With bad weather looming over two of the big fall races this weekend, it only materialized at one of the two. Although the Portland Marathon was forecast to potentially be run under heavy rain, the rain never appeared. Unfortunately, predictions of record heat did befall Chicago.
With a forecast temperature of 88 degrees it appeared that the day would be cooker, and the impact of the temperatures could be seen in the times clocked in the elite men’s and women’s races today. Humidty hanging over 85% in combination with the heat would make things even more oppressive. The upshot of the day was a repeat of some of the spring marathons ealier this year, where we saw record temperatures at London, Paris and other April races in Europe.
Let’s look first at the elite race, before moving on to the drama of everything that went on behind it.
Elite Race and Results
In the men’s race, a lead pack of all of the pre-race favorites hung together for the first half of the race. The pack included Boston Marathon 2006/2007 winner Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot in addition to Felix Limo, Jaouad Gharib, Christopher Cheiboiboch, Daniel Yego, Bong-Ju Lee, Ben Maiyo, Felix Limo, James Koskei and Evans Rutto. But the pack splintered quickly in the heat and soon it was Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, Jaouad Gharib and Patrick Ivuti together, with Njenga trailing closely behind. Kipkoech Cheruiyot fell apart next at mile 21 and the Marathon Majors champion would fade to fourth place.
Gharib and Ivuti arrived at the line in the closest finish in Chicago History: they were awarded identical times in a photo finish with Ivuti taking the win. The finish time for both: 2:11:11. Daniel Njenga finished third in 2:12:45. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot finished fourth in 2:16:13.
On the women’s side, Berhane Adere was in control of the race through the late miles, with Adriana Pirtea keeping in contact with her. Pirtea felt she had a strong lead and was waving to the crowd at the finish on her way to the win, when Berhane Adere, sprinted around Pirtea 400M from the finish-line. It was a shocker to everyone, including Pirtea who didn’t appear to realize she had lost until almost literally the line. Berhane Adere took the win in 2:33:49 followed by Pirtea in 2:33:52.
American Kate O’Neil finished third in 2:36:15 in an excellent marathon debut.
The heat was on the elite field
It is interesting to see how the heat impact the finishing times in the elite race. I’ve often likened running in heat to running uphill – or into a headwind. It’s an unseen obstacle that slows even the best runners. Chicago would normally produce a finishing time in the 2:06:00 range: not this year. Take a look at the finishing times over the last few years in comparison to this year:
2007: 2:11:11 (high temp/high humidty)
The heat cooked the rest of us
You can imagine that if this is the impact of heat on the elite runners, you shouldn’t be beating yourself up if you had a slower than expected day out there today. But one day after the marathon has come to a close, we’re hearing nothing but horror stories and anger from many of the age-group runners out there on the course.
According to reports, at least 49 runners were taken to hospitals and another 300 were treated on site for heat related illnesses. A 35 year-old police officer died after collapsing in the 18th mile of the race. (See an article on Bloomberg for more information.
There are articles all over the Internet making the Chicago Marathon sound more like a disaster story than one that would be filed under the sports section.
Postings in Internet forums today talk of aid stations with no water; a diversion point for runners not completing the half-marathon in under four hours and then even complete closure of the course for some runners after mile 17 or later. We’re hearing of mis-managed communications, a lack of adequate supplies in the aid stations and runners dropping out at unheard-of rates.
Time magazine quoted a runner as follows:
“I was drenched in sweat, completely soaked, after only mile one, and that is very unusual,” said Emily Schuster, 25, a New Yorker who had trained for the event since June. “And then somebody collapsed before the halfway point, before even mile 13, and I thought: ‘OK, it must be hot, they must be old.’ But then at mile 15, there’s a stretch where you turn into the sun and run for several miles, and people started dropping like flies. Older, younger, men, women —every couple of steps you saw someone collapsing with ice on their head.”
Extra-preparations required for the heat
Although some are saying that safety required drastic actions, its not unheard of to hold races safely in very hot weather – but it does require a certain extra amount of preparation on the part of the race directors to keep things safe in the heat. Races from the Honolulu Marathon to Ironman Arizona and the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii to Rock N Roll San Diego are held most years in fairly extreme heat conditions.
Race directors there prepare for the heat by cooling water; trucking in tons of ice; and providing salt to racers in many cases. Take the Honolulu Marathon for example: the race starts at 5:00AM to give runners more time to run in the pre-dawn hours. This is a simple action that keeps people safe in hot weather when it is expected. Another important step would have been to have briefed runners in advance of what steps might be taken in a high-heat condition (for example: “if the temperature passes 90 degrees, we will close the course.”)
Whatever the actions taken by race organizers yesterday, it is a big disappointment for runners to have their races cut short against their will. It’s too bad that it came down to late actions to fix a problem that could have been better planned for.
For the runners, it’s a difficult and emotional time that I’ve seen first-hand. To any of you that that had this happen to you, just know that there will be other days to try again and other races to run. That may not help deal with the anger you might be feeling toward the race directors today, but keep on running and you’ll get new opportunities.
So a tough year for the Chicago Marathon in 2007. Usually one of the stellar races in terms of organization, this hot year could be damaging for many. It might, as they say, “leave a mark”.
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Chicago Marathon Internet Broacast Coverage (for on-demand post-race viewing)
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
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