How Climate Change Is Altering The Way We Plan And Race Marathons

Will we see marathons begin to take place in the winter?

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Nothing is being spared when it comes to the impacts of climate change, even marathons. 

Recent incidents, such as the controversial New Delhi Half-Marathon amidst dangerous pollution levels and the cancellation of countless marathons, including the Twin Cities Marathon, due to extreme weather conditions, highlight the growing impact of climate change on these major events. 

This article explores the multifaceted ways in which climate change is reshaping the planning of marathons and influencing the performance of runners.

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Effects on Future Marathon Planning

The escalating temperatures may necessitate a shift in marathon venues to cooler climates, with cities further north becoming preferable hosts. 

Additionally, adjustments in marathon timings, potentially moving events to early winter, may become a norm to mitigate the risk of sudden heat spikes. 

Equipment manufacturers are looking to innovate, developing gear that enhances runner comfort, including specialized singlets designed for better airflow and cooling.

Training regimens for marathon runners must continue to adapt to ever-changing weather conditions, emphasizing increased acclimatization to ensure optimal performance. 

The impact extends beyond record-setting, as marathon organizers may consider factoring in temperatures when judging new records and enhancing runner support with additional aid stations to counterbalance the effects of climate change.

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Effects of Rising Temperatures on Runner Performance

Marathon runners traditionally race in favorable weather conditions, including spring, fall, and the early mornings of summer, are also grappling with the consequences of global warming. 

The rising temperatures not only affect the comfort of participants but also slow down elite runners, risking the likelihood of races seeing record-breaking performances.

Research spanning two decades and 4.7 million finishing times from 900 marathons reveals a significant correlation between increased temperature and increased finishing times. 

The study emphasizes the adverse impact of temperatures in the 70s, leading to an approximate five-minute increase in finishing times compared to the optimal 40s and 50s. 

This poses a dilemma for organizers in choosing ideal locations and times for marathons should we want to optimize races for record-setting.

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Concerns for Runner Safety

Recent marathon cancellations, such as the Twin Cities Marathon due to extreme heat and the TCS New York City Marathon training series impacted amid severe flooding, highlight the immediate consequences of climate change on runner safety

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of a potential 27% decline in viable marathon cities due to climate change by the late twenty-first century, necessitating adaptation strategies like rescheduling events to cooler months.

Health risks associated with heat-related illnesses, dehydration, and air pollution pose challenges for marathon organizers. 

The Road Runners Club of America’s guidelines recommend event adjustments or cancellations based on factors like dew point and Air Quality Index (AQI). Increased occurrences of wildfires, attributed to climate change, further emphasize the need for careful consideration of air quality in marathon planning.

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Acknowledging The Impact Of Climate Change

As marathons confront the realities of climate change, it is imperative to recognize the profound impact on runner performance and safety. 

Beyond adapting to rising temperatures, there is a collective responsibility to address and mitigate climate change. 

Marathons, with their global reach and influence, can serve as powerful platforms to raise awareness about the urgent need for environmental action. 

It’s not just a race against time; it’s a race against the changing climate that demands our immediate attention and commitment.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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