Mother Nature's Marathon

By Emily Tipping

Weather conditions can often wreak havoc on planned programs and events. Last year, Burlington, Vt., experienced a combination of weather that could have had a major impact on the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon, but smart planning and teamwork kept the race going on schedule.

The first running of the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon was run in 1989. "It's the home of the first marathon relay in the country, and between marathoners and relayers, we have about 8,000 people in the race," said Peter Delaney, the race director for RunVermont. "We also get a good 20,000 or 25,000 spectators to watch the excitement."

The race, which always takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day, is USATF certified and serves as a Boston qualifier, so plenty of people are relying on a flawless course.

Last year, though, Delaney said the area saw a combination of the third snowiest winter combined with the wettest April and May. "It made for record flooding in Lake Champlain, which is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the country," he explained.

While flood stage is 99 or 100 feet, he said, last spring saw the lake's waters rise to nearly 104 feet.

"It is very significant" he said. "Actually, the lowest portion of our course is at 99 feet, which is right on the lakefront, so we were faced with rerouting a short section of the course and potential rerouting of several sections of flooding had continued to worsen."

Luckily, the team was in place to deal with almost any contingencies that might arise. RunVermont and Burlington's Public Works Department repaired damaged sections of the course.

"We all kept hoping it would abate and recede," Delaney said. "Thankfully we have a great team of staff and many volunteers who have been with the event for a long time, so it already had contingency plans in place for rerouting around certain sections. We had new ones to sit down and talk through. It was just a matter of bringing the right people together and figuring out how you move your course and all support supplies and communicate those changes to the public."

In the end, only a quarter of a mile out of the 26.2-mile course had to be rerouted, and Delaney said the team was fortunate in that they had an easy solution. But even a quarter mile can have an impact.

"There's all kinds of logistics," Delaney said. "We're certified and a Boston Marathon qualifier, so it has to meet measurement standards according to USATF. And there are measurements and paperwork that need to be done to make sure times will still qualify them for Boston consideration."

As things turned out, after a chilly spring, Burlington saw a heat wave the week of the race, and a combination of high temperatures and humidity posed an additional problem. Delaney and his team tracked the weather up to gun time, and placed weather advisory alerts along the course.

"As is always the case, the weather played a different scenario, and it got really warm on race day, so we ended up preparing for heat problems as much as flooding," Delaney said. "We have a great medical team with a plan in place calling for extra water and ice, making sure we're alerting people as to what the temperatures are, and what they need to watch for. A warning system goes out on the course, and if there's too warm a temperature, it can interrupt the event."

Many races created such contingency plans following the running of the Chicago Marathon in 2007, when temperatures climbed into the upper 80s, causing hundreds of runners to fall ill and leading to one death. The race was halted for the first time in its history.

Luckily, the temperatures in Burlington last spring didn't climb high enough to cancel the race, but Mother Nature certainly kept the race team working to stay on top of their game.

"It kept us on our toes," Delaney said. "There's no question about that."

To learn more about the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon, which will be run on May 27th this year, visit

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