By Ryan Sterner
April 12, 2017
According to the Boston Athletics Association, there have been 11 instances in the history of the Boston Marathon where race day temps registered over 80 degrees. These days, athletes go to great lengths to assure they keep their core temperature down in weather like that. And over the years there have been a number of newfangled gadgets to combat it. Like a shirt with holes in it, ice vests, and, for the love of god, ice helmets.
But long before the days of advanced cooling technology, plenty of people hit the pavement with nothing more than shoes on their feet, an upper in their system, and a flask of hard liquor on their hip.
Below is a list of 11 of the hottest Boston Marathon’s on record. See if you can learn a thing or two on how to be tough:
Though temperatures were reportedly in the 100s, I can’t find anything outside of the BAA website to support that claim. The real story, however, was how 20-year old Frederick Lorz got his clock cleaned by a bicycle at the 20 mile mark and still went on to win in 2:38:25. He was a bricklayer by trade and died of pneumonia nine years later.
Folks, this one was a scorcher. The mercury rose to 97 degrees and 91 of the 164 entrants dropped out. This race of attrition saw 19-year-old Henri Renaud of New Hampshire win in a pedestrian 2:53:36. Which sounds about right for a guy who reportedly only started training two weeks before the race and only began running the previous September.
Who knew a Canadian would be so adept at navigating the heat? 1915’s winner was Eduard Fabre. By the time 1915 rolled around he already had four Boston Marathon’s under his belt, and finished 11th in the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Marathon, which was contested in 80 degree heat. Despite conditions in the mid-80s, he won in 2:31:41. Later, he’d go on to contract the Spanish Flu during WWI, live through it, and eventually win a 300km snowshoe race from Quebec to Montreal.
A fun anecdote about the 1927 running of the Boston Marathon: it was so hot that the road literally melted beneath runner’s feet. This wasn’t due so much to the 84 degree weather, as it was to the newly paved, “uncured” road. But still! Seven-time winner Clarence Demar took home his fifth Boston title on the first full 26.2 mile Boston Marathon in 2:40:22.
Take a look at this absolutely bonkers footage of the 1931 Boston Marathon. If you had asked me, I’d guess that video cameras were invented in like 1997, so you can understand that this video blew my mind. Anyway, the New York Times reported that conditions were “unsuited for marathon running,” as a “hot sun beat down on the backs of marathoners from start to finish.” James Henigan won in 2:46:45.
A Guatemalan day laborer took this one–run in 88 degree heat, described as “oppressive”–by a landslide. Doroteo Flores’ time of 2:31:53 was five minutes clear of the eventual 2nd place finisher, Victor Dyrgall. Guatemalan president, Jacobo Arbenz, awarded Flores the highest civilian honor, the Order of the Quetzal. Two years later, Arbenz was ousted from his democratically elected presidency by a U.S.-backed coup which resulted in a nearly 40 year civil war. This is the intersection of running and politics.
The BAA reports that the temperature at the finish was 84 degrees. The race report from the New York Times, however, has a much more interesting non-weather related anecdote: “Deep in the tradition of the Boston Marathon were runners who carried clubs to beat off boys on bicycles and the ever-charging dogs; runners who ran with cigars in their mouths; runners who stopped at a few taverns along the route.” The winner that year was a 36-year old Yugoslavian man named Franjo Mihalic, who won by almost five minutes in a time of 2:25:34. Here’s a description, courtesy of New York Times: “Mihalic is 36, weighs 130 pounds and has regular teeth, most of which are jacketed in gold.”
This one may actually be the hottest one in history, with the official temperature at 91 and some Boston denizen’s porch thermometers reaching 116. It’s known as the “Run for the Hoses,” likely due to the fact that race organizers actively encouraged people along the route to “hose the runners.” American Jack Fultz went on to win the race in 2:20:19.
This is also the first one on the list with an officially sanctioned women’s race. Former American Record holder and all-around distance running legend Kim Merritt took the title in 2:47:10.
Despite reports of high humidity and a stiff headwind, there’s nothing in this day-after race report that mentions anything about the weather. Conclusion: it couldn’t have been that bad. Toshihiko Seko of Japan and Rosa Mota of Portugal won in 2:11:50 and 2:25:21, respectively.
Here’s a hot one–the hottest since ‘87, with a reported finishing temperature of 86 degrees. Women’s winner Catherine Ndereba thanked God for not allowing the heat to kill her. While the men’s winner, Timothy Cherigat, who managed a 2:10:37, didn’t have anything interesting to say about the heat, he registered the slowest winning time since 1991.
This was the first year the race organizers offered to entrants the option to defer their registration due to weather. While nearly 5,000 people opted to run the following year, and another 2,100 were treated for dehydration, Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop were busy hacking away at the weather-beaten field.
This wasn’t one of the hottest on record but it wasn’t an easy one. Our own Chris Chavez ran it and managed to clock a personal best:
“When I explain to people that I was shoving ice into my singlet, squeezing and sucking the moisture out of towels and soaking my hat in water, it sounds crazy but that’s just one way to combat the brutal Boston heat. Sometimes the smartest racing looks stupid.”
Monday’s current weather forecast is for a high of 60 in Boston proper. Ideal conditions for racing. Not ideal conditions for adding another sad, sordid tale of the lengths our fellow runners will go just to finish one of the world’s most historic races. Maybe next year.
Hobby jogger and soup enthusiast whose work has appeared in a number of highly esteemed publications such as Flotrack, The Howard Lake Herald Journal and Ebaum's World. Currently a resident of Los Angeles, where he spends most of his time indoors.