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Lessons from Chicago

October 12th, 2010 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

Sitting here in the BA lounge at Chicago airport on the way back to France, I’ve the time to reflect (a more polite way of saying that I’ve got nothing else to do) on these past four days spent in the land of Al Capone and McDonalds.

For example on the importance of first impressions. And what impressions do people get an hour into queuing at immigration control after an eight-hour flight? The ESTA pre-registration system seems to have done nothing else but make the queues longer. Despite all the warnings, it seems that it is still not obligatory (or maybe it is just that some people don’t actually comply). But rather than separating the guilty from us good people and putting us in different ‘lines’ (a new word I learnt this week, nobody understood a thing when I said ‘queue’), we’re all in the same one, and poor old Mr.Immigration has to manage the complexity. Badly it seems.

Then there’s the dangers of standardisation going just a little too far. Didn’t I just love it when, having just crossed the finishing line after 3h31m45s of physical and mental torture, a young blond girl smiled and uttered “Congratulations!”. Even better, when given a bottle of ice-cold water (in France once, the first thing I got after crossing the finishing line in blistering conditions was a copy of the local paper), another smile and “Congratulations!”. A few yards further, and a welcoming beer (they sure know how to treat you well here) – “Congratulations!”. A photo. “Congratulations!”.Picked up my clean clothes. “Congratulations!”. Picked my nose. “Congratulations!”. Never a “well done”, or a “how are you feeling?”. After a while, you’re tempted to flee all human contact, just in case there’s another inspirational “Congratulations!”.

But it’s all too easy to see the weaker points in an otherwise magnificently organised event. Consider the contribution of risk management . A colour-coded ‘Event Alert System’, which had seemed a little artificial to me, was actually used during the race to warn runners of the deteriorating conditions (although anyone out there probably realised just how hot it was getting), and teams of ambulances were sent out to deal with the falling dozens. And the greatest inspiration came from he who decided to manufacture probably millions of ice cubes handed out in plastic bags at the end of the race (with a firm “Congratulations!”.. What if it had been raining, what would they have done with them all?

However, if there is one lesson I’ve learnt this weekend, it’s the value of people. Most had completed the 13-16 weeks training, and were hungry for success on the starting line, but nothing could have prepared them for the burning sun that progressively rose during the morning. Yet only around 3% actually pulled out

A major contribution to this was the other people, the million plus who lined the roads cheering, chanting and screaming “Good job, Peter”, as if they were part of the same team committed to success. Two miles from the finishing line, the going was tough, the sun was hot, and reason was gradually overcoming ill-founded intention by convincing it that maybe it might be a good idea after all to stop and walk a bit.

A big lady spectator hounded down on me and screamed “Peter, I’ve been sent down to tell you – get a move on, you’re doing a great job”.

How could I let her down after that?

To all of you, runners, organisers, and absolutely brilliant spectators. “Congratulations!”.

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