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Heat causing alterations for Buffalo Marathon

Western New Yorkers have noticed that spring turned into summer quickly this week. No one has been keeping up with forecasts better than Greg Weber, who serves as the race director for the Buffalo Marathon.

“I was looking at the 21-day forecast, and people told me that it wasn’t too accurate,” said Weber, who is in his second year of overseeing the weekend-long event. “Then it got down to 14 days, and I said, ‘Can I pay attention to it now?’”

Unseasonably warmth is projected on Sunday morning, even if almost all runners should be done well before the peak heat arrives early in the afternoon.

“I’ve spoken with the race directors in Chicago and Miami,” Weber said. “In my tenure, we’ve never dealt with 80-degree temperatures, so we reached out to those who have.”

The marathon committee has a plan for hot days, and it will be put into effect on Sunday. Every mile point from Mile 12 to Mile 25 will have water available this year, a plan that was in the works before the forecast firmed up. Medical personnel will be at stations throughout the course.

“We’ll have air-conditioned vans and buses to get people out of the heat,” Weber said. “We’re employing more bike support, and we’ll have additional trucks with water. We’ll be deploying ice on the back half of the race.

“The most important person in the formula is the runner, who needs to understand the signals from his or her body.”

Organizers also hope to get a little jump on the heat by starting the race a half-hour earlier, at 6:30 a.m. That also means the runners will leave North Buffalo neighborhoods a bit earlier, decreasing the race impact on residents.

There are some other new twists to the marathon, a fixture on the local sports calendar since its start in 2001. One is that fans, friends and relatives will be able to follow their favorite runners on the course through a new phone app.

“We’ll have splits at every 5K,” Weber said. “Runners have asked for it, and we’re providing it. The catch is that we can’t test it until race day, but it should work.”

The race expo on Saturday continues to grow. A highlight will be a talk by East African Meb Keflezighi, a former Olympic silver medalist in the marathon and the winner of both the New York and Boston marathons.

“Meb has taken an interest in Buffalo,” Weber said. “We sent him Tyrod Taylor’s Bills’ jersey last fall. Now we’ve got it back, and Meb has autographed it. We will raffle it off and raise money for Meb’s homeland.

“Meb will do the talk via satellite from Eritrea. It’s interactive; there will be questions and answers.”

Bart Yasso, chief running officer at Runners World, will be back for the third time. Molly Barker, who founded Girls on the Run, also is one of the speakers.

Prize money for the race went up only a few days ago. The third through fifth spots in the marathon are now worth $800, $700 and $600 respectively. The overall winners receive $2,000 each, while the half-marathon winners will earn $600. Masters runners can pick up checks for $500 for the marathon and $300 for the half-marathon. Runners-up in the open events receive $1,000, same as last year.

The race is sold out. About 1,930 runners entered, while 4,700 more will take part in the half-marathon. Weber said 45 states and 18 countries will be represented. In addition, there will be another 700 runners taking part in a 5-kilometer event on Saturday morning.

The top runners will be going after a bonus prize of $2,000 for breaking the event record. Both the men’s and women’s open records and one of the Masters records fell last year, which meant an extra $6,000.

One of last year’s champions is back. Hirut Guangul of Ethiopia won the race in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 1 second. Aurelia Rutto of Kenya is coming off a second-place showing in last month’s Cleveland Marathon, finishing in 2:52:13. But she lost to Guangul, who came in at 2:40:33.

Jennifer Koeppel of Kenmore, a two-time winner of The Buffalo News’ Runner of the Year award, ran a time of 3:12:35 in the Boston Marathon in April. She figures to be one of the top local runners.

Among the men, two-time champion Kip Tisia loomed as a top contender but he had to return to Kenya because of an emergency. Plenty of other excellent runners are in the field.

Negash Abebe Duke of New York is one of the favorites. He has a time of 2:11:14 to his credit from the Kosice Marathon (Slovakia) in 2013. Birhanu Dare Kemal of New York ran a 2:13:42 in Duluth, Minn., last summer. Senbeto Geneti Guteta of New York turned in a 2:15 marathon in Seville in 2015.

Closer to home, Lucas McAneney of Etobicoke, Ont., has a personal best of 2:18:15, and has won two Niagara Falls Marathons. Brian Morseman of Bath has won the Wineglass Marathon in the Southern Tier of New York State three times: 2011, 2014 and 2015.

It almost wouldn’t be a Buffalo Marathon without Jim Park, who has been a top local runner in this event for years. Park, now 49, returns to the 26.2-mile distance this year after finishing second among Masters in the half-marathon in 2015.

The Buffalo Marathon continues to grow by at least 10 percent each year, to the point where measuring success can depend on the individual’s perspective. It comes down to an argument of better vs. bigger.

“I want better for the athletes, and better for the community,” Weber said. “Bigger will come because we’re putting on a quality product.”