By Pete Williams
Should endurance sports events held in July and August ever start after 8 a.m. and go beyond 11 a.m?
Or is the heat issue overblown?
These seem like reasonable questions to ask in light of two deaths in last weekend’s New York City Triathlon and, according to the Kansas City Star, two deaths in a Warrior Dash event in Kansas City on July 30.
There’s a reason we have relatively few triathlons in Florida during the summer months. Even those the Sunshine State does host are usually sprint-distance with start times around 7 a.m. That means even with multiple waves and accounting for slower athletes, everyone is off the course by 9:30 a.m.
Unfortunately, the rest of the country seems to forget that weather everywhere in July and August can be every bit as punishing as what we have in Florida.
Oppressive summer temperatures seem to be more of a concern in obstacle mud runs than in triathlon, where deaths tend to take place in the swim, with stress and pre-existing heart conditions usually contributing more than heat. Triathletes are accustomed to getting up at the crack of dawn to train and race early, avoiding the high temperatures.
This doesn’t mean heat in triathlon is not a concern. Next year, Ironman is debuting in New York/New Jersey on August 12. Tomorrow’s expected high in Manhattan is 85 degrees. Would you want to spend 13 to 16 hours pushing your body through summer New York heat? There’s a reason half of NYC heads out of town in August. At least the SUP athletes paddling 26.5 miles around Manhattan tomorrow will need only 4 to 6 hours (starting at 7 a.m.).
Obstacle mud runs like the Warrior Dash, however, tend to start later and attract thousands of participants that go off in waves that don’t start until 8 a.m. – sometimes later – and go on for hours. That means there are participants on the course until mid/late afternoon.
Why so late? With 10,000 to 20,000 athletes in some instances, organizers have to spread them out, but that’s only part of the reason. Obstacle mud runs appeal to the 21-to-34 demographic that’s more likely to want to sleep late. Mud run athletes (of all ages) also tend to be less serious than triathletes. I’m always amazed to participate in an obstacle mud run and see people walking less than a mile into it. Many of these athletes have trained little, if at all, and are stunned at the difficulty of some of the obstacles. (The Warrior Dash, however, is regarded as one of the less challenging of the obstacle mud runs.)
Usually heat concerns can be eliminated with proper scheduling. Tough Mudder, for instance, will make its Florida debut in Pasco County in December. The Spartan Race takes place in Miami in January. Muddy Buddy, though a much easier event, takes no chances, staging its Florida races in early April (Orlando) and late November (Miami).
This weekend, Warrior Dash will head to Windham, New York, where the expected high temperature is 77 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Heat should not be an issue.
As the endurance sports calendar gets more crowded, with more races launched to compete in a market that shows no signs of slowing down, there will be fewer available dates. That pushes races into cities and dates that might be too hot to handle.
Part of the allure of the obstacle mud runs is the unknown, to push your body further and face obstacles as they come. That also explains to some degree the CrossFit phenomenon.
And, of course, there’s a reason we call them endurance sports. This summer has been one of the hottest on record throughout the country. If you can’t stand the heat, some athletes argue, stay off the course or train harder.
But it’s worth noting that The Death Race, arguably the toughest event in the endurance world, takes place in Vermont in late June when the average high temperature is 75.
Though it’s a brutal test of endurance, nobody has died in the event’s seven-year history. But could it be that some of these other events, far less challenging but in much hotter climates, are becoming more dangerous tests of endurance?