Experts: 'Mind Over Matter' May Have Played Part in Chicago Marathon

"I don't look at those programs as being negative on the whole. They probably do engender that feeling that you can do anything and make it seem to people that it's not such a big deal," Sankoff said. "We're in a society that doesn't emphasize fitness enough. Anything that's going to make people participate is a good thing."

Despite criticism that these organizations might face, however, Sankoff maintains that it's the more middle-of-the-road competitors that are more likely to find themselves passed out with heat exhaustion.

"It's not the amateurs, the newbies that get in trouble. It's the people that are sort of in that middle ground," he said. "It's that middle ground who are trying for personal best, who are clearly out of their element when you get into those conditions that you don't recognize. … You always need to pay attention. You need to be completely in tune with your body."

Mark and Elisa Dennis, a Chicago-based husband-and-wife team, also ran Sunday; it was his first and her second. Although hot, they felt good while running. But when saw more experienced runners passed out on the route, they decided it was time to take it easy.

"At first you see people -- maybe people who aren't in the best physical condition starting to slow down and you see elderly people slow down, but when we saw people in our own age group, more experienced runners, passed out, we knew we needed to take it easy," Elisa Dennis, a 27-year-old architect, said.

Between mile 19 and 20, the couple realized from the bullhorns of both race officials and police that the race was over. Runners, according to Dennis, were advised to get on a bus that would take them to the finish line. Despite the warnings, however, the couple, like thousands of runners, continued to the finish line, walking most of the way.

"Honestly, I thought it was a joke," Dennis said. "From there on out we walked the rest of the race and if we felt good, we jogged a little. ... We were bound and determined to go 6 more miles and finish even if we had to walk. .. The majority of people kept going."

The couple ran across the finish line with a time of five hours, 50 minutes.

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