energy and enthusiasm of the citizen runners on race day is something really special, too. And away from the race day experience itself, I truly love going out and doing all the speaking engagements and meeting personally with runners and volunteers alike.

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