Health and Safety Information for Runners
Safely prepare for your race with these tips from Dr. Gutman of Rockdoc, our official medical provider.
The Vancouver International Marathon Society makes every effort to provide a safe and memorable marathon experience; however, successful completion of this race requires careful preparation on the part of each participant. Part of this preparation is attention to health and safety. Below, Dr. Gutman offers some helpful health and safety information for before, during, and after your race.
Good nutrition, both during training and before the BMO Vancouver Marathon event, is critical to excelling in your race. Some recommendations for endurance athletes suggest a diet comprised of 15 to 20 % protein, 30 % fat and 50 to 55 % carbohydrates. Concentrate on complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread and pasta, and legumes. Carbohydrates are particularly important the night before your race, and also before your long runs leading up to the race.
On the day before the race, drink plenty of fluids and stay away from alcohol or caffeine, which both have a diuretic effect. You might consider a light carbohydrate snack just before going to bed, or rising early on race day so you can have a light pre-race meal of toast or a bagel washed down with orange juice three hours before the start of your race.
During the race, simple carbohydrates in the form of gels (on-course stations will provide Powerbar Gels or Powerbar Energy Blasts) can be very beneficial. It is important to practice your eating routine before and during your long training runs to make sure it doesn’t upset your stomach. If in doubt, stay with familiar foods and don’t make drastic changes on race day.
Wear comfortable clothing that’s appropriate for the weather. Try out your race day outfit during a long training run and be sure to check the weather forecast before you leave home on race day.
On a cold day, dress in layers of old clothing and shed them during the race. All discarded race day clothing gets donated to charity. Gloves and a hat also prevent heat loss.
On a hot day, wear loose clothing, preferably made with a wicking, technical material that enhances evaporation. If the race is on a sunny day, try to run in the shade as much as possible and pay particular attention to your hydration.
Skin breakdown is a major concern during any race; avoid cotton shirts that can cause chafing or nipple irritation. Use a commercial product like Body Glide or petroleum jelly (available at select stations on the course) to reduce irritation in sensitive or high friction areas, especially the nipples, inner thighs, underarms and feet. To prevent blisters, wear shoes that are well fitted and well broken in.
For some time, experts advised runners to stay ahead of their thirst and drink as much fluid as possible to prevent dehydration but this is not accurate advice! While dehydration is possible, especially in hot and humid conditions, there is also a significant risk of drinking too much fluid. Over-hydration can cause hypernatremia or low serum sodium, which can lead to serious and dangerous complications. It is now recommended for athletes in general, and especially for those completing a marathon in four hours or more, to aim to replace 100% of fluids lost due to sweat while running and not more. Runners should be guided by their thirst as the signal to drink, thus preventing dehydration while also lowering the risks associated with over hydration.
Runners should begin their races well hydrated – indicated by clear, nearly colourless urine – and then drink a sports drink with sodium and other electrolytes when thirsty, but not more than 400 – 800 ml per hour. Recently marathon medical experts have recommended avoiding excessive caffeine intake and anti-inflammatory medications prior to and during marathons to reduce potential health risks. It is also important that athletes adjust their pace to race conditions, slowing as heat and humidity rise.
Keep walking through the chutes after the finish line!
The most common cause of collapse after a long race is due to blood pooling in the legs, resulting from suddenly stopping contraction of the leg muscles. Some runners find it helpful to raise their arms above their heads and clasp their fingers for several minutes. This action redistributes blood back to the core.
Bring a change of clothes for after the race to keep warm. You may check extra clothes at Gear Check at the Start Line.
Drink fluids slowly and restore your blood sugar with a snack after the race. If you feel unwell or have ANY medical concerns, ask a volunteer to direct and accompany you to one of the medical facilities. If you feel ill back at home or your hotel, you should seek medical advice from your own doctor, the hotel doctor on call, or a clinic or hospital. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, severe weakness or any other concerning symptoms, consider calling 911.
Samuel J. Gutman, MD CCFP(EM)
Rockdoc Consulting Inc.