Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Tale of Two Races in One Day

Like many of the Marine Corps Marathon runners this year, October 27, 2019, will stick in my mind for a long time. In my 16 years as the medical coordinator, it was the first time it rained- buckets- 2.5 inches, rivers of water on the road and then the sun came out and it was hot. We hit 80 degrees near the end of the race.  Runners were in water above their ankles at miles 12-14. The water was running like rivers on the side of the road, so all the runners were crowding into the center of the road to lessen the impact of the water. At least we did not have the predicted thunderstorms. However, we did have the Vice President of the United States show up unannounced to watch his son and then stay for an hour to congratulate thousands of runners. 

The impact of the weather on the runners was significant. Cold, wet, and windy conditions produced lots of hypothermia. We had core body temperatures as low as 91 degrees and many in the mid 90s. The bright side to running in the cold and wet was the number of Personal Records (PRs) being set that day. The seasoned runners wore garbage bags on their bodies and shoes until the start of the race. Some had sandwich bags with extra socks to change during the event. Many discarded layers and layers of clothing as the miles went by. Then at 11:13 AM that big yellow ball of heat rose from the clouds and the puddles started to dry up, more clothes were shed and  body temperatures began to rise……….. 106, 107, 108.

We had several runners with hyponatremia, hypothermia, hyperthermia, heat stroke, and blisters. In fact, the blisters and abrasions were everywhere due to the rain. We also had more falls and fractures than our average race due to wet leaves, water, and hidden surfaces. We transported 36 runners; there were reports of several more going to the emergency departments on their own later that night.

What is the take home message from this day? When planning, you need to be prepared for anything and everything. We needed last-minute orders for more ponchos for the roaming medical staff. Generators can short out in pouring rain, making lights dim. Floors in aid stations get slippery and muddy and the gear gets muddy. Runners are muddy and very wet. Tape does not stick; walking on crutches can be hazardous. Paperwork and bibs get wet, tear, and can get lost.

You need to be prepared and you need to be flexible. The best-laid plans may have to be scrapped once you cross the start line. The key is having leaders who can make good decisions in short order and having prepared plans that can flex and adjust. We were given less than a 10-minute notice that the VP wanted to come by. The security plan and egress plan for medical had to flex. He then wanted to stay, chat, and congratulate runners (all during the height of the finish). We did take the opportunity to highlight our medical teams—opportunity knocked!

As any of us who plan, coordinate, provide logistics, and support all the other pieces of events can tell you, lots of preparing, planning, formulating, and rehearsing can go a long way to be ready for anything on the big day.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

"That's a full-time job?"

I routinely get that response when someone asks me what I do for a living. It is usually preceded by my statement, “I’m the medical operations coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon Organization.” I then further explain we have seven event weekends throughout the year, with 18 events ranging from one-mile fun runs to a triathlon and now an ultra. Our participants range in age from five to eight-six. The raised eyebrow stays, as they wonder what it takes to host and execute an event. These comments emanate from runners and non-runners alike.

For runners, the experience is typically this: they visit the exposition, pick up their bib and t-shirt, shop from a few vendors, maybe sightsee, eat a good dinner, and then hope to sleep well before they toe the line. On race day, hopefully, they cross the finish and receive their bling, get some food fuel, hang out for a beer, and talk about their times. A few will earn an award. Many will have used porta-potties and taken water or food from a station along the course. Some will visit the aid stations; some will lose contact with their running buddy and go to lost and found. But most have no appreciation of the behind-the-scenes Herculean efforts undertaken to be “race day ready” or as we call it here at Quantico MISSION READY!

Each event has its own signature and theme and identity and uniqueness. What we all have in common are the checklists and policies and protocols that need to get done in preparation for race day. The end of the event is just the beginning for race organizations. Media posts go out. All the equipment and supplies need to be packed up. The clean-up—oh the clean-up. Cups and trash and discarded clothing all need to be picked up and disposed of properly. Usually, the day after the event, permits and venues have to be secured for the next year. Phone calls start coming in about lost items, missed timing mat check points, and ill-fitting t-shirts. In the following week, bills need to be paid to law enforcement, Fire/EMS, and vendors. Participant feedback is solicited. Reports are completed to note what improvements are needed for next year.

For several of our organizations, there is already another event to be planned and executed. Marathon planning is year-round. There are so many aspects that need review, completion, and verification. Organizations have different structures, yet we all deal with finances, business, marketing, sponsorship, logistics, vendors, security, legal, medical, timing, and results. Each of these areas has a multitude of smaller areas of focus to complete. So yes, it is a full-time career.

I invite you to share your “ah ha moment” of what you learned about marathon planning that you didn’t know before and I invite to come spend some time with me or other coordinators to see and experience all the moving parts.