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A Peek Inside the Medical Tent at the New York City Marathon

World Marathon Majors races to have the latest diagnostic tools.

Of all the things to do and see during a big marathon weekend, visiting the medical tent is last on the list. And that’s the way the race staff wants it.

“We absolutely support and advocate for runners to run their race,” says Dr. George Chiampas, race medical director for the Chicago Marathon. Chiampas is a recognized industry leader in preparedness protocols for marathons and works closely with medical directors at all Abbott World Marathon Majors, including the New York City Marathon, to improve and standardize practices.

For the 2014 New York City Marathon, only 305 runners out of 50,869 starters didn’t cross the finish line. Given that the medical staff sees about 4,800 people during the course of the marathon, it means most visits have quick fixes.

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New York City Marathon medical tents are stocked with the basics like adhesive bandages (14,000), petroleum jelly (220 tubs), ice (12,530 pounds) and salt tabs (53,800). New for this year, is the i-STAT handheld blood analyzer from Abbott, one of the race’s sponsors. The diagnostic tool performs common blood tests that let medical staff check for heart function, physical exertion, dehydration and hyponatremia. Being able to perform tests on the spot lets medical crews deliver the best care to runners, Chiampas says.

The i-STAT devices were recently used in an expanded pilot program at the Chicago Marathon. It was the first race to have one at every aid station along the course.

“This is something we’ve only had at the finish line,” says Chiampas, who has a background in both sports medicine and emergency medicine. “We’ve never really had an on-course measure of where and when people have issues with their electrolytes.”

The devices will be at all six Abbott World Marathon Major Races (New York City, Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin and Chicago) in 2016. Chiampas says it’s the beginning of a study with a pool of 250,000 potential participants. Runners who visit the medical tent will be tested as needed, although Chiampas added i-STAT testing is going to be protocol for any racer who gets an IV.

Part of staying out of the medical tent is managing your effort level in relation to the weather. Luckily the weather for Sunday’s race is setting up to be ideal for runners, with a forecast calling for cloudy skies and a high of 57 degrees. The medical crew has 60,700 heat sheets on hand just in case it gets chilly.

Races prepare throughout the year and have protocols in place if harsh weather conditions arise. Warmer than normal temperatures for the 2015 Chicago Marathon meant crews were ready with additional water, ice and sponges, because the goal at any race is to keep runners safe and headed toward the finish line, Chiampas says.

Based upon years of anecdotal experience, Chiampas shared his five tips for staying out of the medical tent:

1. Listen to your body: You know if you are prepared, or not.

2. Adjust your pace based upon the weather.

3. If you develop an illness or fever just before the race, it’s probably best to skip it.

4. Make sure you have you own individualized race-day fueling and hydration plan. Everyone is different. Do what works for you.

5. Once you have a race-day plan, practice it repeatedly in training.

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