Feeling the heat Fast-rising temperatures leave marathon planners stuck between a run and hot place
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Manitoba Marathon organizers acknowledge the process wasn’t perfect, but say an unprecedented response was necessary as record-setting temperatures forced the closure of the race course Sunday morning.
Race officials pulled the plug on the annual Father’s Day run shortly after 8 a.m. when wet-bulb readings, which assess a runner’s exposure to heat stress, eclipsed the recommended 30 C threshold. On Sunday, the temperature reached 37 C, breaking the previous June 19 record of 33.3 C, set in 1888.
The closure came after two years without a full event due to the COVID-19 pandemic and just an hour after about 6,000 runners left the start line at 7 a.m.
Race director Rachel Munday said officials had discussed the potential of a full, early closure as the forecast loomed, but the rapidly rising heat still came as a surprise. Organizers had anticipated an accelerated closure as the race continued, as had been done in years past.
“We’ve run in the heat before and we’d implemented the accelerated closure many times — not every year, but more than once — without fail. So, to have a day like yesterday where we have to actually close the course and bring people back, there is a plan but it’s never been implemented,” Munday said.
“There was never an expectation that we would reach a (closure) status as early as we did and there was no precedent where the temperature rose as quickly as it did — it was the hottest day on this day in history by four degrees.”
The closure meant sending buses out, starting at the back of the course, to pick up runners, while hydration stations were left unmanned. However, Munday said, volunteers stayed to cheer runners on while medical volunteers followed the athletes through the course, even as the wet-bulb readings reached 47 C.
While she said it wasn’t a seamless closure — one officials will debrief on — she noted that volunteers did their very best.
“This was unprecedented heat, so absolutely we will take it back and look at all of the processes and how the transporting occurred and how we got people back,” Munday said.
“Because it’s never happened before, certainly it wasn’t a perfect process but we can always improve, but I can honestly say we did our absolute very best to get people back to the stadium safely.”
Munday, a runner herself, said communication with participants about the closure is an area to learn from and improve. Runners were to be told at every station the course was closing and to make their way to the next relay zone to be picked up or wait for a ride to the zone. Many runners continued to race despite the closure announcement.
With a high of 37 C forecast for race day last week, officials had also discussed the potential of beginning the race earlier, but the logistics would’ve made that nearly impossible, Munday said.
Last-minute changes would’ve included rescheduling road closures, adjusting schedules of paramedics and police officers slated to work, notifying 1,000 course volunteers and setting up equipment and hydration stations earlier.
“It would have been a gargantuan task for us to be able to do it,” Munday said, adding that the marathon would still have been closed if it had started at 6 a.m. instead.
Police spokesman Const. Jay Murray said the event’s race permit remained in place after the closure and officers stayed on to help with transportation, hydration and first aid, among other tasks.
“WPS members continued monitoring and maintaining lane closures as some participants continued on the course,” Murray said.
He said after the course closure some officers stopped providing right of way access for runners at traffic-light controlled intersection sections, but resumed duties “when it became apparent some participants began running against traffic signals.”
The police service and police union had agreed for officers to begin at 5 a.m. rather than the normal 7 a.m. day shift, and confirmed the marathon organizers had later raised the possibility of having the officers start at 3 a.m. instead.
“It could not be accommodated due to the short notice and logistical reasons,” Murray said.
Munday said no refunds will be issued to runners who were unable to finish the race or start their events.
“There are no refunds, unfortunately, because of the way a race is planned and the way costs are incurred, we spend the money on the race six months before the race even happens,” she said.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.