A new climate for running

It’s hot out there, really hot. So hot, in fact, that races are getting cancelled.

Hot workouts are a rising trend, but the last thing runners need is extreme heat.

Yet this year unseasonably warm weather has already impacted three marathons. Boston marathoners in April wilted as the temperature soared into the high 80s, sending some 2,000 participants to seek medical assistance, and approximately 100 people to hospital, most for heat stroke.

The temperature also led to the first-ever “heat deferements” for 2,160 runners, according to the Washington Post.

The Cellcom Green Bay Marathon in Wisconsin pulled the plug on its race last week two-and-a-half hours into the run after 20 were sent to hospital and many more sought on-site help. http://gbpg.net/K3b7kC

Now the Madison Marathon, also in Wisconsin, is eyeing up temperatures and threatening to cancel if things get too hot.

Welcome to running in the new climate change reality.

It’s not just heat runners have to be concerned about. In the fall, along the Eastern seaboard, more extreme weather events – like hurricanes – may become common during prime Autumn marathon season.

Ridiculous, you say? Think again. The Legs for Literacy marathon in Moncton, New Brunswick went ahead three years ago despite hurricane conditions, complete with a wind that bent competitors double as they strained to complete the race.

Climate change is a fact.

“Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850),” declares the most recent survey from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“It is very likely that over the past 50 years: cold days, cold nights and frosts have become less frequent over most land areas, and hot days and hot nights have become more frequent. It is likely that: heat waves have become more frequent over most land areas, the frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most areas, and since 1975 the incidence of extreme high sea level  has increased worldwide,” notes the report.

The summary of the report goes to say, “Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.”

In other words, it’s damn hot out there.

Previously, as a national news correspondent based in Atlantic Canada, I covered climate change frequently. Fall hurricanes and severe winter storms were and are news-worthy. The climate scientists I interviewed always told me the same thing, one of the facts of global warming would be an increase in both precipitation and extreme weather events. So far that’s been borne out.

So what does that mean to runners? Simply this: race directors may have to begin to assess the dates of their events and shift them appropriately to adjust to the changing realities of the weather.

Therefore, an historic marathon such as Boston may need to consider running earlier in order to avoid the new normal, broiling temperatures unsuited to an April marathon.

And runners will have to correspondingly pick and choose their races. That fall marathon, once known for its cool, seasonal weather may not be the best anymore; it may in fact receive torrential rains and high winds. Rather, a November or even December race might be better now.

You may be able to beat the course, best your time and win over your competitor, but you can’t beat the heat.

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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