Grandma's got hot this year. Throughout the course there are banners up prior to the aid stations that rate the danger level. They started at moderate, got elevated to high, and then went up two more levels that I didn't even know existed. After the race I heard somebody chatting in the finish area, "The casual runners who do minimal training and just hope for a cool weather are going to be in trouble today." That was sure true.
The rising temperatures don't have as big of an effect on the winners since they've already finished before it really gets hot. But even finishers who normally are in the 3 hour range (who certainly don't fall into the "minimal training" category) started to get cooked. People finishing in the 5 to 6 hour range did so in crowds that were falling apart.
I always try to get to the halfway point of a marathon as quickly as possible and I think that's conditioning from having run Grandma's a bunch of times. If you can get halfway done when it's still reasonably cool, you can basically walk in safely and still finish in the 5 hr range.
I started out fast, and got passed by Katie and Jim just before the halfway point. Around mile 14, I thought I saw Jim up in the distance so I jogged up to him. He was walking for a spell because the heat had taken a jump and I was only too happy to accompany him. We knocked off a few miles alternating between running and walking, but the running was limited to 4 or 5 minute stretches. Any more than that was accompanied by excessive sweat and nausea. Fortunately we could cool off again by walking. If you can't cool off by walking, you need to find some shade and think about your long term health.
The routine at every aid station became repetitive with the goal of leaving the station completely soaked. You drink the first water, dump the second on your head, dump the third on your back, the fourth and fifth go on either arm, grab a powerade, sixth water in the face, drink the seventh, then grab sponges and ice to rub on your skin over the next half mile. In normal life, it's not pleasant to grab a chunk of ice and hold it against your forehead until it melts...but that was the only way to get through this marathon--and under those circumstances it felt really nice.
After cooling yourself off, you could run a bit again, but by the time we got to the next aid station we were nearly dry, and getting hot.
People who didn't take the time to dunk themselves got into trouble. You'd see runners stop on the side of the course and you knew they were having a hard time because they wouldn't even seek out a spot of shade to rest in. When you see something like that, you have to alert race support at the next aid station because those people could be in a lot of danger.
Jim and I still had a great time, it was just a matter of being disciplined about cooling off at the aid stations. Also, there were a lot of rogue aid stations that people set up just because they seemed to recognize it was a dangerous day (a special thanks to the people who brought orange slices...and the guy who gave me a cold PBR). The cold sprinklers also kept us going, and without all of that support it wouldn't have been possible to finish a marathon on that day. At about mile 23, I turned to Jim and said, "Well, we could continue running and potentially finish about 15 minutes faster, or we could just walk from here and not collapse from heat exhaustion." Jim said, "I'm fine with walking."
At the finish line, I made my way straight to Lake Superior and soaked in the water for about 10 minutes. Normally you can't hardly go underwater at Lake Superior since it's so darn cold, but it felt like a heated pool on Saturday. I was dreading going to the port-a-potty because those things are saunas. Standing in line to use them, some people took so long that we began wondering if we should alert the aid workers on the chance that those inside had succumbed to heat exhaustion. But then the doors opened and the disheveled runners emerged. Still, there probably should be attendants at races this hot that go around knocking on port-a-pot doors asking if people inside are OK. That's something to keep in mind for both racers and race organizers.
The dunk in the lake brought me back to life, and I got to share stories with the significant crew of local runners who were camped at the DECC. Everbody made it in, and doing a race under challenging conditions like this is always memorable. I'm so glad I ran into Jim and we were able to get each other to the finish line. It's always great to have the opportunity to go through something extreme with someone. To everyone up there, congratulations on participating on a really rough day, that's one to remember!