If Chattanooga Cross Country league runners were looking to set a time standard to try and beat this afternoon in the first meet of the year, they're not going to get it.
Due to temperatures in the 90s and a heat index that is supposed to near 100, the league decided that the meet at Camp Jordan has been cut from five kilometers (3.1 miles) to a two-mile run. The girls' varsity race is still currently scheduled to begin at 5:40.
"It's early in the season," Jim Steffes, one of the league directors, said. "There's no reason to send kids to the hospital for dehydration, plus I think it will kind of energize the kids because they'll want to run harder in the shorter distance."
In years past, the league's earlier races -- which happen in the heat of late August and early September -- have seen some runners collapse due to the heat.
Hydration becomes such an important part of a runners' regiment. It starts in the pre-race preparations, which usually never stop as runners are constantly drinking water. Coaches are constantly on their athletes about getting as much water in their system as possible during the day.
"I tell my kids that if you wait until you're thirsty to go drink water, it's too late," Rhea County coach Steffan Holder said. "I tell them to go get water and drink when you don't think you're thirsty."
Holder puts his runners on a "half a body weight rule," requiring that they drink half as many ounces of water as their body weight.
"They've come to hate the words 'hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," he said. "But you have to be smart about the training."
The hydration continues prior to the start of the race and usually resumes immediately upon completion, before teams start their cool-down jogs. Baylor coach Jan Gautier, a highly decorated runner in her own right, said that the heat is normally only a big problem if a runner doesn't get an adequate amount of fluid in their system.
"After running for a while, the heat is not that big of a deal," Gautier said. "You kind of work your way into the temperature. The ones that tend to have a problem with the heat run on treadmills, but you have to hydrate.
"We make our runners get water. If I see a runner on campus, I ask them if they're drinking. Teachers on Baylor's campus are told to let athletes drink, and most of the kids at Baylor carry water bottles around. It's second nature because they do it everyday."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.