This past Saturday I ran the NU Hartford Half-Marathon…reluctantly. When I got out of bed at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, it was clear that the forecast of cold and wet weather was accurate. It was about 46 degrees and rainy, and the radar showed no signs of relief. However, because I was really excited that the new half-marathon course passed right by my house, I threw on my clothes and ran over to the start. And… I had a blast! Because it was grey and rainy, I had no expectations of any time and just ran the course for fun. The wet weather took away any pressure or need to try and run well and I felt relaxed and happy the entire course. So, afterwards, I found myself wondering how the weather conditions typically influence performance at the Hartford Marathon. We know how temperature in general influences athletic performance (there’s a sweet spot of prime finishing speed around 50 degrees), but what about specifically at Hartford? Do rain, wind and temperature dramatically alter performance?
I could answer this question by looking at the data of average race finish times from 2000-2014 archived at Marathon Guide. I chose average finish time (the mean time of all finishers) rather than the male and female winning times because in a smaller race such as Hartford, the latter are influenced more by the strength of the field than the race conditions. I then went to the National Weather Station data from Weather Underground for our nearest weather station (Windsor Locks) and pulled the historical weather data for each day the marathon was run. I chose minimum daily temperature (since the race is run at 8 a.m.), average daily temperature, precipitation (rainfall) and average wind speed as variables, and then graphed them versus average marathon finishing speed (fastest to slowest). If there was a relationship between any of these weather variables and race time, I’d see it.
And the end result? Average marathon time in Hartford is NOT overtly affected by temperature (either minimum or average), as the graphs below indicate. Nor is it dramatically influenced by rain; for example, the graph below of rainfall shows that while the second slowest marathon average time DID occur in 2005 (when there was a severe weather event producing over 4 inches or rain), the slowest marathon average time was achieved on a dry, temperate day. Similarly, a day with 1.5 inches of rainfall produced the second fastest finishing time.
Now, when I made the data categorical rather than continuous for rain (rainy vs. dry) and wind (single digit versus double digit average wind speed), it does appear that wind speed has a slight (approximately 5 minute) slowing influence on average finishing time. This is to be expected, especially on a loop course such as Hartford where, on a windy day, the wind will at some point be opposing you.Obviously there are some limitations to this retrospective data analysis. For example, when looking at precipitation, I had no idea whether the average rainfall recorded occurred in the morning (i.e., during race time) or before/after the race. The same holds true for average wind speed data. I also had no idea how quickly the day warmed (thus influencing the validity of using minimum temperature), and how other non-weather variables (such as course changes) influenced the relationship between weather and performance. So, take my results with a grain of salt, but it appears that performance at the NU Hartford Marathon holds pretty steady through changing temperatures and weather conditions. Run on!