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Published on July 31, 2017

For the run of it: Falmouth Road Race a summer showcase

The 45th running of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race is Sunday, Aug. 20 and nearly 13,000 will gather in Woods Hole for the seven-mile jaunt to Falmouth Heights. The race is one of the highlights of summer on Cape Cod, with many of the world’s best distance runners mixing with many more recreational joggers in a test of fitness and fortitude.

For Robert Davis, MD, chief of emergency medicine at Falmouth Hospital and the co-medical director of the race, it’s also test to manage a logistical challenge spread out over seven hot miles of congested seaside streets

“Falmouth hardly ever disappoints when it comes to the weather,” he said. “It’s summertime. We know it’s probably going to be hot and sticky. Our job is to be prepared for everything and be ready react to anything.”

Davis has been at the helm of the race’s medical operation since 2012, sharing the role with Dr. John Jardine. They work in collaboration with athletic trainer Chris Troyanos, president of Sports Medicine Consultants and medical coordinator of the Boston Marathon, along with other races. Together with a committee of 12 to 15, and professionals and volunteers in excess of 200, they develop a plan and implement coverage and care throughout race weekend.

Cape Cod Healthcare is a gold level sponsor of the race and the official medical care provider. The race fits CCHC’s mission to promote health and well-being and its commitment to the community. Falmouth Hospital physicians, nurses and staff have been long-time volunteers and play an integral role in the success and safety of the event. Cape Cod Healthcare also plays a prominent part at the weekend health and fitness expo at race headquarters at Falmouth High School.

A Falmouth summer weekend is busy enough without the race, so the aim of the medical committee is to minimize the impact on Falmouth Hospital and the town’s public safety personnel. Doctors, nurses, EMTs and other professionals and volunteers dedicated solely to the race are assigned to the starting area in Woods Hole, all along the course and the finish by the ball field and the beach in Falmouth Heights. The goal is to reduce uncertainties and respond rapidly to any issue.

Heat Can Be Deadly

The primary concerns on race day, for both runners and spectators, are weather-related exertional heat illnesses, especially heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration. If it’s typically hot and humid, Dr. Davis knows the team will be in for a busy day.

“The heat and humidity are the biggest fears,” he said. “It’s an issue for everyone; weekend warriors and elite runners.”

Heat stroke is the most serious and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. Dr. Davis described the condition as the body’s inability to cool itself. Body temperature of 104 degrees or higher can cause mental confusion, unconsciousness, possible organ failure, a drop in blood pressure and increased respiratory rate. Persons suffering from heat stroke are cooled rapidly with immersion ice baths and often recover within 20 to 30 minutes, he said.

“It’s a critical situation and timing is everything. You only have about a half-hour window to diagnose and treat the patient,” said Dr. Davis. “Most of the time they respond well and are OK, and can walk away.”

Heat exhaustion is also a serious condition, but not usually an emergency. Your body slows down, like a tank low on fuel, because the heart can’t pump enough blood. You get too tired and need to stop. You’re out of gas, but if you cool down in the shade and hydrate you’ll probably be all right.”

Dehydration is the body’s need for fluids, and Dr. Davis stressed the importance of hydration in the days before the race and taking water on the course.

To avoid heat issues, Dr. Davis’ tips include:

  • Train and acclimate yourself to the conditions.
  • Slow down while working out when it’s hot and humid.
  • Take frequent rest breaks in the shade and hydrate well.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing or sweat-wicking clothes.
  • Make sure you sleep well and eat well.
  • If you’ve been sick, especially with a gastrointestinal illness, you may be more susceptible to heat ailments.

On Guard Throughout

The Falmouth Road Race medical operation has improved over the years and now has five medical tents: at the starting area in Woods Hole, along Surf Drive Beach, at Scranton Avenue near the harbor, at the Mariner’s Point Resort at the base to the final hill before the finish, and at the beach at the finish line. They are all staffed with multidisciplinary personnel and supplies such as portable defibrillators, intravenous medications and ice tubs.

In addition, there is a vehicle following the last runners, should any need to drop out. There are ambulances at the ready and also mobile teams on bikes and walking the course with radio communication.

And new this year is Race Guards, an organization of medical support teams who run the race. There will be 48 in all, running in 24 pairs and spread out among the waves of competitors. The Race Guards are trained in CPR and first aid and will be on the course with portable defibrillators and other supplies.

“Basically, we will have eyes on you all day, from the start to the finish and all the way to the ball field where runners meet their families and friends,” said Troyanos. “It’s a well-organized collaborative effort. We started working on this year’s race right after last year. We seek the input of everyone, including the volunteers, and are always looking for ways to make it better.

“Dr. Davis and Dr. Jardine are emergency room doctors so they’ve seen it all, but we don’t want any surprises. My job is to get in the weeds and have things organized for them. They’re wonderful to work with and we couldn’t do this without the corporate support of Cape Cod Healthcare and all the other partners. We’re probably over-staffed but we want to be ready for anything. Public safety is paramount and the No. 1 priority.