Eugene, Ore., where the USA Track & Field National Championship is underway, is gripped in a heat wave. The steamy conditions produce a nice muscle-loosening affect on athletes whose events last less than 60 seconds, but it’s been less accommodating for the distance events. The preliminary rounds of the women’s 3000-meter steeplechase and the 10,000 meter races, for example, took place Thursday night in a 93-degree sauna. The track captures and radiates heat—like a stove burner—so what the athletes experience is significantly hotter than the air temperature.
Fortunately, USATF officials have adopted some safety strategies. Below, we see steeplechaser Emma Coburn demonstrating use of the vomit basins readily available to athletes. Had this been an actual emergency, Coburn may have employed the more tradition hands-on-knees flexed body position. These practical receptacles have seen heavy use so far in the four-day meet.
Since the vomit basins look a lot like trash bins, the clear labeling has been a boon both for those wishing to use them and those hoping to avoid them. No word as to whether this is a zero waste event.
A water table, meanwhile, was set up for both 10,000 meter finals on the outer edge of the track on the back stretch. Volunteers held out cups in lane four, since runners stay in lanes one and two for most of the 25-lap race. It was a nice thought, but few runners availed themselves as the advantage of a few drips of water were far outweighed by the disruption of pace and very real possibility of choking; who could maintain a top pace and the attendant maximum suction breathing and not snort a cup of water up their nose? Who?
How hot was it during the 10,000? Track-meltingly hot, apparently. Here is the bottom of runner Jon Grey’s shoe, enhanced with some red bits of historic Hayward Field that melted and stuck to the spikes.
But distance runners are a notoriously tough lot, and their suffering has not been unduly reflected in the winning times. Championship races like these have no pace-makers and athletes—at least the top contenders—are racing for the top three places to qualify for the World Championship team. Thus, place is more important than time; times at championship races are often slower than at, for example, a highly competitive Diamond League race.
The top three in the women’s 10,000 meters, Molly Huddle (31:39.20), Shalane Flanagan (31:42.29) and Emily Infeld (31:42.60), all posted times about a minute off their best but commensurate with a championship race. The debilitating conditions showed up in the second half of the field who, realizing they would not be going to Beijing, adjusted their pace accordingly.
In like manner, the top three men’s 10,000 finishers—Galen Rupp (28:11.61), Ben True (28:14.26) and Hassan Mead (28:16.54)—were more than a minute off their personal bests, but within the range of what they would normally run in a place-sensitive race. Given that the track was melting beneath them, that’s some impressive running.
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