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Marathon organisers need to get this right

The onus of educating participants on the right technique of running rests largely with the organisers. But usually, runners are forced to rely on themselves, writes Dr Rajat Chauhan.

health and fitness Updated: Oct 24, 2009 19:05 IST
Dr Rajat Chauhan

The onus of educating participants on the right technique of running rests largely with the organisers. But usually, runners are forced to rely on themselves.

Commenting on the deaths in Detroit, Ed Kozloff, former race director of the Detroit marathon and current president of the Motor City Striders running club, said in Detroit News, “ This can serve as a wake-up call to monitor your health and not overstep the level you’re at. Runners should make sure they are constantly monitoring their health condition so tragedies like this don’t happen.”

This is an interesting comment coming from a former race director. Rather than recognising the responsibility of the organisers, he seems to have passed the buck on to the runners. But runners are usually guided by what the organisers tell them. There are certain precautions that every organiser must take before a race. These are often overlooked. For instance, last year, I was the ‘working’ medical director for a mega running event in India. I was doing a last-minute recce of the route, when we were stopped by one of the team members of the event management company from completing the check.

Later that day, a man in his late 20s collapsed at the 8 km mark and was rushed to the medical base station two km away in a state-of-the-art ambulance. The closest hospital was less than 500 metres away, but the organisers didn’t let the ambulance out through the closer exit. We wasted precious time taking a longer route. Luckily, that runner survived.

At another event, I saw volunteers manually pushing the ambulance because it wouldn’t start. That was the only ambulance catering to 600-odd runners.

It is the duty of organisers not just to ensure prompt and efficient medical care, but also to discourage unprepared runners from participating. Most running programmes advise runners to train for more than four months for the half marathon (21 km) and six months for the full marathon (42 km). However, organisers accept entries right until the day of the run.

A simply way of streamlining this process is by stopping entries at least 2-3 months before the event. This year, the Mumbai Marathon has done this.

It is also important to educate runners that they should increase speed and distance gradually. Even during the race, marshals should be empowered to pull out runners if they are not happy with their performance.

A pre-marathon screening is also important. If you are going to be participating in a vigorous activity like the marathon and have risk factors like chest pain, excessive sweating or breathlessness that may indicate heart trouble, you must get assessed even if you exercise regularly.