Talkin' about the weather
In light of the recent release of the blockbuster film " Twister ", I thought it apros pos to discuss the weather. We all talk about it, but my experience is that more than the general public, runners are much more attuned to conditions mother nature dishes out, especially here in fickle New England. Although I must admit that, no, I've never run in a Tornado - only because we don't get them very often here!
Posted Tuesday, 14 May, 1996
In light of the recent release of the blockbuster film "Twister," I thought it apros pos to discuss the weather. We all talk about it, but my experience is that more than the general public, runners are much more attuned to conditions mother nature dishes out, especially here in fickle New England. Although I must admit that, no, I've never run in a Tornado - only because we don't get them very often here! Studies have indicated the ideal conditions for running are temperatures of about 45-55 Fahrenheit. But as in almost every other facet of the human condition, there is a wide individual variance around this figure. Some runners seem to prefer hot weather, while others seek the cold. Here in New England we have enough during the year to satisfy both types. Far be it for me to offer advice for running in weather, other than to say that long distance and temperature extremes are a very bad combination. Like many other runners, I've become something of an amateur meteorologist. Here are a few odds and ends I've picked up along the way.
If you think you've worried about the weather as a runner anticipating a big race, try being a race director - then you'll really know about weather worry. When the success of your event depends upon good weather, it often seems like the Gods of meteorology are using you for their own personal enjoyment, just to see how much you can squirm, plead and pray. I've been there many times myself as an event director. In the end, it usually evens out, but those uncooperative weather days can be mighty long indeed.
We all know how lucky the Boston Marathon was this year. Despite a pesky cold head wind, the conditions were pretty good for the big 100th celebration. 24 hours on either side of the race, a cold rain with whipping wind overspread the region. There would still be people in the medical tents if the fronts had been moving just slightly faster or slower. In 1991, Hurricane Bob ripped through Cape Cod, tearing up roads and most everything in its path along the coast. This occurred on a Monday, where 24 hours earlier, thousands of runners participated in the Falmouth Road Race on those same roads.
When it comes rain, it's usually not as bad outside for running as it appears from inside your living room. When you really want to get in a run, there is usually a way. In fact, running in the rain is generally underrated. It can really help with staying hydrated, which is a runner's chief concern in long distance events. Not coincidentally, my two all time best races have occurred under rainy skies. In 1988 I ran 2:35:30 in the Boston Marathon in a light rain. In 1992 I attempted my first ever ultra distance run. It rained from the start to finish during the 50 miler, but I felt comfortable throughout, averaging under 7:30 per mile for the 50 miles. In the four years since, I haven't come close to matching that performance.
Salazar *** Alberto Salazar ran the 1978 Falmouth race in extreme heat as a 20 year old collegian. Suffering from heat stroke, he pushed himself to the point of collapse. His body temperature skyrocketed to 108. He was plunged into a bucket of ice. When he didn't respond, he was given his last rights by a priest. Needless to say, Salazar recovered. Later in his running career, Alberto was again plagued by heat problems. In the 1982 Boston Marathon, he prevailed in a duel with Dick Beardsley despite severe dehydration. In the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, he was unable to deal with the oppressive conditions. Despite having undergone detailed scientific studies before the Games to determine his exact fluid needs, Salazar simply could not cope with the heat and humidity during the marathon. Although he was a pre-race favorite, Alberto finished a dissapointing 15th place.
Heat & The Olympics
Heat will be a major factor in the Atlanta Olympic Games later this summer. Much like the games in Los Angeles '84, Seoul '88, and Barcelona '92, the men's and women's marathons will be run in hot and humid conditions. For the first time ever, the time of the men's 26 miler has been changed from late afternoon to early morning, in deference to the sultry Atlanta summer. Many experts feel this will be of little help to the runners. It has even been suggested the marathon be moved to the winter Olympics, where the conditions would be far better suited to running 26 miles. Tradition will preclude this suggestion from ever being implemented. Surprisingly, no Kenyan has ever won the Olympic Marathon, despite the hot weather, which normally suits these fine athletes. The best they have done is a silver medal by Douglas Wakihuri in Seoul. In LA in 1984, Carlos Lopes from Portugal ran away with the race, but it was a pair of fair skinned marathoners, John Treacy from Ireland and Charlie Spedding from England, who took second and third place, leaving the favored African runners far behind. Belgian Vincent Rousseau is currently one of the world's premier marathoners. He has won many major marathons, and turned in a PR of 2:07:21 at Berlin last fall. You will not be seeing Vince in Atlanta, though. He deplores the heat, even to the point of having clause in his sponsorship contract which states he will not run a marathon in temps over 64 degrees. Smart guy.
Boston is among the windiest cities in the USA, more than even Chicago, which sports the "windy city" moniker. Nobody likes to battle a head wind, which extracts more of a toll than a tail wind provides in return. The ability to relax and run well in the face of a stiff wind is a difficult technique to learn. Anyone needing practice need only go for a run along Boston's Charles River! The invisible enemy almost always comes riding off the water with a vengeance, blowing at 20 or 30 miles per hour.
Does a tail wind aid performance? Of course it does. PR's were set across the board in the 1994 Boston Marathon, when a northwest gale carried the runners along. In an interview with Track & Field News that year, Bob Kempainen commented on his American record 2:08:43 at Boston, saying "I don't know if it was the tail wind or the fact that I was very fit." In italics under that quote, the T&F editors commented thus: "Trust us Bob, it was the wind!"
Despite the changeability and unpredictability of New England weather, you can usually tell what's coming by watching the wind. Cold fronts ride down from Canada on a northwest wind. This accounts for those bitterly cold winter days under bright blue sunny skies. Storms usually are brought in off the Atlantic ocean by northeast winds. These coastal storms can be very rough. Gusty southwest breezes in the summer normally usher in hot, humid weather, often bringing with it violent thunderstorms. Every now and then we do get a calm day, but it's pretty rare! The highest wind ever recorded on earth was at the weather station on top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire - 237 mph. Of course there is a road race to the top of Mt. Washington.
'Snow more room
As this piece has gone on too long already, I have no space left to get into snow. What a shame. Besides, after 107 inches in Boston this past winter, I think we've heard all together too about it this year anyway. Let 'em sweat in out in Atlanta.