The Manitoba Marathon director has no regrets about starting a race her team canceled early due to unforgiving temperatures, but admits race officials could have done a better job communicating the closure.
Once the race was officially called off about 75 minutes after it began on Sunday, Rachel Munday, the marathon’s executive director, said officials insisted on telling runners they could keep competing if they wanted to.
That message encouraged some runners to keep going, when maybe they shouldn’t have, Munday said.
“If it were to happen again, we wouldn’t use the words ‘if you continue, you run at your own risk,'” he said. “People think at that point there is a choice.”
The message apparently added to the confusion felt by runners on Sunday when the 44th annual Manitoba Marathon was pulled offline, due to record-breaking weather temperatures in Winnipeg, and the forecast loomed.
Some runners say they were perplexed by the cancellation and the different messages they were hearing.
Runners baffled by mixed messages
“Everyone was doing their thing,” said Geoff Richardson, a Winnipeg educator who ran his first marathon on Sunday.
“We had volunteers saying, ‘Stop, the field is closed. You have to stop’. And then other volunteers saying, “Good job. Keep going. You’re doing great.” It was a 180-degree difference between the messages.”
Richardson was a third of the way through the race when a police officer told him the race was closed. Not knowing what the policeman meant and desperate for more information, he and the other nearby runners continued on. His own concerns were resolved when a race official said that his race time was no longer being recorded, but that he did not have to withdraw from the race.
Later, a volunteer urged him to resign, incorrectly stating that there were no more water stations ahead.
“I was training for so long that I didn’t want to stop. I decided to keep running until the race was over or the shuttle bus came to pick me up and they literally told us to stop.”
Munday explained that the Manitoba Marathon team was not about to put up obstacles, literally or figuratively.
“You could say, ‘The course is closed, you have to get on the bus,’ but you still can’t force them to get on the bus,” he said.
Munday said the buses were returning without corridors.
Given participants’ reluctance to quit, officials knew they had to keep offering snack options and maintaining road closures, Munday said. He couldn’t leave these runners alone in such extreme heat. Three marathon participants or attendees were taken to the hospital in connection with temperatures, health officials say.
The CEO insists temperatures did not surprise the marathon, even though a temperature of 37°C was forecast days in advance.
In an email to runners on Saturday, the Manitoba Marathon urged runners to consider a shorter distance and forego any attempts at a personal best time.
The letter did not suggest that canceling the race was a reasonable possibility, although it did inform runners of the flag system in which one color represents an accelerated close of the race.
By 7 a.m., marathon planners expected the race to go ahead. The weather went from “windy and cool” at 7 a.m., Munday said, to uncontrollable shortly after 8 a.m.
Relentless heat in an hour
“We’ve never seen the temperature accelerate like this,” he said.
“Our decisions to go ahead on race day were based entirely on 43 years of experience organizing the marathon on this day.”
Officials used what are known as wet bulb readings, which assess the temperature at which water stops evaporating from a wet bulb thermometer, to determine the race was no longer safe.
Munday said he anticipated that the marathon might have to close sections of the course around 10 a.m. or later, but nothing as extreme or as fast as what happened.
“There was really no way we anticipated that we were going to have to do a massive evacuation of the road at 8:30 in the morning.”
CBC Manitoba meteorologist John Sauder said he was worried about the viability of the race for days, but noted that the humidity on Sunday morning increased faster than anticipated.
“We had temperatures going up quickly. We had the amount of humidity in the air going up quickly. And even for fit runners, it’s very, very challenging to run a race safely in those conditions.”
Marathon planners considered starting the race an hour earlier, at 6 am, but making last-minute arrangements with police, paramedics, first responders and the hundreds of volunteers was not practical.
The spokesman for the Winnipeg Police Service Const. Jay Murray said it would have taken a significant effort to reschedule road closures, shift workers earlier and make sure all snacks and equipment were in place on time.
“It can be incredibly difficult to move the start time by this magnitude when so much planning has gone into it.”
Still, Foster Lyle, a full marathon runner who works for a financial management company, said organizers should have communicated the threat of a race closure, even if they thought the possibility was unlikely or would only affect racers. morning finalists.
“The forecast was pretty indicative of what happened,” he said.
“If they anticipated closing the course at certain intervals at certain times, it would have been nice if that had been communicated beforehand.”