Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chicago Marathon: When Is It Just Too Hot?

By now even non-runners have heard the horror stories coming out of Chicago where marathoners yesterday were greeted with deadly heat and humidity. (New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/09/sports/othersports/09marathon.html?ref=us)

So I ask myself the question: At what point is it just to hot, humid and unhealthy to hold a marathon? At what point does the race director, despite all the planning and expense organizers, volunteers and participants have put into training for and executing the race, do you simply call it off or postpone it? We postpone baseball games for rain because balls are hard to throw and players can slip and injure themselves. We don't play football games in lightening.

The forecast several days out was predicting exactly the weather Chicago got yesterday. Anyone who says they were suprised by it is either ignorant or rewriting history.

Believe me. I know delaying or postponing a marathon is a huge decision with incredible ramifications. In the case of Chicago, 40,000+ runners have trained for and tapered for the race to occur on a specific date. They have paid good money to enter and travel to the marathon. And of course, organizers and volunteers have done much of the same.

I have run two "warm-weather" marathons. The first was the Seafair Marathon in Bellevue, WA in July 2006. Even in the Northwest, July is no time for a marathon. Temperatures we in the 70s before the halfway point and even though there was very little in the way of humidity, the skies were clear and the sun was beating down as ther was very little shade. I made the mistake that day of finishing the race. Not only was my time ridiculous (3:00), the recovery was a nightmare. I was beyond dehydrated and there was nothing I could do about it.

The second warm marathon was this past 4th of July on Sauvie Island just outside Portland, Oregon. The race started around 6:30 but temps were already at 70 degrees. To make matters worse, it was unusually humid and skies were crystal clear. It was a beautiful day to watch a marathon and a terrible day to run one. But I had prepared for it and it provided me another shot at qualifying for the Trials. Fortunately for me, it was a two-lap course. After feeling at Mile 15 like I should at Mile 24, I pulled out and hitched a ride back to the finish. It was the smartest thing I ever did. It was just too hot and not only was I not going to qualify, but the recovery, had I continued on, may very well have jeopardized my qualifiying race at St. George.

I think everyone can agree that there is some point where you simply can't run the race. I guess the disagreemnent comes on where that point is. Is it 80 degrees? Is it 100 degrees? Is it 95% humidity? Who makes the decision. My fear is that if there are many more races like Chicago, the courts may be making those decisions rather than the race directors or health officials.

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