Midnight marathon final doesn’t ease grueling IAAF worlds conditions

IAAF World Championships. Doha, heat, marathon
Svetlana Kudzelich from Belarus tips a water bottle over her head after the marathon world championship in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships are underway in Doha, Qatar amid horrendous weather conditions for runners. While sprinters, long jumpers, and hurdlers  compete inside the climate-controlled, open-roofed Khalifa International Stadium, marathon runners enjoy no such luxury.

The average high temperature in Doha was over 100 degrees in September, with a heat index – which includes humidity – above 110 degrees. Those are tricky conditions for a 26.2-mile race outside. 

Despite the midnight start of the marathon at the IAAF world championships, nearly a third of the women’s field droped out because of the heat. Experts say running at the high temperature and humidity at that time is not healthy.

However it hasn’t stopped the event. The women’s race was contested Sept. 27, 2019 and the men are scheduled to run Oct. 6, 2019. 

To avoid sweltering temperatures, the IAAF scheduled the men’s and women’s marathons for midnight in Doha. For the women, the temperature dropped down to 90 degrees by race time and 105 with humidity. Extra water stations and medical personnel were added, but that didn’t make the race any less grueling. 

“Probably the hardest conditions I’ve ever raced in,” American runner Roberta Groner told the New York Times. Groner finished in sixth place.

Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya took home the gold medal, but of the 68 runners that started the women’s marathon on Sept. 27, just 40 finished.  

Retired Ethiopian running great Haile Gebrselassie spoke out against the IAAF’s decision to hold the World Championships in the sweltering Qatar weather.

“It was a mistake to conduct the championship in such hot weather in Doha, especially the marathon race. As someone who has been in the sport for many years, I’ve found it unacceptable,” he told the Associated Press.

“God forbid, but people could have died running in such weather conditions.”

Road Runners Club of America, which promotes the growth of running and the value of health, recommends avoiding running in temperatures above 98.6 degrees or when the humidity is above 70 percent, while emphasizing proper hydration. The organization’s website notes a runner can lose between six and 12 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. 

And high humidity slows the process of sweat evaporating off of the body, which prevents the body from properly regulating its temperature which can cause overheating.

Historically, the average temperature in Doha at midnight on Sept. 27 is just over 85 degrees. However, that also is near the most humid time there. The muggiest part of the day is at about 10:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the women’s race began and the men’s event is scheduled to start. 

The forecast calls for a temperature near 85 degrees with humidity hovering near 50 percent for the start of the men’s event. 

Update: Lelisa Desisa took the men’s marathon with a time of  2:10:40. The temperature reported was just under 85 degrees with 48 percent humidity. Of the 73 runners that started the race, just 55 finished.

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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