BATH — At 11 a.m. at McMann Field, it was 79 degrees. It was a deceptive 79 degrees. At that point of the day, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference track and field championship meet was just about an hour in, and the heat was a sneaky heat. It crept up on you.

Lawrence High School junior Mason Cooper walked along the track, beginning to warm up for the 100-meter dash he’d run in 40 minutes.

“I think I’ve had almost a gallon of water,” Cooper said.

The track surrounding McMann Field was a boomerang, bouncing the heat back toward runners. The asphalt walkway surrounding the facility was becoming a cookie sheet. Spectators standing in line to get in, or standing in line at the concession stand felt the heat pulsating off the ground, up their legs, through their chests, all the way to their head.

“There’s a lot of sweat,” Winslow’s Paige Smith said after she ran the 100 hurdles. “I think it’s good for the muscles. It keeps you loose.”

In the week prior to the meet, Smith watched the forecast, and listened to her coaches stress the importance of hydration.

“Even last night, they were like ‘Drink water, drink water,'” Smith said. “Coach (Ken Nadeau) is on me to stay under the umbrella.”

Fans set up umbrellas and pop up tents wherever they could find room, even in the top rows of the bleachers. Other fans played musical chairs with the shadows, moving lawn chairs to keep up with the shade. A group of Morse High School athletes set up shop in the equipment shed alongside the jumping pits.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued an air quality alert for the entire day, advising people to consider limiting strenuous outdoor activity. Meanwhile, Mason Cooper, completely hydrated, won the Class B 100-meter dash.

• • •

At noon, it was 84 degrees, and the heat was no longer sneaky. In fact, it was starting to show off. In the Class B girls mile, Waterville’s Lauren Brown ran out to an early lead, only to get passed by Lawrence’s Jaden Gray late in lap three. Gray, in turn, was passed by a sprinting Augusta Stockman of Camden Hills, who seemed impervious to the heat coming off the track like an open pizza oven.

All season long, these athletes competed in a cool, wet spring. A week ago, it was warm, but not like this.

“(The heat) probably had an impact on the race,” Brown said, after placing third in the mile. “I’m not used to 80 degrees. I think I like it better than cold, though. When it’s cold, you can never warm up.”

When the mile heats (that word is everywhere) began, Erskine Academy athletic director Doran Stout stood at the end of the track’s backstretch with a hose. As competitors ran by, Stout gave them a quick spray down, providing a brief cooling mist that hopefully provided a little relief over the next 400 meters.

“We’ve only had weather this hot two or three times in the 15 years I’ve been doing this,” Stout said. “The kids haven’t had a day like this all season. I think the kids are much more educated about staying hydrated than they were 20 years ago. You hydrate for a race on Saturday, you start on Wednesday, not on the bus ride Saturday morning.”

Stout pointed at the dark blue M painted on the 50-yard line of the infield. The McMann Field grounds crew measured the temperature on the M, Stout said. The blue paint absorbs heat like a solar sponge. It was a 142 degree blast furnace.

A mister was set up on the 10-yard line, there for any athlete to stand under and chill out for as long as he or she wanted. It was starting to get regular use before lunchtime.

Three athletes walked by and asked Stout if he’d spray them. Stout obliged.

“Aaaaahhhh,” they sighed, and moved on, satisfied in their brief relief.

• • •

At 1 p.m., it was 85 degrees, and the 4×100-meter relays were well underway. Relay teams waited for their races on the field turf, which was getting warmer by the minute. Nobody was going near the M at midfield. Even if they didn’t know exactly how hot it was, a quick stroll revealed it to be the sun at the center of this track and field meet.

The heat’s effect wasn’t limited to the track. Messalonskee’s Cameron Bickford noticed it while he threw the discus.

“For me, it made the disc very sticky,” Bickford said, who won the Class A discus with a throw of 128 feet. “Between the sweat and humidity, it made it harder to keep the disc inside the vectors. I think the heat had a play in everybody’s energy, too.”

At the athletic trainer’s tent, they were ready to handle any heat-related injuries. Athletic trainer Kate Anagnostis pointed to coolers full of water and ice, and pulled out a tarp that could be used in an emergency to create an ice taco.

To make an ice taco, an athlete is placed on the tarp and covered with ice and cold water. The athlete is cradled in the tarp until he or she cools down. The ice taco is the best and most apt name for anything in the field of sports medicine.

It was the hottest part of the day, and Anagnostis was pleased that no heat-related injuries had come her way.

“We’ve been fortunate,” she said.

It will get hotter this summer. Years from now, none of the athletes or fans at McMann Field on Saturday will look back and say “It’s hot, but let me tell you about that day at McMann Field back in ’16.”

Temperatures in the mid-80s fall into that region between warm and oppressive. A bead of sweat may roll from your neck, over your shoulder blades, and down your back. Your cup of ice water might sweat with condensation. You might take your hand off that wet cup, and wipe your brow with the cold water on your fingers.

For a minute, that evaporating water is the best feeling in the world.

It was 2 p.m., and it was 86 degrees.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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