This Saturday, run like Satan’s on your tail

Marathon Hell 

This Saturday, run like Satan’s on your tail

With a high of 90 degrees forecast for Saturday, the Kansas City Marathon should feel like a run through hell, only hillier. Warm temperatures will test runners on what is already considered a difficult course on account of Kansas City’s rolling terrain.

“It’s going to be tough,” says Mike Potts, a runner who manages the Gary Gribble’s Running Sports in the Ward Parkway Shopping Center. “It’s going to be killer.”

A veteran of 15 marathons, Potts is “only” running a half-marathon on Saturday. Even without the heat, the Kansas City Marathon is a challenging run, with several hills on a course that begins at Crown Center and drops as far south as 75th Street. In light of the forecast, runners who will take on the punishment of the full course may need to recalibrate their goals.

“Any time temperatures get above 60, you will slow down,” says Eladio Valdez III, a runner and coach who designed the course. Heat causes blood to flow to the skin, depriving muscles and diminishing performance. A few years ago, Valdez ran a marathon in Wichita on an 80-degree day. Finishing the race – not setting a personal best – became his principal objective. “I stopped looking at my watch,” he says.

Kansas City Marathon officials are taking steps to help runners manage the conditions. Aid stations and medical vans will be positioned throughout the course, and more water has been ordered. About 750 runners have signed up for the full marathon.

Summerlike weather poses the latest in a series of challenges for race organizers. While marathons have become significant civic events in other places, Kansas City was unable to stage a race in 2004, in part because of problems finding a sponsor.

When marathons have taken place, the weather has often disagreed. Competitors in the 1997 and 2003 marathons braved freezing conditions. Last year’s marathon took place in late September, and runners complained about the heat.

There have been man-made mishaps as well. A mishap in the marathon design removed 0.4 miles from the course in 2005, forcing race officials to apologize to those who signed up for a marathon but completed something less.

Last year’s route embarrassment is unlikely to be repeated, and Valdez says he tried to flatten the 2006 course. But race organizers might want to think about scheduling future events for late October or early November. Kevin Wicker, an events director at the Kansas City Sports Commission, calls Saturday’s forecast “unseasonably warm,” but even seasonable temperatures in early October exceed what most runners consider to be optimal conditions. Potts ran a marathon in St. Louis in April. “It was perfect,” he says. “Sunny, mid-40s, light wind.”

Valdez encourages Saturday’s competitors to hydrate, run-walk for the occasional mile -- and look for shadows. Kansas City may stay hot in the fall, but at least we have tall buildings and trees. “Wichita has no shade,” Valdez says, recalling the misery of his last warm-weather race.

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