Boston Marathon 2012 — Meet the Heat

With the hot temperatures putting a distinctive stamp on the 2012 Boston Marathon, I wisely played it safe. I finished 10 minutes slower than last year’s time (2:37), yet came away with fourth in my age group (45-49). More importantly, I avoided the medical tent by following good racing practices. I wasn’t here to see how fast I could run. I was here to enjoy myself. I felt mellow. Not stressed. Not overdoing it. Just soaking up the terrific vibes of the race, despite the 80-degree heat

According to early numbers compiled by race officials, nearly 2,100 cramping and weary runners were treated in the three air-conditioned medical tents stationed along the course and at the finish line. Over 150 runners were rushed to hospitals, though none fortunately were in life-threatening conditions. Even many of the elite frontrunners DNF’d. Last year’s record-breaking winner Geoffrey Mutai dropped out after 18 miles with stomach cramps.

Twenty minutes after finishing, I was happily rehydrating and replenishing my depleted carbs inside the Sam Adams beer area. The temperature had risen to the high 80s by then, and the heat was taken its toll on the field of 22,000 finishers. (At the Saturday morning marathon expo, I had coffee with 1984 women’s winner Lorraine Moeller and 1976 winner Jack Fultz; that year’s race started in 100-degree heat and was known as “Run for the Hoses” as spectators used garden hoses to cool him down.)

I didn’t drink very much during the race– maybe just 12 ounces of water– but I repeatedly cooled down by pouring water over my head and body. Too often, runners mistakenly think that drinking a copious amount of water will lower the body’s core temperature. Drinking won’t cool you down. Instead, what can happen is a potentially harmful condition called hyponatremia or hyper-hydration that throws the body’s electrolyte balance and sodium levels way off balance. Runners have died from drinking too much water. See Dr. Phil Maffetone’s excellent article on water intoxication here.

Like many  runners in this year’s race — my nineteenth time — I was totally overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of spectators who lined the streets with cold sponges and cups of water. These weren’t official volunteers. They were family, kids, students. All eager to help runners in the heat. Better yet, because the water was coming from peoples’ homes, it was cold– and not what you often found at aid stations. I’d douse myself with the water from these impromptu aid stations and find a new burst of energy. It felt like putting a fire out. Thank you, Boston!                         — Dr. Mark


17 Responses to “Boston Marathon 2012 — Meet the Heat”

  1. Richard says:

    Congratulations, Mark. I’m curious if you saw many other runners going “natural,” or even barefoot in the race, or if you got any grief from other runners about your form or flat shoes.

    • MarkC says:

      it was funny….several folks who i ended up running with recognized me from the NRC and we had friendly conversations on various topics. Most about where we would be getting cold beer after the race. No one was barefoot and running 6 minute pace in the conditions. Maybe further back there were a few. All the faster runners wear lightweight flats of various brands . Did not see big bulky shoes where i was running.

  2. Jen says:

    Congrats! Sounds like you ran YOUR race and had a lot of fun doing so.

  3. David Goulette says:

    Congratulations! Awesome run. I’m glad you had a good time.

  4. Ken Larson says:

    Congratulations on a great race , Mark. That was Kathy and I at the 16.5 mile mark yelling to you. We saw at least 2 barefoot runners and several other barefoot shod. Certainly there were more but it gets hypnotizing watching feet.

    • MarkC says:


      Thanks! Really glad i had shoes on. road was steamy hot with lots of manholes, surfaces that were not smooth and friendly, and tracks. Mark

  5. Rene Borg says:

    congratulations Mark, had a friend running that race and he suffered in the heat, not easy to pull off a clever race ,well done again.

  6. Wow Mark! Great run under very tough conditions! Congrats!

  7. MarkC says:

    Congrats to all the runners out there who played it smart and took this event for the fun of the moment and did not “race”. I’ll add a little more on the exercise physiology of all this. A few have asked why i went out “hard” .if you look at splits my first 10k was the fastest and then it leveled out. last 5k faster than 30-35k and same as 25-30k. Simple answer…it warmed up! Winning times were off close to 10 minutes from 2011. The brain self regulates you in the heat when you are speeding up and if you go over that line you are DONE. In a race when one surges under normal conditions you can settle in and relax and recover and let the acidity get recycled. When you surge in the heat and body temp starts rising- the recovery (if it happens at all) is slow and you must slow way down for it to happen. witness the destruction of the lead pack with a few hills and surges in the 25-30k point of the race. All of the runners who surged ended up on the bus. The winner Korir hung back and picked up the damage. He was SMART.
    At the start it was in the 70’s and i did the ice water douse at the gun and carried a small ice cold water bottle for a couple miles to keep the cold shower. there was also some shade on the right of the road and the road temp had not warmed up yet (10am). So the pace was a bit faster…i was in cool comfort zone. By Wellesley the road was cooking and no shade….so the body’s governor kicks in to regulate the effort to prevent heat stroke. I listen to this governor.
    I actually had a few moments coming into Boston when i felt like “its time to race”. this was after having an ice cold water bath from a friendly spectator. i’d pick it up but within a minute the brain would start to heat up, more rational thoughts pervaded, and settled back into the safe pace of thermoregulation.
    In April the body has not yet developed the sweat mechanisms fully so the only cooling is evaporative and thankfully the humidity was low enough for this to happen. Also MASSIVE thanks to the 1000’s of spectators who provided water. Boston is a special event and is supported but the towns and cities like no other event in the world. kudos to the citizens for preventing many heat related disasters.

  8. Di says:

    Great race Mark – you are such an inspiration to us all – like you said the Support from spectators was so amazing, I second your gratitude -I’m sure without their efforts there would have been many more people seeking medical attention.

  9. Mandana says:

    Congratulations Mark on a great and very smart race! You are totally an inspiration! That was the first full marathon I ran in my Newton Distance and loved it! :) I too, did my best to run a smart race. Adjusted my pace from the beginning and felt comfortable up to mile 16. It was 12:30 at that point when I noticed I was getting slower, while keeping the same effort, so I readjusted my pace and was super happy with my 3:35 finish which was 10 minutes slower than my goal time:) Boston is truly a unique experience with an incomparable and amazing crowd!

  10. Rima says:

    Way to go, Dr. Mark! Congratulations!

  11. Kyle Roberts says:

    I was out there running, but nowhere near as fast as Mark. The minimalist shoes I noticed were – a ton of Newtons, a dozen or two of Vibram Fivefingers, and one guy wearing black Inov-8 f-lite 195s with a kilt!! I ran in the same shoe as Mark, the Newton MV-2.

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