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Race Directors Should Stop Letting Runners Freeze at the Start Line

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Race Directors Should Stop Letting Runners Freeze at the Start Line

We don’t appreciate the little comforts when we have them. Take this, a luxury I’ve never replicated since high school cross country: the start-line laundry basket. Competing in Minnesota’s autumn meant snow was always a threat. And our warmups got nearly as much mileage as our singlets. But at every start, five minutes before the gun, a coach dropped a basket at our feet. The seven of us would fill it with jackets, hats, and pants, and be off racing before the sweat of our final wind sprints had a beat to cool.

I never knew how good we had it until my first marathon, on another frigid Minnesota day, when I was deposited into my start corral with 35 minutes to think about how little skin my shorts covered.

I eventually learned the value of a Goodwill sweatsuit, but then this spring at the NYC Half, I had as close an experience as I’ve ever had to that laundry basket: the start-line blanket.

Yes, you’d normally see these foil “space blankets” at the end of a race. But it turns out, most race directors have got it backward. After the finish line, I’m already hot and the day’s at its hottest. Yes, yes, maintain body temperature, have them there, too. But the start, where we sit unmoving during the coldest part of the race, is where we need them most.

Anyway, back to that fateful NYC Half morning: It was dark, damp, and just above freezing. And though I wore clothes to toss, I’d still managed to underdress.

Thankfully, the race director had anticipated shivering idiots like me. After I checked my bag (with a tearful goodbye to pants earmarked for the finish) and passed through security, I rounded a corner to find smiling volunteers peeling Heatsheets-brand blankets off a giant, well, blanket-sized roll. I scurried over with an urgency I usually reserved for a plate of free cookies at the office, and gleefully wrapped myself in the shining silver blanket.

Was I toasty? Not quite. But I was comfortable. I strode into my start corral thinking about my race, not how many degrees my body temperature might drop before it. I found a healthy chunk of curb, squatted, and pulled the Heatsheet tighter until I was covered ankle-to-chin, in what might have looked something like a metallic Bulbasaur.

That day, I ran my best half in years, and proceeded to annoy anyone foolish enough to ask how my race went with diatribes on the greatness of the start-line blanket.

The start is where we need them, after all! Give me something so I don’t spend the hour before a race shivering and regretting having shown up! Besides, Heatsheets are recyclable!

They really are—I asked the race director. Another bonus: They don’t stink of mothballs like my Goodwill sweats.

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