Around the University TownThe Starting BlokeHeat stroke and marathon running

Heat stroke and marathon running

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Sixty-three days from today (on Sept 19), the 34th staging of one of the elimination legs of the Milo Marathon will come to Dumaguete City.

Below is what I received from the Runnex group email (http://www.pinoyfitness.com/2010/07/remus-story-as-told-by-his-father/) that I thought I would share with local runners and organizers, and offer some advice to prevent a similar tragedy from happening here.

I have been a marathon race organizer for some 30 years now, and I have acquired valuable insights into the responsibilities of race organizers, and what should be in place to insure the safety of participants. I know City Youth & Sports Director Jose “Joe” Guirit is the organizer of the local Milo Marathon, assisted by DepEd personnel, and since this tragic happening was not published in the tri-media, but reported only in several marathon running websites, I hope Joe will take all the necessary precautions to prevent a similar incident from happening in our locality initiated five years ago.

“Remus Fuentes died of multiple organ failures as a result of heatstroke two days after he ran the 21K in the recent 34th Milo Marathon last Sunday, July 4, 2010. His death was the result of fatal mistakes, sheer incompetence, and gross negligence in the event organized by the organizing team. In marathon, the risk of heatstroke is much higher for the following reasons:

“1. The long distance runner aims for shorter time as a goal and therefore motivated to keep a sustained effort… (I always advise runners to have fun and enjoy the run. I discourage any attempt to improve one’s personal best or personal record. In fact, I tell runners to run slow, “the slower, the better”).

“2. Furthermore, the target minimum time set by the organizer adds more to the motivation to run faster. The cut-off time added more pressure to the marginal marathon runner, meaning if you are used to run above the target time, the tendency is to do better time, probably at pace unproven by your body in practice. Milo Marathon set the target for 21K medal at 2 _ hours or less. Remus collapsed at near 20th km. with a time of 2 hours and 10 minutes when his previous record was 2 hours and 27 minutes. (I am against prescribing a “curfew” or cut-off time for runners. We always wait for the last and slowest runner to cross the finish line).

“3. The more critical factor is that the hydration management is not in the control of the runner. He has to rely on water availability at the water stations provided and planned by the organizer along the route. In this 34th Milo Marathon, several runners including Remus brother, Roy and Remus running buddy asserted that practically there was no water to drink in the last two to three kilometers before the finish line, a fatal failure for Remus by the organizer when they changed the route resulting in over-traffic near the finish line. There were a record of 28,000 runners on that day and obviously, the organizers failed to anticipate the complexity of hydration .Milo ’s last year marathon participant was well below 10,000 runners.

(Adequate drinking water along the route is the most difficult requirement to meet in marathon organizing. I suggest that Joe Guirit will enlist the assistance of the City Fire Department to ferry drinking water along the route and to stand by in case water stations run dry).

“4. The correct life-saving response for heatstroke depends on few knowledgeable people who may happen to be around the person. To mitigate this, the organizer deploys ambulances with water and ice for cooling heatstroke victims and is expected to respond within minutes. In addition, marshals are provided along the route to assess runner situations continuously. Obviously, the organizer failed again on this aspect because Remus was helped by policemen and his buddy instead. By this time, Remus is probably already brain damaged as evident by his seizure at the hospital. No Milo people knew of Remus case on that day until Roy, his brother, sent an email informing the organizer of the incident in the next morning.

(In the last staging of the Buglasan run from Sibulan to the Capitol, I was one of the volunteers at the finish line. The race started late, and one girl crossed the finish line showing symptoms of heat stroke. I guided the girl under the shade of a tree, made her lie down on the ground, and ordered that pails and pails of water be poured all over her, soaking her entire body. She recovered after some 20 minutes of this treatment. I suggest that ice be provided at the finish line, and even several electric fans/blowers to cool off runners after the run).

“5. The sun factor adds to the danger in marathon. Running under the heat of the sun in tropical country like ours cannot be underestimated. To minimize the effect of the sun’s heat, Marathon run is planned to finish in the early morning avoiding the heat at later time. Organizers usually take this into consideration. Milo organized the 21K to start at 5:30 am, a departure of common practice of other marathons that start at 5:00 am. Remus collapsed at about 7:57 am. Roy, who is a better runner than his brother Remus, complained that it was unusually hot that morning even if he was able to finish it earlier in two hours 45 minutes.”

(Marathon running, and any long distance sport events for that matter, should start early in the morning — and on time. I understand that the annual Sandurot bicycle race starts quite late in the day. Fortunately, in our duathlon race last July 11, except for a few bikers, most of them reported on time for the 5:30 am start of the race).

“Clearly, marathon is an extreme and dangerous sport even to the young, healthy, and trained runners. This is not the “fun run” many people are confused of. The organizer has clear life-and-death responsibility to make sure the conditions the runner will run are done properly. Obviously, they did not do their job properly in the 34th Milo Marathon. In my opinion, being the father of Remus, Milo marathon organizers have failed my son. It is their sheer incompetence and consequently, the gross negligence in their duty that resulted in the death of Remus.”

My final recommendation is for the City and Provincial Youth & Sports Development Councils, from now and up to the just before the date of the Milo Marathon in September, to conduct an information-education-communication campaign among the participants of the race. And it would be even be better if they partner with the Department of Education Provincial and City Divisions in organizing a running clinic that will prepare the participants for safe and successful road racing. The tragic incident narrated above is preventable. I hope the local organizers will avoid the mistakes committed by the race organizers in Metro Manila.

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