Heat Takes Marathoners By Surprise

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It was hotter than expected on Marathon Monday, and there may have been more charity or first-time runners than usual. Both these things could help explain why almost 4,000 runners and a few spectators walked or were wheeled into a medical tent along the course.

The Mecca Of Marathon Medicine

As temperatures rose above 70 degrees and the sun blazed, Clyde Dickey, from Rockwall, Texas, said he downed too much Gatorade.

"I just threw up a little bit, and I felt faint" as I crossed the finish line, Dickey said. "I thought I had heat exhaustion. I gave [the race] all I had, but the heat just got to me."

Clyde Dickey from Texas tried for a personal record, pushed too hard and was treated for heat exhaustion. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)
Clyde Dickey from Texas tried for a personal record, pushed too hard and was treated for heat exhaustion. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Dickey was underground, waiting for the T when the bombs went off last year and regrets that he wasn’t able to help those wounded. He added Boston TV stations to his cable package so he could watch all the specials in the year since.

"I love coming here," Dickey said. "This is the mecca of marathons."

And perhaps the mecca of marathon medicine. So when a guy from Michigan, who trained all winter in 20-degree weather, collapsed at the finish line, a volunteer scooped him into a wheelchair and had him on a cot with an IV in his arms within minutes. Another volunteer caught a woman from Washington, D.C., who started spinning as she slowed down.

"I wasn’t quite expecting it but today we saw quite a bit of hyperthermia, people overheating,"
said Dr. Pierre d’Hemecourt, one of the marathon’s medical directors. He said the tents, which were larger with more staff and equipment than last year, were busy most of the day.

"Most of [the activity] being relatively minor, dehydration, things like musculoskeletal complaints," d'Hemecourt said. "So overall it’s been a pretty good day."

Which, in contrast to last year, was a relief for many of the doctors, nurses and other volunteers who staffed the medical tents.

"I feel, probably like most people, a little bit eerie, but just glad to be back," said Dr. Chad Beattie, a sports medicine physician.

Beattie and a colleague wrestled, in advance, with their memories of treating torn limbs last year. They biked the marathon route on Saturday, pausing at the spots where two bombs exploded. On Monday, Beattie stood, again, outside the main medical tent where his job is to assess the condition of runners coming in.

It's "kind of a triumphant sort of feeling that we made it," he said. "We did it and we came back."

With spectators screaming and cheering along the route, there was a sense of healing for spectators, volunteers and runners, whether they spent time in the medical tent or not. Elizabeth Hinshaw, from Wilmington, N.C., was worried that a recent leg injury would slow her down.

"In the last five or six miles, the people of Boston just carried me through," Hinshaw said, beaming. "I was able to pick up my pace and finish stronger than I ever imagined, and I just feel so blessed and honored to be a part of this take-back-Boston year."

Hinshaw’s goal, as with many other runners, was to finish fast enough to qualify for next year’s Boston marathon. She did.

The American Red Cross, in partnership with the Boston Athletic Association, runs tents along the course route.

This article was originally published on April 22, 2014.

Headshot of Martha Bebinger

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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