ST. CHARLES – The drama came early on Sunday at the Fox Valley Marathon, but not in the way organizers intended.
Michael Bahr, of Chicago, was comfortably leading the pack in the half-marathon portion of the competition when he came trotting north on 1st Street, eliciting shouts of confusion from race personnel.
Bahr, following one of the marathon's bike pacers that accompany the leaders, had veered off course. He was quickly instructed the right way toward the Illinois Street Bridge to complete the race.
Once he came in, Bahr figured he would no longer be considered the half-marathon winner, but he was eventually listed atop the field.
"At that point I probably had three-quarters of a mile to go or something like that, I was just like I'll follow them, they should know where they're going," Bahr said. "They obviously did not."
It was the first half-marathon victory for Bahr, who said he's had several top-10 finishes at larger races in the city. He finished in 1:17.22.
Even before knowing he still was considered the winner, Bahr kept his temper in check.
"I'm not that kind of guy," Bahr said. "I'm far from it. This is all for fun, so it is what it is. I think some other people might get a little fired up, but it's all for fun."
On the women's side, Shannon Bixler – the top women's marathon finisher in 2011 – won the half-marathon in 1:25.06. A St. Charles native who now lives in Austin, Texas, Bixler is the daughter of co-race director Craig Bixler.
She said full marathons are "where my heart is" but her calendar was more favorable to run the half-marathon this time.
"I live in Austin so training for a marathon during the summer is not very pleasant," Shannon Bixler said. "It's just the start of racing season for me so this is a really good way to kick it off. I love coming home and seeing everybody."
Steve Breese, of Palatine, won the Fall Final 20-mile race in 2:04.33.
International flavor: Marathon participant Raymond Heraty brought one of the most eclectic backgrounds to downtown St. Charles.
A native of Ireland, Heraty has lived in Shanghai, China, where he works as a commercial pilot, for the past three-plus years. He previously lived in the Seattle area for 14 years.
Heraty is in the U.S. semi-regularly for work, and the timing worked out for him to run in the Fox Valley Marathon. He said he races six to eight marathons a year, mostly in Asia these days.
The relatively orderly, waved start on Sunday was a far cry from what he's used to in China.
"They all love to be at the start," Heraty said. "Even if they're going to run a six-hour marathon, they want to be right at the start, like at the front of the line. So that makes the starts just insane over there."
Heraty said he enjoys raising his young family in China, and called the chaotic race starts there "just a Chinese cultural thing."
"There are so many people [in China] and it's so competitive for space, it's just ingrained in them that they all want to be at front," he said. "They feel like they need to be at the front of every line. They're not very good at lining up."
Getting his fill over the hill: Turning 40 last month accelerated John Eggenberger's thoughts about his bucket list. On Sunday, the Cary resident checked off what arguably had been the most strenuous item.
Eggenberger finished his first career marathon in 3:13.26, exceeding 14 miles on a run for the first time in his life.
"For me, I always knew I could run the distance and never had," Eggenberger said. "When I gave up running competitively, I always thought, 'Well, I'll never run a marathon because I'll never run it where I thought I could have.' Finally, I said [forget] that, let's just see if I can do it. So I put a goal out there for me and that was it."
A former cross country and track athlete at Herscher and Eastern Illinois, Eggenberger competed through his junior year of college. His goal for Sunday – admittedly dicey given his marathon inexperience – was to break 3:15.
Asked whether he would enter another marathon, the information technology employee grinned and exhaled.
"Right now, I'd answer no," Eggenberger said, "but maybe in a week, yes."