Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hot Marathons: What About Grandma's?

We apparently struck a nerve.

Our opinion post suggesting the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon move its event back two weeks to make marathoner-friendly weather a more likely occurrence prompted more comments than any other item we’ve posted. Our Down the Backstretch poll asking readers when in October they would schedule TCM gathered more votes than any other poll we’ve ever conducted. Weather and TCM seems to be on a lot of people’s minds these days, not surprisingly.

In our admittedly unscientific poll, a total of 107 people voted. A plurality of 45% of those voters thought the race should be held the third weekend of October. 81% of all voters preferred a date later than TCM’s traditional first-weekend-in-October spot on the calendar.

The comments on the editorial reflected the poll voting. They also brought Grandma’s Marathon into the discussion. Although we didn’t mention the mid-June race in the post about moving Twin Cities, readers made the connection immediately.

A reader named “dd,” who was typical of the sentiments, said: “I would be even more in favor of moving Grandma's to late May -- I think the chances of heat and humidity are getting far too good (that is, bad!) in mid-late June. People are going to start avoiding these, especially the sub-elite range that makes a race a good one for people looking for qualifiers, etc.”

Despite Grandma’s location on Lake Superior next to all that cold water, there is a disconcerting temperature trend there too. In the last five years (2003-2007), Grandma’s start-time temperatures have averaged 59.6 degrees, according to the event’s media guide. The average temperature for the event in the 20 years previous to that (1983-2002) was 51.9. It is true that some of the hottest Grandma’s were in the first years of the event – 1977 to 1982 -- but the event was also held later in the month in its earliest years of existence.

With many of the same caveats I noted in my TCM piece – that big events are scheduled well into the future, that many factors go into to choosing the best date for an event, that traditions do matter, that events must be mindful of other activities on the calendar (Memorial Day and graduations come to mind in this case), that despite what we know is a changing climate the recent warm race-days may be attributed more to blips in the weather rather than deeper factors – I’d prefer an earlier-in-the-year Grandma’s

My bottom line is to have marathoners race on what is likely to be the best weather-day of the season. Recent trends at Grandma’s -- and globally – suggest late May or early in June would put people in better weather when the gun fires.

If I was an athlete training for the race of my life next spring, I’d be worrying about the weather once the calendar flipped to June … and each and every day after that.

What do you think? Let us know on the DtB poll or with a comment below ...


MDRA said...

I immediately thought the 3rd weekend in October would be great - then I remembered that Sunday last year was around 30 degrees at 8:00 AM & didn't get above freezing until 10:00-ish. That's the trouble with MN weather, it's a total crapshoot. Given a choice, I'd take low 30s over high 70s any day!

Nate said...

I for one would have no problems with a 30 degree start temp. I think the TCM course record was set on a day when the start temp was 32 degrees. As long as people dress correctly (anyone else just smile at the free gloves in the goody bags this year?) it would be a much safer and more enjoyable race.

Bill said...

Maybe we need to start anticipating that EVERY TCM and Grandmas will be hotter than hell and prepare accordingly. Rubber suits, training in the heat of the day, running in place in a sauna. If Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher and the likes can, so can we.....I think I'll pass.

Charlie said...

Two details I meant to have in the original story but inadvertantly left out ...

(1) The start-line temps for the last two Grandma's were 64 and 66 degrees.

(2) I believe that in the initial years of the event the starting time for the race was later in the day, perhaps accounting for some of the start-time warmth in those years.

Gregg said...

Living is Duluth, I can attest that one week can make a huge difference. It is spooky how the prevailing winds seem to switch from the NE to the SE in one week. I don't have any meteorology proof per say but it happens every year. I train a lot of the long runs on the course and May, EARLY June has a tailwind. The week prior to G-Mas the winds shift and up goes the temp. This would be a great project for someone interested in wind directions during that time of the year as is directly correlates to the temps in Duluth.

Like I said, no scientific proof yet, but it is a trend witnessed every year.

bizyah said...

Preach on Charlie! The dates for these races were initially chosen in part because of scheduling with Memorial Day and the like, but a big component of those decisions was also the weather. It never used to be an issue. Yeah, you had weird years, but not consistently bad ones. You can look at those two races over the past five years and see that within a few days on either side of the race there was decent weathre, but race days hasn't panned out. THe point in moving them would be to get the consistently cool overnight temps to make at least part of the race manageable. I'm all for it. And as far as the fact that these races are already scheduled out, I bet you a dollar that there isn't a meaningful contract that either race has that oculdn't be shifted with more than a year's notice. I think that we all know that 2008 we'll have to keep crossing our fingers with the weather reports, but a) you can't register for 2009 until after the race b) in Duluth you can't get a hotel reservation until a year in advance anyway c) any other vendor that the race is working with will have more than a year to adjust their schedule. The point of the events is to put on a good race. It would reflect real poorly on any entity that the races had scheduled and lined services up with to stand in the way of that goal. Furthermore, look at the problem that Grandmas had with registration last year. I know a lot of folks were saying it was due to the lack on online registration, but, the fact is that mail-in registration was perfectly adequate the year before to make it fill in a few weeks, It was the weather the year before and the discontent that the racers felt about racing a marathon in late June. Without a date change, Grandmas has an even harder psychological presumption against it because it's in late June. It worked to remind people that the lake always keeps things cool back when the lake always kept things cool. Now, the cat is out of the bag that it can get awful hot up there and it's going to be harder and harder to line up a good field and a full field. Management for both races needs to sit down with their schedules and contracts and have some serious talks with those folks about the possibility of moving the dates. Particularly for Grandmas, this could become a make or break move on their part.

Kirk said...

I agree, I've vowed off Grandma's for now. Between it being the Summer Solstice (the sun at it's furthest north point) and the heat we've seen over the past few years, it is just too much. Add to that the fact that they serve Ultima. Blech.

Chad said...

I think a week in each direction (for Gma's and TCM) would be a start. However, we might as well just move them two weeks, so we don't have to have this conversation again in 25 years.

And if Charlie can make these changes happen, I'll nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize.