Medical volunteers help treat heat-related problems; police give support

Mother Nature wasn’t as kind to Mill Race Marathon runners as she was last year.

While the 2015 event saw temperatures barely breaking the 70s, temperatures this year were running hotter throughout the day — although falling short of the mid-80s that had been forecast.

Higher temperatures generated more traffic at the marathon’s five medical tents, said Dr. Christopher Schneider of the Columbus Regional Hospital emergency department, one of 35 medical workers staffing the event.

Heat exhaustion, cramps and dehydration were the most common medical problems, he said.

“There’s always well over 100 every year who end up in the medical tents,” said Schneider, who served as the event’s medical director last year. “But due to the heat, we were anticipating up to 300 this year.”

The first person who required medical attention Saturday was not a runner, however, but a 36-year veteran of the Indiana State Police who had been directing traffic.

Sgt. Perry Hewitt was struck by a vehicle near the intersection of State and Mapleton streets shortly before 8:30 a.m., Columbus Police spokesman Lt. Matt Harris said.

Hewitt complained of pain to his lower extremities after being struck by a Columbus woman traveling eastbound on State Street, attempting to turn north onto Mapleton.

While Hewitt was taken by ambulance to Columbus Regional Hospital, he was released and rejoined the event while full-marathon runners were still on the course, Harris said.

Due to overcast skies, the number of runners requiring medical attention during the morning hours was up only slightly from last year, marathon medical director Jennifer Hoskins said.

But as the sun started to come out shortly before noon, medical crews were placed under a yellow alert to keep a vigilant eye out for heat stroke victims, Hoskins said.

Each of the first three years, marathon runners were taken to Columbus Regional Hospital to be checked out, but only one person — a heat stroke victim in 2014 — has ever been admitted, Schneider said.

On standby this year were three paramedic chase vehicles, eight staffed medical carts and four medical bikes, organizers said.

Despite all the preparations, nobody can keep an athlete healthier than the athlete, Schneider said.

When the spirit is willing — but the flesh isn’t quite up to the task — pride can be dangerous in the Mill Race Marathon, Schneider said.

He recalled one amateur athlete who repeatedly passed out during the 2014 event, but kept getting up and continuing his run.

“If you are getting exhausted and starting to do poorly, you just have to take yourself out and be done with it,” he said.

Things got a little tense right before 8 a.m. Saturday after police were alerted of a remote-controlled aircraft flying above Washington Street.

Officers were able to quickly locate the operator standing on top of a parking garage along Jackson Street, witnesses said.

When the aircraft was brought down at the urging of law enforcement, it crashed into a trash bin and was broken when it was returned to its operator, Columbus police officer Alan Hayes said.

An Indianapolis television station with the same idea had proposed flying a drone aircraft with video capacity in a similar fashion during the marathon, but was denied permission by the city, Hayes said.

While plenty of officers remained in plain sight to spectators and athletes, the big behind-the-scenes show was a command center set up in the Cal Brand meeting room at Columbus City Hall.

About two dozen people — including emergency management personnel, government officials, police, firefighters, medical technicians and dispatchers — were constantly monitoring activity from before the race through the afternoon entertainment activities.

Four were using a large-screen monitor to check cameras positioned around the city, while the rest were constantly receiving and sending out computerized updates.

“Folks don’t realize the amount of preparation and work it takes to put an event this size on,” Harris said. “There’s a massive amount of information being received and being put out.”

Not everybody looking out for the well-being of the runners was acting in an official capacity.

Some homeowners intentionally turned on their lawn sprinklers, sending a spray partially into the street, to give the runners the option of drenching themselves, spectators said.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.