Pittsburgh Marathon: At mile 26.2, cramps, nausea, sore ankles ... and exhaustion

Thousands of runners limped, hobbled, hopped and stumbled past the finish line yesterday, and headed straight for a makeshift medical center inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where a team of paramedics, nurses and emergency personnel was ready and waiting.

Some runners clutched fellow marathoners for balance; some passed the doors on stretchers.

Wounded runners also trickled out of the center, ice packs on their knees and braces on their ankles -- some of the more painful souvenirs earned during the 26.2-mile race.

Doctors treated 120 people at the finish line, mostly for minor problems such as cramps, nausea and exhaustion, organizers said. At least 30 other people were treated at 18 medical aid stations along the course, and 16 people were taken to UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Shadyside and Allegheny General Hospital with problems such as chest pains and high temperatures.

Organizers said they did not believe any of the injuries were life-threatening, and some of the runners were released within a few hours. Two of the 16 individuals were admitted for overnight evaluation, a UPMC spokeswoman said. She said one was a man in his late 60s with chest pain, and she had no information on the second.

"I set a personal record for myself, but my body felt it," said Mike Ruben, 40, of Upper St. Clair, who sought treatment after feeling dizzy about 10 steps past the finish line. He wrapped himself in a Mylar blanket, one of 13,000 available to runners at the end of the race to keep them warm. "I just felt like I was going to collapse."

Inside the convention center and medical aid stations was a battalion of more than 425 medical volunteers -- physicians, athletic trainers, podiatrists, medical technicians and massage therapists, among others -- to offer care to the runners. Paramedics operated more than 20 ambulances, and a team of 150 amateur radio operators communicated problems and emergencies to medical personnel along the course.

The first two hours were slow; nurses lounged on cots inside the convention center But by the end of the second hour, runners started to drop off. Many were wheeled in on stretchers, gritting their teeth against the pain. One man fell to his knees just outside and threw up.

Doctors said many runners suffered from cramps, strains and sprains and estimated that about 3 percent of the marathon runners required some kind of medical attention.

"Most people are prepared for a marathon, but we still have some weekend warriors," Dr. Vince Mosesso said. "We want to be prepared to help them."

Organizers said the medical team was fully stocked with: 4,600 alcohol wipes, 5,000 pairs of surgical gloves, 2,000 bags of ice, 2,100 lancets to treat blisters, 7,600 adhesive bandages, 500 IVs, 475 towels, 150 cots, 475 Ace wraps, 1,300 rolls of cloth tape, 47 bottles of hand sanitizer, 40 containers of antibacterial cleaning wipes and 150 jars of petroleum jelly.

They also had more high-tech supplies, including equipment to test runners' blood sugar, sodium and potassium, among other vitals, said Dr. Ronald Roth of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians Department of Emergency Medicine. Such tests helped to determine whether runners were suffering from hypothermia, hyperthermia, dehydration or something worse that would require a trip to the hospital, he said.

Sadie Gurman can be reached at sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published May 4, 2009 4:00 AM


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