Sunday, April 15

Boston's Weather Woes

This is the year the fleet-footed Kenyans will face a homegrown challenge at the Boston Marathon, and it's not from the American runners or the undulations of Heartbreak Hill. It's the New England weather: very wet and very windy. The blustery conditions are sure to make things unpredictable when the world's longest-running annual marathon leaves Hopkinton for the 26.2-mile slog to Boston's Back Bay tomorrow morning.

A massive nor'easter is already dumping heavy rains on the whole region. So, you can bet running in the marathon this year is going to be anything but pleasant. Forecasts call for 3-5 inches of rain, start temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s and wind gusts blowing in runners' faces at up to 25 mph. Yikes!

The foul weather is certain to dramatically slow the pace for the top runners--just a year after Kenyan Robert Cheruiyot broke the course record in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds. Typically, a slower pace will lead to a more tactical--and a more exciting--race amongst the elite athletes. But, the slower pace is less welcome news for the other 20,000 runners, who will be out on the course longer, exposed to the brutal elements. "The interest is to get them out of the elements as quickly as possible," race director Dave McGillivray said between meetings with state and local officials on how to handle the storm. "With hypothermia, you can't take something to make it go away. You have to get into a warmer environment."

McGillivray said organizers will take buses used to drive runners out to the start and station them along the course, to provide shelter and a ride back for dropouts. More shelters are being arranged in schools and other buildings along the route as well.

Pumps have been stationed at low-lying areas in case of flooding. Ponchos will be provided for workers assigned outdoors. Runners were warned in an e-mail blast today to wear appropriate clothing. But really! What is appropriate for weather like that?

Adding to the logistical struggle with this nasty storm is a new starting time--10 AM for the main field, after more than 100 years of noon starts--that was adopted in part because of a few years of afternoon heat. The earlier start also will allow the cities and towns along the route to have their roads back sooner. But, it will mean that the start of the race may be during the worst of the storm.

I have always dreamed of qualifying for Boston (a very distant and remote dream indeed). This year, I guess I should be grateful that I'll be watching from the comfort of my own home instead (the national broadcast will be on the Versus cable network--the same network that covers the Tour de France every summer).