Heat halts Vermont City Marathon for first time

When officials called off the People's United Bank Vermont City Marathon on Sunday, participant Sarah Roy kept on running.

Roy, 46, of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, was at Mile 24 when officials discontinued the race. She said she followed many others who refused to stop right away.

"It was hot, but I didn't think it was that hot at all," Roy said, adding she was surprised by the marathon cancellation.

The premature ending, which came almost four hours into the race, was the first in the 28 years the marathon has been held in Burlington, said Jess Cover, media and communications director for RunVermont.

RunVermont Executive Director Peter Delaney also expressed his dismay, but said the priority was safety. Those who finished under 4 hours and 30 minutes will receive official times, Delaney said.

 

Terence Hughes, from Hanover, New Hampshire, is helped by the medical staff after collapsing at the finish line during the People's United Bank Vermont City Marathon on Sunday morning. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/for the Free Press)

“We want the runners to go home at the end of the day today, and we had to make that call,” Delaney said. “It’s not much fun to make it but it is certainly in the best of interests."

People's United Bank Vermont City Marathon Officials had warned last week of the higher-than-normal temperatures and had announced extra precautions they would be taking to prevent heat-related injuries. They also warned competitors to prepare for heat.

Officials used a color-coded heat-alert system to tell racers their risk of heat-related injury. About an hour into the race, officials changed the warning to red, meaning high risk. As a result, race officials took three readings of the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature at 15-minute intervals at Oakledge Park, Waterfront Park and on Flynn Avenue.

When the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature — determined by measuring ambient air temp, humidity, wind and solar radiation — exceeded 82 on three consecutive readings at the three locations, officials were forced to halt the marathon due to the extreme heat.

The race was called at about 11:58 a.m. when the warning flags were changed to black, meaning extreme risk. Cover was unable to say what the exact readings were that shut down the race later Sunday afternoon.

Buses were dispatched to retrieve runners who were still on the path to bring them to the waterfront so they could reunite with their families. Cover did not have an official number on Sunday afternoon as to how many runners were still out on the route when the race was stopped.

Marathon medical coordinator Denise Alosa said the medical team was prepared to deal with a higher number of heat-related illnesses and injuries than usual.

"We're busy, for sure," Alosa said just after the race was called. "We've certainly had some sick busy, some exertional heat stroke, but we're putting people in ice tubs."

Before the race was halted, the elite competitors crossed the finish line. The first to do so was handcyclist Jeremy Shortsleeve, victorious for the sixth time with an unofficial time of 1:26:44.

The first runner to cross the finish line was Matt Pelletier, who won his sixth People's United Bank Vermont City Marathon with an unofficial time of 2:23:01. Maddie Duhon was the top female finisher with an unofficial time of 2:50:07.

Participants in the event who crossed the finish line within four hours and thirty minutes of the start will receive an official time. However, all participants of the marathon and 2-Person Relay will receive their medal.

Runners could be seen carrying water bottles and taking advantage of misting stations and water tables throughout the race. Neighbors on the marathon path helped out where they could too.

Joshua Culver, 31, a Foster Street resident, and some of his friends handed cups of water to runners and used a hose to sprinkle cold water on runners as they passed. Two other Foster Street residents also used their hoses on the race path, and runners thanked the residents as they continued the race.

"They're working really hard and it's so hot out today," Culver said. "This is our second year of handing out water. Last year we had a guy pass out on our lawn. It's just our way of contributing to the community and it's such a great event."

Despite the extreme heat, attitudes seemed to remain high. On Pine Street, which was a two-way path this year, runners in opposite directions cheered each other on.

Roy said she was pleased that she finished the race.

"I would have been heartbroken if they had just told us we needed to get off the course," she said.

Other racers such as Jim Hefferon, 57, of Jericho, did not get to complete the race. Hefferon, who has run the marathon almost every year since 2000, was picked up by a school bus near mile 20.

"I'm disappointed, but I understand why they needed to cancel the race," Hefferon said. "It was hot. It was really hot."

Hefferon said he tried to stay hydrated and ran through every sprinkler and mist machine throughout the 20 miles he ran.

"There were people collapsing by the side of the road already at mile 4 on the beltway," Hefferon said, adding he saw about six to eight people collapse and get carried away. "That's not good."

RunVermont anticipated high temperatures for the event day and put additional resources in place prior to the start of the race.

“We had been monitoring the weather for the week leading up to the event and had teams in place for any event that could arise due to weather,” Delaney said. “Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not cooperate and we were left with no other option than to close the race course. We are disappointed with having to do that, but the safety of our athletes is our number one priority.”

“We want to thank the runners, volunteers, police, emergency personnel, and spectators who all contributed to avoiding the severe health risks we believe we would have faced if more runners had kept going," Delaney said.

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