NEWBURYPORT — Betsy Suda is probably better prepared to run in sweltering heat than just about anyone. The former Newburyport High cross country star — who was a member of the 1997 state champion girls team — now lives in Gainesville, Florida, where hot and sticky conditions like we had on Tuesday is the norm.
Yet whether it’s trying to run around the University of Florida’s campus or down by the river along Merrimac Street, there’s no way around it — running in the heat is tough.
“I think you get used to training in it, but racing in it is still hard,” Suda said. “Just because your heart rate goes up really quickly and it’s hard to keep pushing to 100 percent when its so hard.”
Suda was the women’s runner-up in Tuesday’s Lions Club Yankee Homecoming 5K, and was one of more than 2,000 runners who braved the heat and finished either the 5K or 10-mile races. With racetime temperatures in the high 80s and humidity over 60 percent, runners endured some of the toughest conditions in the race’s recent history, which affected even the top competitors.
“I’d say it did, quite a bit,” said Jeff Seelaus, the former Amherst College runner who was the top overall finisher in the Yankee Homecoming 5K. “More so in the warmup I was getting in my head, because it was like every step I felt more drained.”
“I slowed down considerably after the first three miles,” said Ruben Sanca, the former Cape Verde Olympian who repeated as the Yankee Homecoming 10-mile champion.
The conditions posed a challenge to race organizers, who encouraged runners to switch from the 10-mile to the 5K race. According to Don Carey, a member of the Lions Race Committee, more than 200 runners obliged.
Race organizers, including longtime race director Jon Pearson and his leadership team including Carey, David Sheppard, Bob LaFrance and Bob Colomicky, also worked with local police, fire and highway officials to introduce measures to help runners stay cool. Among them were mist stations near the finish line, fans and a copious amount of frozen treats.
Overall, most runners were able to manage the conditions well enough. There were 1,559 runners who finished the 5K race and 715 finishers in the 10-mile.
“I think it’s just about trying to keep your core body temperature as cool as possible, drink a lot of water during the race and hope for the best,” said Sanca. “Try to use what you learn in training and apply it to race day, and overall be as tough as you can, because you realize everyone is going through the same weather conditions.”
Last year’s Yankee Homecoming Race featured a special guest, as Boston Marathon legends Team Hoyt became the first duo to compete in a wheelchair in the race’s history. While Dick and Rick Hoyt weren’t able to make it themselves this year, a group of nearly a dozen other wheelchair competitors took the course bearing the Team Hoyt name, and Lions Race Committee member Don Carey said he was excited to see so many take part.