BOSTON — Add the Boston Marathon organizers to the list of people who were just happy to finish the race.
“This one was more stressful, because of the heat,” race director Dave McGillivray said Tuesday, a day after more than 22,000 runners plodded through temperatures hitting 89 degrees in the 116th edition of the event.
“You do the best you can, and then you have to go like this,” McGillivray said, holding his hands in the air with his fingers crossed. “You have to rely on so many things. I mean, this isn’t a beach volleyball tournament.”
Wesley Korir finished in a heat-slowed 2 hours, 12 minutes, 40 seconds to win the men’s race — almost 10 minutes slower than the world best posted by Geoffrey Mutai a year earlier. Sharon Cherop won a sprint down Boylston Street to take the women’s title in 2:31:50 as Kenyans swept the podiums in both genders.
Korir, a resident of Louisville, Ky., who is seeking U.S. citizenship, said he likes running in the heat because it allows him to think more about strategy than speed. That outlook may have helped him when the lead pack picked up its pace and left him behind before Heartbreak Hill.
“When they took off, I wish I had an opportunity to tell them, ‘You guys are crazy,'” Korir said. “I was not going to go with them. I thought about my daughter. I thought about my wife. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I wanted to go home.”
It was 84.8 degrees when Korir arrived at the finish, and temperatures continued to rise on the course — hitting 89 degrees at the 10K mark in Framingham. The heat left 2,181 runners seeking help at Boston Athletic Association medical tents — a record for the event — with as many as 500 more treated at Red Cross stations.
That included 215 runners who were taken to area hospitals, with 15-20 admitted overnight, according to Chris Troyanos, the B.A.A. medical team coordinator. Some of them were in critical condition with hyponatremia, which results from over-hydration that dilutes the salt in the bloodstream.
The numbers exceed what had been the most in race history — in 2004, when the temperatures hit 86 degrees and 2,041 of about 18,000 participants sought medical attention. Troyanos said one runner’s body core temperature reached 108 degrees — the highest he had ever seen (98.6 degrees is normal).
“Until 2004, I looked at this as a sporting event,” said Troyanos, who has been working on the race since 1977. “(Now) I look at it as a planned mass casualty event.”
A day later, workers in Copley Square were taking down and loading up the remnants of the tents and spectator barriers while the usual weekday traffic drove over the finish line beside the Boston Public Library. Empty five-gallon jugs were strewn about what had been the main medical tent on Dartmouth Street.
Tourists walked — some of them limping — down posh Newberry Street, many in marathon t-shirts and some of them with their finishers’ medals around their necks.
Inside, Korir and Cherop picked up their winners’ checks for $150,000 each. Wheelchair winners Joshua Cassidy, of Canada, and American Shirley Reilly earned $15,000 apiece.
Korir praised the organizers: “It was an amazing job to overcome the obstacles that were facing you.”
With forecasts approaching 90 degrees and the potential for 26,000 runners spread across 26.2 miles of pavement heading east to Boston, race organizers announced over the weekend a largely unprecedented deferment program to encourage the inexperienced or ill to sit this one out. Approximately 328 people who picked up their registration packets but did not start are eligible to have a place saved for them in the 2013 race.
McGillivray, who rides on one of the lead motorcycles, said he could feel heat rising from the pavement, which was measured at 120 degrees at one point during the day. He knew this year was different when he saw elite runners reaching for the cups of water set out for the masses, rather than the electrolyte drinks and other nutrients set out for them.
The road was littered with cups from the elite women’s race even before the top men came through, he said.
McGillivray said the records set in last year’s race were helped by 50-degree temperatures and a significant tailwind — “as perfect as it gets,” as far as weather was concerned.
“This year, it was the opposite,” he said. “Even a few of our motorcycles conked out in the heat.”
—26,716 people registered.
—22,853 picked up their running bibs over the weekend.
—22,535 people started the race.
—21,603 finished before the clocks were turned off at 6 p.m.
That means 932 runners dropped out along the course, about 4 percent.
“That tells you how important the race is to so many people,” McGillivray said, “and maybe a little bit how crazy some of them are.”