Organizers of the Madison Marathon will keep their eyes on the forecast over the next several days to guide their decision on whether to cancel the 26.2-mile race scheduled for Sunday, when temperatures are likely to reach the high 80s.
The potential hot weather has put the marathon in jeopardy, and an announcement is expected about 4 p.m. Friday, according to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal.
Cancelling the marathon days in advance and opening up more slots in the half marathon race would be an unusual step, a preventative measure taken by a race director very familiar with making decisions in the heat of the moment.
Keith Peterson, the Madison Marathon Director since 2005, shut down the marathon in 2006 and 2010 when heat-stricken runners overwhelmed the medical staff.
Peterson endured the second-guessing from runners who managed the heat and felt cheated out of an opportunity to reach their goals and the rewards for months of training. Similarly, the director of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon has received some criticism, after turning off the timing clocks and directing runners off the course last weekend.
“It’s not an easy decision, and we have to make a decision in the best-interest of everyone involved, the runners, the thousand-plus volunteers, the emergency personnel working the event, and the general population,” Peterson said in an interview Tuesday.
It’s not just the safety of a single runner that guides the decision to close the race, but an assessment of the capacity to treat all the runners who are suffering from dehydration or forms of heat exhaustion. Even an incident outside of the race that demands emergency medical personnel could push marathon organizers to issue a red flag and advise runners to stop, Peterson said.
“We never want to tax the system so much that we are tying up many of the city’s resources, so that when Mrs. Smith in Maple Bluff has a heart attack they have to bring in an ambulance from another community,” he said.
“We have a medical tent set up along the Capital Square. There’s a limited number of people it can handle, or physically hold. If you are filling that up with people experiencing dehydration or heat exhaustion…you want to be able to treat someone who might have something more serious.”
Learning from past experience, Peterson said the marathon organizers had improved their communication system to alert runners in the event the race would be stopped.
As of Tuesday, 1,750 runners were registered for the marathon; 4,000 for the half marathon – both on Sunday morning – and roughly 800 for the 10K Twilight Run scheduled for Saturday evening.
For a list of tips on how to handle the heat, check out this exhaustive piece from Runner’s World.