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Weather and Running: The Boston Marathon Deferment Issue

Posted by on Apr 17, 2012 | 29 Comments

This year’s Boston marathon experienced high temperatures (low to mid 80s according to reports), which prompted the race directors to offer deferments for next year’s race.  If a runner didn’t want to run in the heat, they could gain entry for the race next year.

I have mixed feelings about the offering of a deferment.

I can see the race directors’ logic.  This move will likely cover their asses.  If someone is injured or dies as a result of heat exhaustion or stroke, they can claim they offered ample warning including an out.  This was a smart move on their part.

On the other side of the coin, this IS a marathon.  Not just any marathon… it’s Boston.  Unless you’re a charity runner, the qualifying times eliminate slow runners.  If you qualify for Boston, you’re in the upper echelon of runners.  Doesn’t the Boston Athletic Association go to great lengths to tout this as n elite event?  [Note- I am not even close to qualifying for Boston.]  If you have the experience and training to qualify, you probably should have the experience to safely deal with heat.  It’s not like Chicago a few years ago where you have tens of thousands of relatively inexperienced runners.

Environmental conditions are part of our sport.  Running is an all-weather sport.  We run when it’s cold.  We run when it’s raining.  We run when it’s snowing.  We run when it’s hot.  When you get to the level of a marathon, your training should include dealing with temperature extremes.  I have a hard time buying the “It’s too warm to race” rationale. It’s not rocket science- slow down, drink more, make sure your electrolyte balance is in check.  Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion.   Stop if needed.  As runners, we should be able to take personal responsibility to be prepared for the conditions we encounter.

I know some people will claim it was unseasonably warm, therefore the runners did not have a chance to train in the heat.  There are plenty of people that heat train in cold climates.  For my first two 100s, I knew I was likely going to encounter temps hotter than the temps I trained in.  I spent time in a sauna several times per week.  Toward the end, I even did sauna burpees.  I habitually over-dressed.  I even slept in clothes, damn it!

I really like the fact that Josh Cassidy not only won the wheelchair division, he set the course record.  Oh yeah, he set the world record, too.  At least someone wasn’t bitching about it being too warm.

Realizing the gray area here, what are your thoughts? Is it unreasonable to expect experienced runners to be prepared for heat?  What about you?  Are there any conditions you always avoid?  What if you qualified for Boston?  Would you opt out just because it was too warm?

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29 Comments

  1. Dave
    April 18, 2012

    I had been messing around with minimalism and footstrike for a year at that point, but was surprised that someone could do the marathon distance (fast) in bare feet. Actually, being beaten to the line by a barefooter felt kinda like being ‘chicked’ (which happens to me regularly by the way, but you get my point).

    Following the race, I read ‘the book’, met Chris McDougall, ditched the motion control shoes, and the rest is history.

    • Dave
      April 18, 2012

      @Barefootron – Damn, reply didn’t hit the right thread… can’t delete… oh well

    • Curt
      April 18, 2012

      The same barefoot runner shows up in this cool slow-motion video, also from Boston 2010.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67_A1A7MoAc

    • trissa
      April 20, 2012

      Yes, Dave…..I get the negativity when I cross the line barefoot in front of the male gender. Alot don’t like being beat by a 55 year old female barefoot runner. Oh well. :)

      • James
        April 25, 2012

        Maybe I’m not helping by barefoot “chicking” people..

  2. Eric
    April 17, 2012

    Deferment offer was a smart move, particularly as it was focused on the 20% of the field that didn’t have to qualify (charity, sponsors, municipalities).

    Heat exhausted runners fill the emergency rooms and non-runners with emergencies can’t get to those resources.

    This was a no-brainer to cull the most likely to be felled by the heat.

  3. Ken
    April 17, 2012

    I thought this option was only given to charity runners. Most of who are not anywhere near good enough to qualify for the race. Am I incorrect?

    Regardless of who they offered it to, I’m a little surprised by how controversial this decision seems to be. My reaction is basically, “Who cares.” Let’s take a deep breath and get over it. This is such a trivial thing. Both the sport and the Boston Marathon will survive just fine, and this decision will be nothing more than a minor footnote a year from now.

    Gosh, my world no longer makes any sense. I’m usually the obsessive nerd that has to be told to “Chill”.

    • HeatherW
      April 17, 2012

      The deferral was given to qualified runners as well.

  4. Glenn
    April 17, 2012

    This irritated me quite a bit. I am no marathoner, but I have played enough soccer and rugby in 90+ temps to know the feeling. What did we do in these situations? We used our brains. If someone was feeling ill do to the intense heat, they stopped playing. We all knew the inherent dangers of participating in grueling workouts in intense heat and we adjusted our playing strategy and hydration accordingly.

    To Heather W: Let me me get this straight: They give a deferment to someone who does not run race, but would hesitate to give one to someone who took attempted to run in such grueling conditions? I don’t think the deferment should be offered, at least not with out giving an automatic bid to all those who Boston Marathon this year whether they finished or not. Seems a little backwards?

    I understand the BAA probably offered deferment to cover their ass, and I think that is a shame. It should be up to the BAA to think for everyone else. This issue of personal accountability extends well beyond running and permeates pretty much every part of our culture. When something unfortunate happens, blame is placed on nearly everyone except the person who made the ultimate decision that resulted in their own injury.

    Have an eating problem? Don’t eat McDonald’s three times a day. Have a kid that is struggling in school? Take time out of your help them learn. Running a marathon? Be honest with yourself and know your limits.

    Stop blaming knives for being sharp.

    • HeatherW
      April 17, 2012

      Yep, ya got that right, Glenn.

  5. briderdt
    April 17, 2012

    I found this as a very stand-out quote:

    “As runners, we should be able to take personal responsibility…”

    I think you could replace “runners” with any other term and it would be true. But there’s that “should” in there. Lots of things “should” be, but aren’t. Rail on about how things should be, but you still have to accept things as they are. And even if the runners themselves are as responsible as they should be, you still have to deal with the families (and their ambulance-chasing attorneys) after the fact.

    My wife and I were scheduled to run the Chicago half-marathon last year. We trained in the Seattle “heat” all spring. Temps in Chicago had been mild, but race week came with conditions much like Boston on Monday. We opted to not do the event. Turns out they red-flagged the race an hour and a half after the start.

    I can see an RD wanting to do this. It’s a symptom of our litigious society. Sad, but true.

  6. Michael B
    April 17, 2012

    I find the deferral option absurd for Boston. This is THE marathon many runners train so hard to qualify for. My guess is that anybody who qualified has trained/raced in warmer weather. Sure you won’t run as fast as you want to, sure you might have to run another marathon to qualify for Boston next year, but it’s an equal handicap for all runners. Suck it up and run the race! I’m nowhere near qualifying for Boston, but if I did, I’d run the race come what may.

    • Kelly
      April 18, 2012

      I qualified for Boston this year and after a lot of discussion with my family, I opted not to run. I have 4 young kids and my responsibility is to be here for them. That is why I chose not to “suck it up.” Everyone has a different story, so don’t judge others who may have chosen to defer. I applaud those whose chose to run, but certainly don’t look differently upon those who chose not to – especially those who worked hard to qualify for this race.

  7. Bare Lee
    April 17, 2012

    I understand Jason and HeatherW’s points, but perhaps the organizers could have made allowances for those using this year’s race as their qualifier for next year’s. In any case, it’s hard to imagine a major cycling event doing the same thing. I’m not a big fan of races of any sort (not enough strategy and tactics to keep my interest), but this really diminishes my respect for marathoners as athletes. I mean, I’ve actually run out of water in the desert, and it’s scary, but these cats are running in the city fer crissakes–there’s water everywhere. Where’s the spirit of adventure?

    • HeatherW
      April 17, 2012

      BareLee – I just want to be clear, it isn’t MY point. I would have run the damn thing, but then again, I didn’t qualify. I’m repeating what I heard from OTHER PEOPLE who did qualify but deferred.

      • Bare Lee
        April 18, 2012

        Yes HeatherW, you were quite clear on that. You did a good job of explaining other people’s logic, especially that of the experienced runners who chose to defer because they didn’t want to have to qualify for next year’s race by running a different marathon. They had a chance to text themselves beyond what they were used to, and they pied out. As I quiped on Jason’s FB page, they really should’ve been granted forbearance instead of deferment, with distances accumulating until they run the dang thing.

  8. Chris
    April 17, 2012

    “The start line at 1PM”
    Maybe there is the problem?

  9. Rob Y
    April 17, 2012

    I can’t imagine NOT running because of far from “ideal” weather conditions. Absurd in my opinion. Obviously whatever time goal you might have had goes out the window; so what, just slow down and enjoy the Boston Experience. If you’re already up there in Boston, why wouldn’t you participate? My feeling is that you can learn from all experiences whether bad or good. You never know if there will be “a next year”, you need to seize what opportunities you have right now and go for it! Sure if you’re a repeat Boston runner who’s using Boston to qualify for next year you might have to go somewhere else to re-qualify but so what? Go visit another interesting part of the country or world and re-qualify? The change in venue might do one good!

    • Jason
      April 17, 2012

      I had a feeling we’d agree, Rob. :-)

  10. Jen
    April 17, 2012

    I haven’t even run a marathon yet, but I can imagine the disappointment that runners must have felt (especially first time qualifiers) thinking that this was the Big Day and now it’s going to be hampered by possible dehydration and a slow time. If I was in that situation, I would also be disappointed initially, but then adjust my expectations and my running strategy and just enjoy the day — especially if I’ve already traveled there. Plus it makes for a better story, am I right?

  11. Brad
    April 17, 2012

    It was brutal at 1pm yesterday. I obviously didn’t run Boston but just logging 3miles in that heat was painful. Of course, I’ve been cold training all winter though and wearing shorts at 30deg so I’m definitely not ready for hi 80s.

    That said, If I had a number, I would have run it. I too am never going to be able to qualify.

  12. HeatherW
    April 17, 2012

    A lot of people use the Boston Marathon to earn a qualifying time for the following year’s Boston Marathon, and they keep running it year after year as their only marathon.

    If they ran too slow to qualify this year, due to the heat, there’s only a slim chance that they’d be able to find another race that would allow them to qualify for 2013. Everything left has a good chance of being hot. So, for a lot of runners, running in 2012 – a shitty day due to the heat – would probably eliminate them from 2013.

    I can see why the race directors offered the deferral. But I can also see why racers took the deferral. It’s not something I would do, but then again, I’m a bit shy of qualifying in the first place.

  13. Sam H.
    April 17, 2012

    Most races in my part of the U.S. would never be run and I don’t live in the warmest part of the U.S. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to qualify for Boston but if I trained and worked my butt off to get there, I’d run it. Rain or extreme shine.

  14. @Barefootron
    April 17, 2012

    I think you would just need to adjust your pace as needed and to also make sure you are getting enough liquids in you.

    Jason, have you heard of any barefoot runners finishing the Boston Marathon this year? I know there had to be some.

    • Brad
      April 17, 2012

      As far as I know Julian Romero was planning to run it barefoot. He finished in 3:17. Not sure if he wore shoes though.

      I’ve done a barefoot half but I’m far from an experienced barefoot runner. That said, no way in hell I would have been able to run without shoes/huaraches yesterday. It was 98deg in the sun near the start line at 1pm.

    • Dave
      April 17, 2012

      I ran a 3:10 at Boston in 2010 and was beaten by a few seconds by a barefoot runner. I never did find out who that guy was though. Anybody know?

      • Curt
        April 17, 2012

        Here is a video of barefoot runner James Webber finishing the 2010 Boston marathon in 3:11.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3fygLdr2uE

        • Dave
          April 17, 2012

          That’s him! I’m the tall guy in the dark shirt right on his heels at the finish line. Looking at the video, I realize that was the last race I ever did in ‘foot coffins’.

          Thanks for the flashback!

          • @Barefootron
            April 18, 2012

            Awesome Dave! What were your thoughts when you first saw James the barefoot runner?