- - Sunday, April 15, 2012

BOSTON — If you can’t take the heat, get out of today’s marathon.

That has been the motto here this weekend as more than 26,000 entrants prepare for the 116th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious 26.2-mile race, from rural Hopkinton to downtown Boston.

According to the National Weather Service, Monday’s temperatures are expected to reach a high near 87.

Officials of the marathon, who have been tracking the weather predictions all week, have been proactive as they fear the high temperature will take its toll on this field of mostly recreational athletes, sending thousands of runners to the hospital.

In a preemptive strike, officials have offered to defer entry for this year’s race into the 2013 race. The course also will remain open an extra hour, until 6 p.m.

“We are now making the recommendation that if you are not highly fit or if you have any underlying medical conditions [for example, cardiac disease, pulmonary disease or any of a number of medical problems], you should not run this race,” said co-medical director Dr. Pierre d’Hemecourt. “Inexperienced marathoners should not run. Those who have only trained in a cooler climate and who may not be acclimated [for at least the last 10 days] to warm weather running conditions should also consider not running.”

Temperatures are expected to be the hottest since the famous 1976 “Run for the Hoses” race, when the mercury was reportedly as high as 96 degrees during the first half of the course. In 2004, a record 2,000 people from the field of 18,000 sought medical attention mostly for heat-related illnesses caused by temperatures as high as 86 at the finish.

The good news, d’Hemecourt added, is that it’s going to be a dry day.

“This is the most dangerous race we’ve had since the Run for the Hoses,” said Dr. Arthur J. Siegel, former Boston medical team member who said he has approximately 20 Boston Marathons under his belt, including 1976. “They’re going to be dropping like flies. It’s going to be a very busy day.”

Siegel said about 600 patients are treated on an average year, 800 when it’s hot. He expects 1,000 Monday.

Defending champions Geoffrey Mutai and Caroline Kilel from Kenya do not expect to suffer from the heat, in stark contrast to last year’s perfect conditions - temperatures in the 50s and a significant tailwind.

“We’ve been training in the heat so for me that’s OK,” Kilel said at a news conference Saturday.

There will not be much of an American elite presence Monday as the U.S. Olympic Team marathon trials were contested just three months ago.

But there will be numerous Washington-area runners: 182 entrants hail from D.C., 491 from Maryland and 680 from Virginia.

Stephen Godek will be one of them. He ran his only Boston Marathon in 2009.

“I have a little idea of what I am getting myself into,” said the 49-year-old Potomac Falls, Va., resident preparing for the heat in his sixth marathon. “My first thought was ‘Oh no,’ then my second thought was ‘There is nothing you can do about it.’ Boston is like the graduation, you just go and be in the moment, high-five people, take in the experience. The crowd is amazing. Frankly, 87 [degrees] you are not going to set a personal record and you don’t try. I’m not trying to win, but I am hoping to finish.”

“In Chicago two years ago, I passed a sign at 21 miles that said 81 degrees and I threw up four times,” added Godek, who took up running in 2004 weighing in at a scale-tipping 260 pounds and shed more than 100 pounds down to 152 when he lined up for the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

Running also was life-changing for Gillian Rowan, a 57-year-old personal trainer/public speaker in Northern Virginia. She spent 14 years on the Honolulu Marathon course and finally the former couch potato got bitten by the running bug in 1981. Some 32 marathons later, she said she knows how to handle the heat and is ready for her second Boston Marathon.

“None of us have acclimated yet,” said Rowan, who said she has coached more than 200 athletes. “My plan is to go out and take in as much water as I can. I am drinking as much as I can today. That’s the best I can do. If I have to walk, I have to walk. I wanted to qualify for Boston [2013] at Boston. I am planning to sign up for another marathon, maybe in Canada.”

Persistence is the theme for Kenny Ames of Washington. Monday is his first time qualifying for Boston, but he said it did not come easy.

“This is my 17th marathon,” the 34-year-old Brookland resident said. “It took me 18 years, and I qualified on my 16th marathon. … I was going to try to attempt to break three [hours], but the new goal is to try to hold a seven-minute pace [3:03] as long as I can and enjoy the course. And get a kiss from the Wellesley girls. I grew up locally in the Massachusetts area, and I was a soccer player. I’ve been wanting to run Boston since I ran my first marathon at Marine Corps in 2004.”

The elite women’s field sets off at 9 a.m., with the men’s elite start and first wave at 10 a.m. The second and third waves start at 10:20 and 10:40, respectively. Prize money totals $806,000 plus an additional $220,000 in time bonuses.

Universal Sports Network and UniversalSports.com is the exclusive national television home for the Boston Marathon, with coverage airing at 9:30 a.m.

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