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Falling Temps May Rattle Runners In Vegas

Race organizers will be on the lookout for hypothermia.

Race organizers will be on the lookout for hypothermia.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The temperature will drop along with the sun in Las Vegas on Sunday night.

LAS VEGAS — With their early morning starts, runners competing in the big marathons in Chicago and New York know that they can wear extra clothes in the early miles, then shed them as the day warms up.  But competitors in Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon & 1/2 Marathon here will face the opposite challenge: falling temperatures and a lack of warming sunshine after they start in the late afternoon and run into the night.

“Usually in a marathon when I start early in the morning, I peel off because you get hotter,” said Debb Fleming, 56, of Paris, Texas, a veteran of ten marathons.  “I think I’m going to carry my windbreaker around my waist, so near the end of the race I can put that on because I think it’s going to be kind of cool then. I think we’ll catch cold.”

According to various weather forecasting services, the high temperature for Sunday here of 52°F (11°C) will come at about 3:00 p.m.  One hour later, when the marathoners set off on The Strip in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, the temperature will already be down to 49°F (9°C), and by 5:30 p.m. when the half-marathoners start it will be closer to 45°F (7°C).  When the first marathoner finishes, it will be down to 44°F, and when the last marathoners come in at 10:00 p.m. it will be a chilly 39°F (4°C).  Race officials will definitely be on the lookout for athletes suffering from hypothermia, and said here today that they are ready.

“When you’re dealing with a cooler race, when it gets cooler, people start to cramp more, and they need salt more,” explained Dr. Lewis Maharam, the medical director for the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series which is managed by the San Diego-based Competitor Group, Inc.  “As you know, we’ve always been high on giving salt packets out.  So, we have extra salt packets out and ready.”

Extra salt –which Dr. Maharam jokes that runners just lick off of the back of their hand like they are doing tequila shots– is just one weapon to combat the effects of the cold.  The race has 11 medical stations (seven on the course and four at the finish), and all of them are heated, stocked with blankets, and some have hot fluids to serve.  Dr. Maharam stressed that his team uses wool blankets, not Mylar.

“You know, the Mylar blankets don’t really do much,” he said.  “They’re a billboard for sponsors but they don’t warm you up.”

Dr. Maharam, who was formerly the medical director of the ING New York City Marathon, said that he also dealt with falling temperatures in New York.  The race there used to start after 10:00 a.m., and as the sun fell behind the buildings west of Central Park in the late afternoon, it could get colder.

“You know, that really happens at the marathon in New York City as well,” Dr. Maharam explained.  “If you think about it, in the park when the sun goes down it gets cooler.  So, we expect to see that, like we expect to see the six-hour marathoners in New York, we’re seeing that with the four-hour marathoners here.  So, we’re going to see the cold issues, earlier.”  

The temperature change should be less of an issue for the half-marathoners who are out on the course for a shorter time.  Mary Keilbart, 46, of Houston, Texas, thought that she’d probably be O.K. in the shorter race, but was still concerned.

“I’ve actually done a shorter race, and 11-K race, at night and it worked out really well,” she said.  “As you run, you build up internal heat anyway, so I prefer it to be cooler, although this might be a little bit cooler than I was expecting.”

A big logistical advantage for the race here is indoor gear check at the Mandalay Bay.  So after finishing, runners can hustle into the hotel where it’s warm and stay there as long as they need to before heading back to their rooms.  Dr. Maharam doesn’t want to see runners lingering in the finish area.

“We’re hoping that we’ll be like that Saturday Night Live sketch when they come in and say, ‘B-bye,'” Dr. Maharam said.  “We’re going to try to get them to go back to the hotels and warm up. We want then to get out of their wet clothing as quickly as possible into dry clothing.  So, the quicker they do that the less cold they’re going to get.”

That’s what Raynetta Gusteli, 46, of Seattle, Wash., said she planned to do.  When asked if she had brought extra clothing to stash at the finish she said: “I did.  I brought extra clothing, all-weather clothing, and my husband will be there.”

Dr. Maharam said the biggest overall risk for his medical team was the lack of experience amongst the 44,000 runners who had signed up for the two races.  As he sat at the event’s medical booth at the expo, he fielded questions from novice runners, including one who admitted that the only training she had done was to “walk around the mall.”

“This is uniquely different that the number of trained runners compared to New York is exponentially smaller,” Dr. Maharam said.  “This is a Rock ‘n’ Roll event.  This is people coming to this event to party at a block party.  It’s not like New York Road Runners where most of the people have done a couple of more races to get their (bib) number.”

At least one experienced marathoner, David Worrell of El Paso, Texas, said that the cold wasn’t a concern for him.

“I ran Las Vegas two years ago –their very first one– and the temperature was like 28 degrees (-2°C), and I think that the cooler it gets, the better I perform,” said the 50 year-old who hopes to run between 3:30 and 3:35.  “Since I’m staying at Mandalay Bay, I’ll just go up to my room when I’m done.”

But Debb Fleming, the runner from Paris, Texas, said that she would check extra clothing at the finish for the cold, 3/4 mile walk from the finish area back to her hotel on The Strip.

“It’s a long way to walk back,” she lamented.  “Even though I’m at the Tropicana, it’s a long way from the race finish to the Tropicana when you’re hurting.”