Monday, October 08, 2007

Race water shortages: Thirsty for answers

Just following more of the fallout from the Chicago Marathon. In these two videos, the race director describes how it was a "heartbreaking decision" to call off the race.

Carey Pinkowski, the race director, was forced to address the criticism that they had run out of water at the stations. "Our participants were not consuming the water, they were cooling themselves," he said. They were "grabbing five, six, seven (cups), blocking the traditional flow..." "What they were doing was using water for consumption as a cooling activity."

He makes an interesting point. At the Army Ten Miler in DC this weekend, I ran with R. at a slower-than-usual pace than I'm used to at races. Simply put we were middle of the pack (we finished about 8000 out of 17000) and that's where I witnessed what was probably happening on a larger scale in Chicago. It was hot, sunny and we were all thirsty. We skipped the first water station but I saw runners swarm the table. Problem was, the tables were mostly empty and all the water and cups were on the floor. When we hit another water station at the 4 or 5 mile mark, all the tables were empty except for two, and again, people were swarming the tables. At the Capitol building, the entire line of runners went to the tables on the left going at the last available stores. R. and I had the entire right side to ourselves -- we didn't need the tables because I carried a water bottle for us and I rationed it for R. thoughout the race.

What us mid-packers were experiencing meant that for the 8,000 or so runners behind us was bleak -- that many of them didn't even have a shot at getting water. At the 8 mile mark, the final turn that leads to an hot highway overpass, there was scant supply. The final 2 miles really hit a lot of runners. About one in four were walking.

What this does is point out the reality of what mid- to back-of-the-pack racers face. They are on the course longer, so they are exposed for far longer than the top runners, who finish a little before the sun gets too too powerful. And on Sunday, they also reached aid and water stations that didn't have anything for them.

What the Chicago Marathon race director basically did was to admonish runners who took extra cups of water to cool themselves. I'm not sure about you, but I thought it was common practice (maybe not to the degree that people would take 5, 6, 7 cups) in races for people to use some water to pour on themselves.

In "The Competitive Runner's Handbook," Bob Glover writes this in his chapter about hydration and running:

POUR IT ON YOU, TOO: Pouring water on you may not help cool the body, but it may help you feel better. If nothing else, it provides a great psychological boost. You need plenty of help coping with the mental stress of running on a hot day.... During races, I take two cups of water at each station. I drink one and pour the other over my head."
So while Mr. Pinkowski says that the practice of using water for "cooling purposes" on Sunday was against the "traditional" way the water stations are intended to be used, it is by no means a foreign practice in road racing. I've done it once, and only with the other half of the cup I took for drinking, but I understand why others would do it.

What happened this past weekend was that everyone understandably wanted water. Supply could not meet up with demand and those who needed it the most were on the losing end. Who's to blame? Not sure about that one.

It also turns out that the runner had a heart condition and that his death wasn't heat related.

People seem to agree that it was the right call to call it off.


LeahC said...

I think it would be ridiculous for the race director to not think that runners weren't going to use water (and more than one glass) to pour on their head. Like you said that's not a foreign thing to do.

There was a statement from race officials :

But race officials said they found no such problems. Each of the aid stations was outfitted with 50,000 to 70,000 servings of water and 37,000 servings of Gatorade, said Shawn Platt, a senior vice president of LaSalle Bank.

If they had 50,000 servings of water....that would be just over 1 per person. How as a race director could you think that would be enough, and the fact that there was only 37,0000 servings of gatorade, that's not even one per person.

I just think they had really poor planning and it wasn't like the weather was a shocker. Luckily whenever I got to an aid station there was still lots of water and gatorade left so I didn't have to deal with that.

Marky Mark said...

This is obviously a pretty dramatic story. One take away is to run with my Camelbak so I have security of supply. In the Nissan 10 miler and the Scotia half I didn't do that and relied on the water and Gatorade tables. That went very well in those cases but it sounds like it's not worth taking a chance.

yumke said...

LeahC, first of all, great to see you did so amazingly well on marathon day. It does look like poor planning and lack of anticipation of what woudld happen on such a hot day. Hindsight give us some 'coulda, woulda, shoulda' attitude, but..

Marky Mark, I think it'd probably have been smart to bring water. I don't tend to line up in big races with my own water supply... I'm glad I did though this past Sunday.

Triseverance said...

Very well said Yumke, balanced and on the mark in my mind.

John said...

Yumke - I'm working on a product that makes hydration easier. It's a water bottle that straps to your arm. Check it out and let me know your thoughts: