BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston marathoners coped on Monday with unusually hot temperatures that approached 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius) in a variety of ways - from pouring water over themselves to singing and praying - but few took up organizers’ offer to sit out the 116th running of the famous footrace.
The hot weather was enough of a concern that even the victor, Wesley Korir of Kenya, said that for much of the race he paid more attention to how much water he drank than to where he stacked up among his rivals.
“I knew it was going to be hot ... I was more concerned about my hydration than even my position, where I was going to be,” Korir told reporters after winning the race in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 40 seconds.
That was the slowest winning time since 2007, when Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, also of Kenya, won in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 13 seconds in a different type of extreme weather: driving rain and winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour.
Korir said he tried to put the heat out of his mind, distracting himself by singing, a habit he shares with U.S. marathoner Ryan Hall, who skipped the Boston Marathon as he prepares for the London Olympics.
“I was singing the same song I was singing with Ryan when we were in Chicago,” said Korir, who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s made up, it just goes, ‘Come God, come Jesus, come Holy Spirit.’ Just keep doing that.”
It was the hottest Boston race since 1976, when temperatures hit 96 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) along much of the course. Organizers on Monday set up stations along the course to spray mists of water on runners to cool them.
Race organizers, the Boston Athletic Association, had offered runners the chance to defer their race until next year, and particularly encouraged those who got their berths through raising money for charity - rather than posting competitive qualifying times in other races - to consider holding off.
Few took them up on their offer, though, with more than 98 percent of the 22,853 runners who had picked up entry packets showing up at the race’s Hopkinton, Massachusetts, starting point.
Executive Director Thomas Grilk said race organizers had contracted for 30 buses to transport athletes who dropped out of the race back to Boston, prepositioning them around the course.
“Normally they don’t get used,” Grilk said. “This year they’re getting used. They’re coming in, they’re picking people up and they’re bringing them into Boston.”
Like many of the elite athletes, Jason Hartmann of Boulder, Colorado, the top-placed American with a fourth-place finish overall, took greater care in picking up cups of water passed off by volunteers along the races sidelines.
“What I tried to focus on was just getting as much fluid as possible at every water spot, getting three or four cups of water ... just focusing on trying to keep hydrated, keep cool,” said Hartmann, who finished the 26.2 mile course in two hours, 14 minutes, 31 seconds.
Outside the elite ranks, many runners took the advice of organizers and friends by enjoying the day but not shooting for personal best times.
Many took regular walking breaks. And they weren’t alone - last year’s winner in the women’s race, Caroline Killel of Kenya, was reported to be trudging past Fenway Park, Boston’s famous baseball stadium, about a mile from the finish.
Local racers said they found it difficult to prepare for such unseasonably warm weather, even through New England had a mild winter this year.
“We had a pretty mild winter in Maine this year. I tend to do all my workouts on a treadmill in a room that is probably warmer than most,” said Sheri Piers, the top-placed American woman who finished 10th in that field in two hours, 41 minutes and 55 seconds. “Normally the winters in Maine wouldn’t be helpful for this kind of weather.”
Reporting By Scott Malone; additional reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Eric Beech and Philip Barbara