Many runners at the Manitoba Marathon on Sunday had their race cut short when directors decided to stop the race partway through, due to extreme heat and humidity. While some runners who were partially done were able to finish the race, others were advised to proceed at their own risk or drop out, and some confusion ensued.
Race directors had warned athletes about the warm weather via email, and suggested they be prepared to run more slowly than usual. Earlier in the week, with the looming warm weather and high humidity index forecast, race directors tried to troubleshoot the situation. Manitoba was also this year’s host for the Canadian Athletics 2022 half-marathon championships.
Charlotte Brookes, national event director for the Canada Running Series and Toronto Waterfront Marathon, posted on social media acknowledging the challenging situation race organizers faced. Brookes explains: “We even had a race director call with race directors from across the country this week and focused the call around ideas of what Manitoba Marathon could do today with the 30+ weather forecast to avoid a cancellation. Some race directors even flew out to help this weekend. I’m so sorry for all those that are disappointed they couldn’t finish their race today.”
— mySteinbach (@mySteinbach) June 18, 2022
Environment Canada had issued a warning prior to Sunday regarding the weather, which encouraged residents to stay inside, hydrate and stay near air conditioning if possible. Leanne Klassen of Calgary, competing in the Canadian half-marathon championships, said “I don’t think I have ever run in conditions like that. I’m an early morning runner, and Calgary is never that hot.” She added: “It was definitely a tough day. It honestly didn’t feel too hot right at the start as there was a pretty good wind. I knew it was going to get much warmer once we started running though, and it definitely did. Even the 40km/hr winds didn’t cool it down at all!” Klassen was able to finish the race in seventh position for women, with a time of 1:23.33.
— Tom Brodbeck (@tombrodbeck) June 19, 2022
At the 7:00 a.m. race start, the temperature was around 23 degrees C, but the humidex quickly shot up to the 33-40 degree C range within the first hour.
Manitoba Marathon organizers had hoped for a better outcome, said race director Rachel Munday. “We certainly thought that the wind was going to be our friend and cool people on the course. The guidelines say even the fittest runner, once you hit low 30s [C], shouldn’t be running a long distance. It’s too taxing on the body, so we made the very, extremely difficult decision to stop the race,” she added.
Participants were about an hour and a half into the race when organizers called a halt, and police along the race course began to notify participants. Runners took to social media to either express their appreciation to the race directors for keeping athletes safe, or some confusion at the way the race ended.
A final note: it was a frustrating decision, but I don't fault race organizers for doing what they thought was best.
I'm grateful to the official and unofficial volunteers who picked up the slack as much as they could when the WPS abandoned us. The community protects us.
— Tim Runtz (@timruntz) June 19, 2022
We spoke to Ottawa Marathon race director Ian Fraser about the challenging decisions made around race cancellations. Fraser explained all race directors have their own similar but slightly different processes in making a decision like this. He added that Munday would have had three choices given the heat warnings facing that day: to cancel the race in advance, to go ahead and execute the race to the finish, or to allow the race to start and be prepared to cancel partway through.
“We are all trying to consider what the best participant experience will be,” he said.”Rachel would have given an abundance of concern for the safety of her participants in her planning, and would have consulted key stakeholders: the medical director, EMS and weather sources for their informed pieces before making her decision. In the end, we’re always trying to decide what the best thing for the participant is,” says Fraser.
No matter what decision Munday made, she would have faced a gamut of emotional responses from runners and fans. Fraser praised Munday’s choices and said, “I can’t imagine the disappointment of the team at Manitoba Marathon right now.”
Organizers for the Manitoba Marathon cancelled the race due to extreme heat Sunday, but some runners refused to stop. Alex Karpa reports. pic.twitter.com/WGcko80rSw
— CityNews Winnipeg (@CityNewsWPG) June 19, 2022
Calgary Marathon race director Kirsten Fleming echoed Fraser’s thoughts in her comments on the race cancellation. “Organizers, including the medical team, prepare for a whole year to put on a safe event and we recognize the effort put in by participants to get to the start line, so cancelling is always a last resort but required in some circumstances.” While Fleming hasn’t had to cancel the Calgary event in her ten years as race director, she added, “It’s an impossible situation. Manitoba Marathon absolutely made the right call by putting participant safety first.”
Runners who did not complete their race were able to switch to the virtual version of the event. This weekend’s event was the first fully in-person race for Manitoba Marathon since 2019.