CIM runners must contend with post-storm cold snap early Sunday

Frigid temperatures courtesy of a bitter cold front that swept into Sacramento this week will greet runners in Sunday’s California International Marathon.

How the marathoners handle the challenging conditions could mean the difference between a successful run and a trip to the hospital tent.

“A lot of runners who know their bodies will have a successful run, but there are others who don’t listen to their bodies,” said Bill Hambrick, a local marathon runner and a veteran of 25 CIM events.

National Weather Service forecasters say a wet storm will move into the region late today and linger through Saturday, dumping heavy snow in the Sierra, significant accumulation in the foothills and perhaps even snowfall on the Valley floor early Saturday.

The widespread rain and snow forecast for the Valley and higher elevations today and Saturday will give way to sunny skies by Sunday morning, but will leave behind morning temperatures in the low- to mid-20s.

“It looks like a very cold start to the day,” said Karl Swanberg, National Weather Service forecaster.

Forecasters expect a low of 26 degrees Sunday in downtown Sacramento, possibly even colder for the marathon’s 7 a.m. Folsom start, Swanberg said.

It would be among the coldest CIMs on record, said Hambrick, who is working with marathon organizers of this year’s race. He recalls “a couple of 31-degree days,” and the 2009 race, a frosty 27 degrees at start time, he said.

High temperatures on Sunday are only expected to reach the low- to mid-40s, forecasters said.

“The CIM tends to draw an experienced crowd, but with the extreme temperatures, everybody is at risk of hypothermia,” a dangerous drop in body temperature, said Daniel Parker, a sports medicine physician with UC Davis Health System.

To ward off the cold, Parker and Hambrick both stress layering to insulate and to wick sweat away from the body; clothes with zippers to ventilate. Think base layers normally worn for skiing. Runners should also drink more fluids than normal, he said. The cold air takes away extra moisture from the lungs.

Keeping limber and relaxed is also key, Hambrick said.

“It’s really important to stay loose,” he said.

Hambrick recalled putting that into practice in the May 2010 running of Canada’s Calgary Marathon.

“It was snowing horizontally at the starting line. It was the coldest I’ve ever been at a race,” Hambrick said. “I was trying to relax my muscles and they actually warmed up. You have to remember that the body will heat up.”

Body heat will do the job on the course, but pay attention to your body, Parker said.

“If you start to feel cold, seek help and shelter immediately to avoid hypothermia,” Parker said. “Hopefully, runners will look for runners who look cold or confused. That’s the first sign of hypothermia.”

Temperatures this week have already plunged to record lows. Sacramento’s low Thursday was 29 degrees, breaking the previous record of 32 degrees set in 1972, according to the weather service.

At the end of the run, runners should “get out of the cold as soon as you can,” Parker said. The cool-down should be a walk to a warm car or warm spot. Anything else could lead to dire consequences.

“If they let themselves get cold, they’re going to end up in a medical tent and get transported to an ER,” Parker said. “Have a warm car waiting for them and whisk them off.”