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Hub heat may scorch marathon

BOSTON -- The Run for the Hoses. The Duel in the Sun. The Inferno.

As the prospect of 80-degree temperatures looms over today's Boston Marathon, race organizers are hoping the heat will forge a classic contest to rank among the legends of the event's 116-year history even as they prepare for a potential medical crisis if runners wilt under the scorching sun.

The forecast forced organizers to offer a largely unprecedented deferment to the entire field of 27,000 that had spent the last year qualifying, registering and training for what is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"We're asking runners who haven't run previously to think about tomorrow and maybe coming back next year," Boston Mayor Tom Menino told the attendees at the traditional pre-race pasta dinner on City Hall Plaza on Sunday night. "We don't want to have any accidents out there, or anybody overtaken by the heat."

The Boston Athletic Association also offered a deferment in 2010, when the Icelandic volcano eruption stalled air traffic in Europe and prevented about 300 runners from getting to Boston. There is no way of knowing how many will take them up on the offer this year until this morning, when the number of no-shows is calculated.

B.A.A. co-medical director Pierre d'Hemecourt warned runners with underlying medical issues, such as a cough or a cold or a recent stomach virus that left them dehydrated: "Please don't run the marathon on Monday." Those who have not run a full marathon before, or who have not run in the heat, should also sit this one out, race organizers said.

"Only the fittest runners should consider running. The risks that you'll see tomorrow are simply greater than normal," B.A.A. Executive Director Tom Grilk said, advising runners who do line up at the start to slow their pace and focus on finishing rather than a fast time. "You should adopt the attitude that this is not a race; it is an experience."

One year after cool temperatures and a significant tailwind -- perfect running weather -- helped Geoffrey Mutai finish in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 2 seconds for the fastest marathon ever, the heat has elite runners preparing for a slower pace and the recreational runners trying to figure out how to finish at all.

Forecasts call for 73 degrees at the 10 a.m. start in Hopkinton, 80 degrees at the halfway point in Wellesley by 11 a.m. and 82 degrees at the Back Bay finish line at noon. For the recreational runners expecting to be out on the course later that afternoon, temperatures are expected to peak at 84 by 3 p.m.

"The heat affects everybody. Nobody runs fast in the heat. Nobody benefits from the heat," 1968 winner Amby Burfoot said this weekend as the weather became the dominant topic of conversation. "If anyone's been training in Miami, that would be great for them."

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