At some point in the next few days, Drew Wartenburg suspects, someone is going to take a frying pan, crack an egg into it and try to fry the egg on the track at Sacramento State.
“I would bet my bottom dollar,” said Wartenburg, coach of the Sacramento-based NorCal Distance Program.
Weather is a hot topic as the best track and field athletes in the nation converge on Hornet Stadium this week for the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Their arrival coincides with a triple-digit swell that promises to have runners, jumpers and thousands of spectators all sweating together.
Temperatures Thursday, day one of the four-day meet, could hit 110 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The weather is then expected to cool down – to a high of 103 degrees on Friday, 100 on Saturday and 97 on Sunday.
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One concession to the elements has already been made. Officials decided Tuesday night to adjust the meet schedule for Thursday. All events originally scheduled to start before 3:45 p.m., roughly the hottest part of the day, have been moved up by one hour. Events slated to start at 4 p.m. or later have been moved back by one hour.
At a given time temperatures might be 10 to 20 degrees higher on the track – which means throughout the weekend you’ll likely see athletes taking ice baths, donning cooling vests and draping wet towels over their necks before and after events.
Of course, elite athletes, many of whom live and train in warm climates, are used to being in the heat for hours. People who enjoy watching elite athletes may not be.
Organizers recommend that anyone attending the championships this week drink plenty of water, bring a cooling fan and maybe wear a big hat to block the sun. Most events on the first two days are in the late afternoon and evening. On Saturday and Sunday, events are scheduled midday to accommodate NBC’s broadcast window.
“You try to make sure people have enough water, the ability to get out of the sun every once in a while,” said Mike Sophia, director of the Sacramento Sports Commission. “I think SMUD is sponsoring our cooling tent, so we’ll have some misting tent opportunities there. And obviously we’ll have plenty of medical support on hand for anybody that experiences any heat-related issues.”
The 2000 and 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, which set attendance records, saw temperatures top out in the mid-to-high 90s, said Bob Burns, Sacramento Sports Commission spokesman. But at the 1981 national meet at Hughes Stadium, it got so hot that organizers were using hoses to spray runners during the men’s 10,000-meter race.
This year’s distance events will feature something similar – “spray stations” on the track where runners can pass through misters or take in fluids. There will also be misters in the post-event recovery areas and lots of water and ice on hand to keep the athletes hydrated.
While sprinters and jumpers often like the heat, which loosens up their muscles, distance runners typically prefer cooler conditions. It’s one reason the finals of the 10,000 and 5,000 meter races are the last events scheduled for Thursday and Friday nights, respectively.
“In many ways that’s one of the things that has made Sacramento a good location for us,” said USATF spokesperson Jill Geer. “Under normal circumstances, the temperature cools off quite a bit when the sun goes down, which is good for the distance events.”
Given this week’s forecast, organizers said they expect the distance races to be “tactical,” with runners staying together at a more controlled pace up until the final sprint.
There’s a good chance that would have been the case anyway, even without the heat. The top three finishers in each event will qualify for the IAAF World Championships in August. So the main objective this week is placement, not time.
“In some respects, at the world championships or Olympic Games it’s much more typical to have tactical races in the distances,” Geer said. “So there’s actually benefit to choosing a team where the athletes know how to run a tactical race.”
Wartenburg, whose NorCal Distance Project includes Olympians Kim Conley and Kate Grace, said preparing for the weather has been a balancing act. Over the past two weeks, the athletes spent about 90 minutes training at the hottest part of the day to get acclimated to the elements. But they saved specific race workouts and pace work for the cooler hours to maximize quality.
For race day, Wartenburg said, “One of the things we’ve talked about is self-monitoring … just having some trust in your plan and pacing and not trying to do anything too heroic at the outset.”
While sprinters may like the heat, that doesn’t mean it won’t affect them, too, said John Mansoor, director of USATF Pacific Association and a fixture in Sacramento’s running community. Mansoor recalled how at the 2000 Olympic Trials, sprinters Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson both cramped during the 200 meters and later talked about “not managing their fluids well enough.”
“You have to stay on top of hydration,” Mansoor said.
Danylle Kurywchak, a Ponderosa High School graduate who will compete in the triple-jump this week, has experience with different climates. Kurywchak attended University of Mary in North Dakota, often competing in the snow, before transferring to Baylor and the humidity of Texas. She said Northern California heat has its perks.
“(Monday) I was out at the practice facility and … my hammies hadn’t been that loose in weeks,” Kurywchak said. “I was like, wow, I’m actually able to limber up a little bit.”
That bodes well for Kurywchak. The women’s triple-jump is scheduled for 6:20 p.m. Thursday.
“When it comes to competition day,” she said, “the last thing I’m really thinking about is the weather.”