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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Heat Stops Green Bay Marathon

Sunday's Green Bay Marathon was halted around 9:30 am local time because of excessive heat combined with high humidity. 

National Weather Service records indicate that the race began with 70 degree heat but a 64% relative humidity and dewpoint of 57, but that by 9:00 am (about the time the top runners would be nearing the finish) the temperature had already surpassed 80 and the dewpoint had increased to 61.  Any dewpoint over 60 means you feel oppressive, so even a cool day with lower 60s temperatures will make you feel sticky (indeed, when the temperature and dewpoint almost are equal, assume the relative humidity is near or at 100%). 

Dewpoint is most critical because this measure of water vapor in the air indicates how readily perspiration will evaporate from skin.  Higher dewpoints indicate increased difficulty of runners -- or all mammals -- to release heat through perspiration because higher dewpoints will mean perspiration will collect on skin and not dissipate as rapidly.  The chain reaction is not good; impaired perspiration means that the body heats up but releases less heat than it would in optimal conditions.  For any endurance activity where the body is in constant motion, the heating reaction never stops. 

Unlike any team sport -- even soccer, where the runners may slow down for considerable stretches -- marathoners are moving constantly so the body never cools down (relatively speaking).  Add in the elements, and bodily core temperatures can rise to dangerous levels, irrespective of the experience and hydration of the runner.  In other words, such conditions pose a grave health danger to all but the most trained, world-class-elite runners whose fitness is presumably so high that their exertion on such days is not as great.

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