Would I drop out of the 2019 Chicago Marathon?

Despite growing up in the hot Las Vegas desert, I actually don’t like hot weather. To this day I still struggle a lot in warm temperatures. This might have something to do with why I acclimate so well to cooler wet climates like Seattle and the extremely cold winters of Chicago.

I work hard year round to acclimate to rising or falling temperatures. Spring and summer not only are no exception but in my case it’s crucial to handling runs in summer heat. My forehead for some reason won’t sweat for some time when it warms up (it eventually will by mid/late summer) and that exacerbates how hot conditions feel for me.

Also, with a bigger frame than other runners, I absorb and retain heat a lot better than others. That’s great in winter, and not so great in summer.

I have a hard time with basic runs when it gets hotter than before. 65-70 degrees will probably feel okay in September, but right now it’s like a sauna of death for me to run in. I have a hard time going more than a couple miles without stopping, and in suitably hot conditions I may even have to stop for good after a couple miles.

If regular runs are hard, you can imagine what speedwork and races feel like. Speedwork at least usually allows you to stop and rest every few minutes. A race, however, demands a non-stop effort until you reach the finish line. Even a 5K may be too much if it’s warm enough.

Now consider the challenge of running a full marathon. By itself in ideal conditions it’s a monumentally difficult feat. Add in any warmth above 60 degrees and you’ve exponentially increased the difficulty. Once temperatures reach an otherwise mild 70 degrees you actually begin to put runners’ health in danger.

I’ve talked before about the effects of temperature on runners, how you basically need to add 20 degrees and sometimes more to get an accurate idea of how hot it feels for runners.

All of the marathons I’ve run to date have been in warm weather, whether seasonal or not. With last year’s Chicago Marathon I may not have lucked out with my hiccups problem, but I did luck out with the weather. Temperatures never topped 65 as clouds and early rain obscured the warmth of the sun. This contrasted with 2017’s Chicago Marathon (which I did not run), where temperatures reached a sunny 70 degrees and slower runners reported incredible difficulty with the resulting hot conditions.

Vancouver this year wasn’t even that bad, with temperatures only sneaking into the mid 60’s, and still even that felt rather hot in the middle miles for reasons I described.

I’m training right now for Chicago, and I’ll be honest: Despite having paid the sunk cost of the $205 entry fee, I actually will consider dropping out depending on how hot and sunny the forecast calls for the race to be.

I have run many hot races, and know that even at shorter distances I don’t handle them well. Sure, I won an age group award at 2017’s Cove School 5K in muggy conditions. But I also ran my worst 10K in the 2017 Great Race in Pittsburgh, which reached 87 degrees and sent quite a few runners to the medics.

I won’t go as far as to say I absolutely will not run a marathon forecasted for warmer than 70 degrees. But I’m pretty sure I will flat out DNS one if the forecast says that’s quite possible, and I know the race course has extended open air stretches with no cover… like the final 12 miles of the Chicago Marathon.

I think I finally learned that, as a cold weather runner by nature, I need to completely flip my racing season and build my season around October to May, while taking it easy during the summer until the clouds come back and the temperature drops below 70.

I watch the 10 day forecast on Weather Underground like a hawk before my races. I adjust my preparation and goals based on what the weather might be for the race. I usually know by about a week out what a race’s heat and weather conditions are going to be and how I’m going to handle the race.

And, though I will train fully as I do for any other marathon, I will watch Chicago’s 10 day forecast before the race and… if there’s any indication or trend towards the race being sunny and over 65 degrees (Chicago forecasts always underestimate the temperature in summer, sometimes by as much as 15 degrees), I’ll go ahead and drop out. Between 60 and 65 it becomes more of a judgment call, with clear sunny conditions being a tiebreaker in favor of dropping out. Ideally I’ll wait until the day of the expo to decide, though I’m not afraid to make the call a week ahead of time if the forecast doesn’t offer any wiggle room.

And no, I won’t feel stupid if I drop out a week in advance, then suddenly the temperature plummets and the race happens in cloudy 55 degree weather. Whether or not anyone who controls the weather with government technology is out to get me, I don’t have a problem with committing to a DNS even if it ultimately backfires.

I’m not the only one who dodges or struggles with hot races, nor am I beneath any runners for doing so: 2018 Boston Marathon champ Yuki Kawauchi admits he prefers colder weather races, and won’t even bother trying to qualify for his home country’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics because he knows himself well enough to realize he cannot do well against top competition in Japan’s muggy summer conditions.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are approaching, but ever the contrarian, Kawauchi said he was not interested. He has struggled running in heat and humidity. It would be a waste, he said, to prepare for the brutal conditions expected in August in Tokyo.

“The Olympics aren’t the only destination an athlete should go for,” Kawauchi said.

Also, having trained, I’m not going to just decide not to run a marathon. If I drop out I’ll stay around peak/taper condition, and just register for another marathon in the region happening a little later. Such a break can be a great opportunity to run Indy, Madison, Louisville, Tunnel Hill, Veterans in Fort Wayne or one of suburban Detroit’s marathons in November. I could even visit eastern Canada for the first time and run Hamilton. Trying a new marathon isn’t exactly a bad consolation prize!

So, obviously it’d be great to just run Chicago in October as planned. But if conditions indicate that’s going to be a problem, I plan to cut my losses and walk away from a bad situation, knowing I can run 26.2 in a better situation later.

And finally, two things:

1) Maybe I won’t rush to sign up for the Chicago Marathon lottery so quickly next time.

2) Either way I will consider it a lesson finally learned: Build my racing season around the colder months, focus on running races then, and let everyone else have the summer months.

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