Facing the Heat

First things first, I ran 8 miles for my long run today. It was a t-o-u-g-h tough run. I ran on the roads around our house and the hills are just relentless. I wore shorts and a long sleeve fleece jacket, and even though it was 36 degrees outside I got pretty hot with the sun on me. There’s a quote from a book I’ve been reading the past few weeks called A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington, that says: “some sessions are stars and some are stones, but in the end they are all rocks and we build upon them”. Today was a stone, but it sure was pretty outside:


I read an article in the January/February edition of Running Times called Facing the Heat. It discusses the growing number of races that have had to be shut down due to heat, and who is to blame. The article alternately points a finger first at the inexperienced/under-prepared/first-time marathoner, then at the veteran/fast marathoner, and finally at the race directors/officials.

The article begins by referencing the mid-race cancellation of the 2012 Green Bay Marathon. Initially the race director, Sean Ryan, got the brunt of the criticism. Most of the reviews on marathonguide.com blasted Ryan and I read more than one that stated Sean Ryan needs to step down from his position if the race has any hope of restoring faith in future participants. But then in a turn of events, the veteran marathoners turned their criticism on the “first-timers” (those participating not with a time goal, but with a goal to finish) for Ryan’s cautious approach. One reviewer of the marathon went as far to say:

“It was the inexperienced runners that didn’t heed the warnings their bodies were giving. I changed my goal from ‘a BQ’ to ‘finish at Lambeau rather than the hospital’. If more runners had done the same, the race would have probably gone off just fine. “
In addressing the issue of the inexperienced runner, Dave McGillivray, race director for the Boston Marathon, makes the proposal of a qualifying system for marathons.
I am not opposed to this idea. I think it would help address the growing number of “inexperienced” participants that full marathons are seeing. However, Phil Stewart, director of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and publisher of Road Race Management newsletter, makes a good point that the recent growth of half marathons is actually beginning to address this problem.
Maybe within the next few years, the marathon will not see so many participants, as the popularity of the half marathon continues to grow exponentially. So if the “first-timers” are to blame, it is because they rely too much on course support/aid stations and are quick to blame race officials when something goes wrong. But what if the inexperienced runner is not to blame for these race cancellations?
What if it’s the fast/veteran marathoners? The article goes on to discuss faster, finish time-oriented runners who are unwilling to adjust their goals to the conditions.
They go on to cite last year’s Boston Marathon, which allowed participants to defer to 2013 due to expected record high temperatures. Around 2,200 runners chose to defer, but many others chose to participate and did not do so cautiously. Out of the field of veterans, 2,000 ended up in the medical tent and 200 had to be transported to the hospital, according to the article. So if the veteran marathoners are to blame, it is because they are unwilling to adapt their goals and strive to achieve them at all cost.  

Finally, the article turns it’s pointed finger on the race directors. It is true that with the growth of the sport and influx of slower-paced runners, they have become more cautious. But who can blame them? No one wants to be the one that put a “black eye” on the sport due to some major disaster. If we are to blame the race director/officials, it is because they have become overly cautious with the growth of the sport.
McGillivray sums it up nicely when he states that it really is a shared responsibility, and the blame cannot be put on one individual group. It is the job of race directors to be there when you do get in trouble, but it is the responsibility of the participant to be well-prepared and realistic. As someone who hopes to complete her first full marathon (possibly in the near future… hint, hint), I will be adequately prepared to complete the distance. I am not a fast runner, so I guess that puts me in the category of “finishers”. But I do not feel that means I should not be allowed to participate in the event. After all, every veteran marathoner had to run a first marathon before there could be a second, right?

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