Help at hand for running wounded
YOUR HEALTH:Hundreds of runners in this year’s Dublin marathon will need medical assistance to reach the finish line
ON MONDAY, October 31st, a record 14,000 runners will line up to start the National Lottery Dublin Marathon. Some will struggle to make it to the finish line.
At last year’s race, some 400 participants collapsed on their way around the course, and a further 200 at the finish line. Medical assistance for weary runners is on hand along the course from the 200 volunteers and 30 ambulances of the St John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland.
“We bring them in, give them some drinks of water, we might give them some Deep Heat for their muscle damage or an ice pack, and then sometimes they go off and keep going,” says John McGrath, volunteer assistant commissioner with the St John Ambulance Brigade.
McGrath, who has helped provide medical assistance at every Dublin marathon since the first race in 1980, says all is not lost for marathon hopefuls who stop for medical aid.
“They get running repairs and then they keep going. That’s why we have tents around the course where they can come in, lie down if need be, relax and get their minds together, and then away they go again,” he says.
Blisters and leg injuries are the most common reasons why people have to bow out of a marathon, according to McGrath. However, participants are usually highly motivated to complete the full circuit and medical volunteers do not pull injured runners out of the race.
“We try to use our charm but not forcefully. We ask a person would they like a lift back to the finish and they say, no, they will finish. We could pick them up again in the next two miles, but that’s the way it is,” he says.
Some reach the finish line through sheer force of will, only to collapse once they have crossed it. For those runners a 14-bed tented medical centre, staffed by 50 volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics, awaits.
One of the goals is to keep marathon runners out of the accident and emergency departments. Last year, only three runners had to be hospitalised, one for dehydration and two with palpitations.
Even waking up in the medical tent does not diminish the runners’ high that follows the completion of a marathon. “They don’t mind because, remember, their race is over. They’re still on a high,” says McGrath.
Experienced recreational runner Peter Mooney (33) has collapsed during two of his 41 marathons. “It’s a very strange feeling. It’s not a feeling you’ve felt in any other race or training . . . In some sense it was an out-of-body experience,” he says.
Wavering across the road, lack of co-ordination and obsessively concentrating on the length of his stride were some of the signs that told Mooney he was in trouble during the Cork marathon in 2009.
“I could feel the performance degrading slightly as I went through the miles. It was just getting harder and harder to concentrate, to run, to co-ordinate myself, and the next thing I knew, at 24 miles, I was being woken up at the side of the road,” he recalls.
Despite an unusually hot day, Mooney had been determined to keep to his goal pace, and had skimped on hydration.
“I thought I was drinking enough, but in hindsight, given the hot day, I should have slowed down a bit and made sure I got enough to drink at each drink station,” he says.
“You’re just running quickly past the drink stations, grabbing it and probably not drinking all of what you’re being given. It has a cumulative effect if you’re not getting enough at each drink station.”
Sticking too rigidly to his race plan ended Mooney’s marathon with only two miles to go. “It’s not a failure, but it was agonisingly close to the finish,” he says.
The less common, but potentially life-threatening, problem of hyper-hydration took Mooney out of the Boston marathon in 2004. With the temperature reaching 33 degrees, constant media messages to stay hydrated swayed Mooney from his normal pre-race routine.
By drinking three litres of water before the event, he damaged the balance of electrolytes in his body, and collapsed before the halfway mark.
“Looking back on that, it was not sticking to the original plan of hydrating and preparing. I just went to the opposite end where I overhydrated, I got very panicked about the weather,” he says.
When he crosses the start line in Dublin on October 31st, Mooney will have stuck to his tried-and-tested pre-race breakfast and drinks. He will also be stopping at all the drink stations along the course.
“Last year, when I ran my best ever time, when I got to 18 miles I stopped for 10 or 12 seconds and properly drank the Lucozade Sport that I got and took my gel. That little investment of a few seconds is worth it.”
McGrath will be there too, with his crew of volunteers ready to assist, and to enjoy the spirit of the day as runners help each other to reach the finish line.
“There is great camaraderie along the way. They give each other water and stay back helping people to the next drinking station. There is good spirit on the day, everybody is high, everybody is happy and everybody’s in a festival mood,” he says.
SAFETY FIRST: JOHN McGRATH'S MARATHON TIPS
Care for your feet
Have good quality runners that are broken in, not fresh out of the box.
Train by racing
Follow a training programme that includes some road races, such as the Dublin marathon race series, but do not overdo it.
Prepare for the weather
The weather is a vital factor, so come prepared with gloves, hat and layers of clothing to peel off as you get warmer.
Watch your diet
Have a well-balanced diet coming up to the race and do not eat new things on the day.
Drink a little water at regular intervals rather than downing large amounts at once.
Remember any medication
If taking medication, first check with your doctor that you can run, and then remember to take it or bring it with you if necessary.