I've trained really hard, done all my long runs. I know it won't be my best marathon but I know I'll finish. —Lydia Ray
"You should not run this race" was the directive for the 116th Boston Marathon. The Boston Athletic Association had the daunting task of preparing for a potential medical crisis as temperatures in the mid-80s loomed over the world's most prestigious event for avid marathoners.
Dr. Pierre d'Hemecourt and Dr. Sophia Dyer, BAA co-medical directors, recommended that inexperienced marathoners sit this one out, especially if the runners were not highly fit, had little experience in warm weather or any underlying medical conditions.
On April 16, Patriots' Day, the temperature was already 64 degrees at 9 a.m. in Boston.
Many consider the Boston marathon to be the marathon of all marathons. It's one of the few races in the world requiring a qualifying time. For most, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thousands of runners have spent the last year trying to qualify, register under stricter guidelines requring faster times and train through the winter months. There is the cost of traveling to Boston, along with hotel and food expenses. Even so, the heat was taken so seriously that a deferment was offered to all 27,000 runners.
Five thousand marathon runners took the BAA up on its offer, shortening the field to 22,000.
Lydia Ray (25) and Kally Ray Squire (32), sisters from Utah, did not consider deferring.
"I've trained really hard, done all my long runs," said Ray, a 3:29 marathon qualifier. Though she was a bit nervous the night before, she felt prepared. "I know it won't be my best marathon but I know I'll finish."
She didn't plan to carry any water with her, just four GU Energy Gels. The BAA was providing water and one GU for each runner. Ray planned to start the GU gel at mile 7 or 8 and continue every five miles. "I'm just really excited," she said.
Ray and Squire ran the race together, finishing in four hours flat.
No one really knows the response each individual may have to heat. Even the fittest can have problems. Bill Rodgers, a four-time Boston winner, is a notoriously poor heat runner.
The BAA warned competitors to drink water, but not too much. Officials recognizee the symptoms of heat stroke, including confusion, nausea, headaches, vomiting and excessive fatigue.
When all eyes are watching the race, the 200-plus team members of the Spotters Network are perhaps the most important eyes. Fred Tressler, co-founder of the Spotters Network, explained the physiological effects heat can have.
First, running in 84-degree weather, causes a great amount of stress on the heart, he said. Instead of blood plasma being pumped to the muscles and the brain, it goes to the skin as it tries to cool the body through sweat and evaporation. This can cause a desperate situation as muscles begin to cramp, and the body has less oxygen to create energy.
Second concern: hitting the hills.
"Heat and hills are a tough combo," Tressler warned.
Wave 1 was made up of the elite runners. They run first, are the fittest and most acclimated to the heat. But even they had trouble. Six of the 17 elite women had a DNF (Did Not Finish), and four of the 20 elite men had a DNF.
It was even tougher for Wave 2. Many runners did not even start the marathon until 10:40 a.m., running on a course with zero shade and hitting the famous Heartbreak Hill in the early afternoon.
Brian Reynolds of Andover, N.H., said he was just going to take it easy and enjoy the crowds. He was hoping to run in the eight-minute/mile split range, carry Succeed Caps with him and hoped to find sprinklers to run through.
The heat continued to took its toll, especially as the temperature climbed throughout the afternoon. Instead of a 3:17 finish, Reynolds' eight-minute/mile pace slowed to nine and then 11 min/miles, giving him a finish of 4:09:40. Not a personal record, but still a great run for one of the toughest courses in the world, even without the heat.
But what a race it was. Watching the winners cross the finish line didn't fail to inspire. The Kenyans dominated the winner's circle, with Sharon Cherop battling countrywoman Jemima Sumgong. Cherop, in her bright red shoes, used her experience from last year's race (a third-place finish), surging to first place — but by only two seconds — with a time of 2:31:51.
"Yeah, it was very difficult," Cherop said to a WBZ-Boston reporter after her finish.
The men's winner was Wesley Korir. Described as an altruistic man of faith, this Kenyan also battled with countryman Levy Matebo, only taking the lead at mile 24. He managed to hold on with a blistering first-place time of 2:12:40.
Crossing the finish line, he pointed to the sky to indicate his thanks. The WBZ commentators often referred to Korir, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Louisville University and is seeking American citizenship, as "lovable" and "the dark horse."
The night before a race, Korir eats a tuna sandwich, but he buys two — one to eat and one to give to a homeless person.
As he finished the race, he looked awed by his win. This was Korir's first Boston Marathon and he told that WBZ that it was very emotionally difficult. He tried to hydrate as much as possible, but at mile 13 began to cramp.
"I just started praying and singing and just asking God for the energy I praise him and thank him for everything."
The top U.S. female from was Mayumi Fujita, with a 2:39:11 finish. Jason Hartman from the U.S. came in 4th, with a time of 2:14:31.
The Boston Herald reported that as many as 135 people were taken by ambulance to the hospital and officials estimated that 2,200 sought treatment just within the city of Boston. This is a good reminder for all runners to heed the caution of heat. Sometimes it's just too hot to run.
Amy Makechnie is a runner and writer from New Hampshire. She blogs at maisymak.blogspot.com.