What’s a marathon race director to do (with the heat)?

Do heat and marathons mix?

This spring has brought unprecedented heat to many marathons. Starting with Boston and the 89-degreee temperatures and rolling right into spring, many marathon race directors have been faced with a tough dilemma–how to approach it. Runners too have to think about whether or not to toe the line if temperatures start approaching not only time-killing temps, but temperatures that could lead to potential heat-related issues.

In Wisconsin, three separate race directors chose to either cancel or cut short marathons thanks to the heat over the past month. And, well, those directors received plenty of heat from unhappy runners who wanted a chance to go for it. It’s understandable–months of time and effort go into getting ready for a marathon. Sometimes travel expenses accompany that time and effort. To have the rug pulled out from underneath can be disheartening, to say the least.

But in our litigious society, race directors have to think long and hard about allowing runners out onto the course. I can understand how they might be gun shy about letting a race proceed when temperatures are expected to be dangerously high. Another element that factors into all this is that there is an unprecedented number of new marathoners out there. Many, quite frankly, aren’t really in all that great of shape. And they often have no appreciation for the effect of the temperatures on their bodies over the many hours they’ll be out there. These are likely to be the first victims should the temperatures get too high.

I’ve said it before–I don’t race well in heat. For that reason, with the exception of Boston every few years, I limit my marathons to late fall in regions where warm temperatures aren’t very likely. I don’t know how I would have felt had the BAA pulled the plug on Boston this year, but again, I would have understood their thinking if they had chosen that route.

The bottom line is that there’s no simple answer. Race directors can’t please everyone and when it comes to heat, they are in a tough position–damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

What are your thoughts on how race directors should handle marathons when the temperatures get dangerously hot? Have you ever had a race cancelled due to heat? 


Related Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge


  1. says

    as a nonrunner I always think it is a good idea when things are canceled or shortened.
    I know it isnt a popular stance but as a onetimetrainer I saw first hand how so very frequently people simple can not limit themselves.
    I know I probably could NOT after training so hard—Id run no matter what.

    (*ducks and runs*)
    Miz recently posted..Thirty days till 43.My Profile

  2. says

    My initial response is “No way!! Never cancel! That’s for wimps!” Marathons are about the journey, they are about everything magically coming together on one day, marathons are almost like fate, get one element wrong and everything else will fall apart. I like that about marathons BUT people are stubborn (I am one of them) and unless races are cancelled people will run them and usually they will not try to adjust their pace. I can completely understand why race directors have to cancel races. Safety first always!
    Kris Lawrence recently posted..Putting the Tiger Shoes back on- An 8K recapMy Profile

  3. says

    I am awful racing in the heat. Like you I try to avoid them in the summer months. I think Boston handled it well letting the individuals decide what to do and give them the option to enter next year. It is a let down I’m sure for all the training you do over the months but as a director at least you give people the option to be safer if they aren’t in the shape they need to be in to handle those temps!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted..Monday MotivationMy Profile

  4. says

    I think that a solution might be for racers to be offered the option to run but in order to do so they would have to sign a release acknowledging the potential risk of running in the dangerous heat – runners would then be encouraged to drink, run thru cooling stations but ultimately they are running at their own risk. Since most people need to pick up packets the day before, before getting your bib, you’d have to sign this agreement – then the race directors should be generally released of liability.

    I think if I had trained for all those months, I’d want the option. I am not good at running in heat and might opt out but I’d appreciate being able to make this decision for myself.

    On the other hand, While I would be super bummed for a race to be cancelled or stopped, I wouldn’t be angry with race directors for trying to make the “right call.” That’s a tough call to make.
    Jen recently posted..I am woman hear me roarMy Profile

  5. says

    I always say hold the event, and let individuals decide what is best for themselves and their training on that day. However, I think it was fabulous that Boston allowed deferrals, so that runners didn’t feel pressured to run or lose their chance.
    Mara @Big Happy Family recently posted..HMS BountyMy Profile

  6. says

    As Boston is my most recent marathon experience, it’s still very fresh in my mind. While it was a little scary looking at the weather forecasts and receiving emails from the BAA with DIRE warnings, I truly believe they handled the situation tremendously. The option to defer was put out there, and it’s totally understandable how and why some people took that option, but for those of us who didn’t, the fully stocked water stops were a welcome oasis. Naturally, the spectators who offered up water and ice were lifesavers, as were the misting tents set up by local fire departments.

    The BAA took a potentially deadly situation and handled it professionally and safely….and for that, this novice marathoner says “thanks”!
    Bill Fine recently posted..Getting there faster than ever…..505.43My Profile

  7. says

    tough question! I think they MUST play it smart and be cautious first and foremost, especially when it comes to the non-experienced runners…it can be scary if they aren’t trained and hydrated. The more experienced runners can do a lot more!
    marissa recently posted..am I the last to know about it?My Profile

  8. says

    It’s a tough call, but I agree with Boston letting people decide what’s best for themselves. They sent out appropriate warnings about the heat, and cautions about running if your fitness level wasn’t where it should be. It’d be tough to train so hard for a race and not get to run it, especially if you were capable.
    Robin recently posted..9 down one to goMy Profile

  9. says

    I think the race should go on but with a casualty limit in place. If too many people are in need of medical attention, then call the race.
    Boston handled the situation so well, they deserve a standing ovation….or was it simply the crowd support that kicked into gear and made the race doable by most runners/joggers. Who knows but it gave everyone the opportunity to run smart or at least put forth some of the effort they trained for. As for those who didn’t believe they were up to it, they got the opportunity to defer.

    I’ve never backed out of a race due to heat, just made the decision to run it slower and with more focus on hydration than I normally would.
    Joanne recently posted..Summer Sizzler 5 Miler and CNYEats A Taste of Utica Blueberry MuffinsMy Profile

  10. says

    I understand the reason some must be cancelled though I would probably be pretty upset if it was one I trained for, paid for and traveled for. I would’ve wanted the experience, even at a much different level than originally anticipated.
    abbi recently posted..Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail RunMy Profile

  11. says

    I love running in the heat :)

    However, I know my body very well and I know what I can handle, most other people can’t and will get hurt by running in the heat.

    Yes, they have a horribly difficult job on whether to pull the cord on the race or not, but they also know how well staffed they are (or aren’t) and whether they feel they can handle the added work required to have aid stations w/ the heat.
    Matt Oravec recently posted..Towpath 10-10 10k Race ReportMy Profile

  12. says

    I’ve had a race cancelled due to impending thunderstorms, but not the heat (yet). I think the thought of cancellation depends on how much additional support they have (spray stations, sponges, additional water stops, more volunteers). I had some friends run Ragnar (Madison to Chicago) and it was a nightmare with a lack of aid stations and lack of support. I had another friend run the Rockford Marathon where they didn’t have enough volunteers at the aid stations they were supposed to have, let alone additional ones. I think that if an event is going to take place in the heat, the folks in charge should take extra precautions. If they don’t have the means to do it, the race should be cancelled. After all, there are runners are going to get out there and try to run it, even if it is cancelled or shortened.
    Kelly @ Running Kellometers recently posted..Jim Gibbons 5k Race RecapMy Profile

  13. says

    living in south florida where its hot hot hot and humid year round we deal with it…but no matter what everyone will not be satisfied if they go or cancel so race directors have to do what they feel best…good point about new marathoners and then those who’ve trained, they’re going to want to run ‘no matter what’ and may not be in their best interest to do so…I know me personally, if I trained, got there, incurred the expenses, etc. I’d run no matter what…smart or not!
    Tara Burner recently posted..Pushing Yourself & Fitness Bucket ListMy Profile

  14. says

    This is a hard one. I agree with what some of the others have said that people should be able to police themselves but we all know that’s not going to happen. People are stubborn and proud – not bad things per se but can get you into a bad situation. And yes, our society is so ready to throw a lawsuit at anything that comes their way. Yes, I would be upset if my race was cancelled especially after all the training and expense but would rather be safe than sorry.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Preschool GraduateMy Profile

  15. says

    Yes, my first marathon, the notorious Chi 2007 was cancelled due to heat. But I was at mile 22 and no way was I stopping. I wish we could have started earlier before it got so hot but i do understand a race of that size has mega logistics to consider.
    I do think that since that race, directors are more careful and flexible. I would certainly never be ‘mad’ that a race was cancelled. The roadside ‘carnage’ in Chicago that year is unforgettable.
    Teamarcia recently posted..Vega Energizing Smoothie Review/GiveawayMy Profile

  16. says

    Safety first. Lots and lots of water and cooling stations. Start early in the morning — like 8 a.m. I have no idea how to make a go or no go decision and glad it isn’t my job. I often think back to my Texas high school days where 95 was a cool day, LOL. Now I wouldn;t set foot outside that warm.
    NY Wolve recently posted..Father’s Day 12 milerMy Profile

  17. says

    It is not an easy decision for the RDs but in the end you run. You listen to your body and slow down and take in water and calories. I can say that because I know and you are right most don’t but simultaneously if they have trained they know what to listen for.

    Those that did not train properly are going to be in for a long day weather (get it) it is hot or not.
    Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race recently posted..Ironman Arizona Week 2My Profile

  18. says

    It would be really tough to have your marathon cancelled, but I do understand why it has to happen sometimes. My question is, what should you do if your big one is cancelled? Do a slow long run, and then find another race a few weeks out that you can peak and then taper for again? How should a smart runner deal with that?

    I did have a half postponed for three weeks due to a forest fire in 2010, so I just repeated the last few weeks of my training plan. But I didn’t meet my goal at that race.
    Terzah recently posted..Scott Jurek and the Food QuestionMy Profile

  19. says

    I understand the predicament that RDs are in…But I would want them to keep the race open – and maybe offer a refund or automatic entry into the race for next year if you choose to not race it. If I had trained for this race, I would definitely want to at least run it – at considerably slower pace – but at least complete it. Giving runners the free option out may persuade those who are on the fence or uncomfortable with running it.
    But like you said, you can’t please everyone. I don’t think you can fault or be upset with RDs with whatever decision they make – they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So glad I’m not a RD =) LOL
    Michele @ nycrunningmama recently posted..10 Mile Progression Run, Wedding and Father’s DayMy Profile

  20. says

    I am so glad I’m not the one who has to make that call! Like you said, there’s no way you can please everyone. I learned the hard way this summer how much the heat takes out of me as well, and am sticking to races in the cooler months, other than maybe the occasional 5k.
    Laura recently posted..Do you incorporatre plyometrics?My Profile

  21. says

    Nashville rnr was decently hot this year, but I would have been really sad if they cancelled it. if thy made up for it with refunds and other extras like a free rece entry, it would be easier for me to get over it.

  22. Casper Wayne says

    I will never advise for a race to be cancelled just because the temperature is hot. I am of the opinion that people should be able to adapt in all situations. But for those few whom might get side effects like skin burns as a result of running in the heat then it is better than you don’t participate.
    Casper Wayne recently posted..kimkardashiantapenews.comMy Profile

  23. says

    I ran the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April of 2010. April in Tennessee is notorious for unstable weather. There were severe storms forecasted for that day with a high rating on the TORCON scale. They announced the day before the race that those running the full would be diverted to the half finish if they hadn’t reached such-and-such point by such-and-such time. It affected a lot of people, and it did get pretty rough. As I and my friend were finishing the half, race personnel were on bullhorns pretty much telling everyone to get their medal, get their bags, and get the hell out.

    I can understand that much more than cancelling for the heat. Tornadoes pop up quickly. They’re unpredictable. Heat is predictable and comes on gradually and a person knows when they’re getting too hot. In my opinion, a race shouldn’t be cancelled for heat. Have the participants sign a legal waiver, and if they stroke out at mile 22, there shouldn’t be any recourse on the race or its sponsors.
    Pam recently posted..Just Call Me FlashMy Profile

  24. says

    I think it depends on how good the race support and infrastructure is. If a race director doesn’t think there will be enough water or volunteers or that it’s impossible to set up misters or the route would make it difficult for medical teams to aid runners in distress, it’s probably best to cancel in cases of extreme heat.
    Raquelita recently posted..House Buying and HikingMy Profile

  25. says

    I do not do well in the heat either. I ran St. George this past year in record heat and ended up in the medical tent for 2 hours afterward despite hydrating a ton during the race. My body just does not like it. I intend to stay away from hot races in the future, but sometimes it’s hard to predict if it will be hot or not up until race week.
    Beth @ Miles and Trials recently posted..20 miles…I’ve missed youMy Profile

  26. says

    I’m torn on this subject. My 70.3 triathlon was cut way short last weekend due to cold, rain, and high winds on the bike course. Clearly the race director determined there was a safety issue. Same can be said with heat.

    I personally can’t stand the heat — can’t stand running in it, training in it . . . but I’m acclimating to it now because I know it will be HOT at my next race and I’ll be LIVID if it were canceled or cut short.

    Honestly I feel like each athlete needs to exercise extreme personal responsibility each and every time they choose to get out on a course. It’s unfortunate that our society is so litigious (and I’m a lawyer) – at the same time I don’t want to see these magnificent sports go “soft” just because they’re afraid of being sued.
    Stef recently posted..Ironman 70.3 Boise Race ReportMy Profile

  27. says

    I also do not run well in the heat, at all. Another reason why I choose early spring or fall marathons. I would never sign up for a late spring or summer marathon for the reason that it could be hot. Granted I do realize that mother nature isn’t perfect and could still deal a hot weather forecast on race day like Boston this last year. I think that the race directors really just have the athletes in their best interest even though it might not be perceived that way. As much as I love running, I don’t think that it is worth getting heat stroke or even worse- death. It is better to be safe than to be sorry later.
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..Tracking FoodMy Profile

  28. says

    Oooooh…good one. I think that we should be smart enough to not race when it’s potentially dangerous, but like you said, we have worked so hard and it’s hard to “give up” at the last minute after all that work. So, like wearing a helmet on your bike, it is smart to play the safety card, but some people won’t, so the race director has to.

    Training and/or racing in the heat is not fun. At all. I try to avoid it if I can.
    Travel Spot recently posted..Tuesday Training (2)My Profile

  29. says

    I have a hard time with this one. I suck at running in the heat, despite training in Virginia LOL. I think part of the problem was that the heat hit suddenly. It’s hard to run a hot marathon, but it’s even harder when you haven’t been training in the heat. (Heck, here we had a 10k shortened to a 5k last June because of a heat wave.) It’s a hard decision but there are too many people who wouldn’t necessarily make a smart decision. If the race can’t up its water stops and provide other options for cooling, then it’s smarter to cut it short.
    MCM Mama recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: Sunblock FailMy Profile

  30. says

    Really component of content. I just became aware of your blog along with accession money to claim i find truly loved profile your blog threads. At any rate My business is subscribing as part of your increase and in some cases My spouse and i success you can get admittance to persistently swiftly.