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How to dodge the medical tent at your next race

Various people in states of exercise

Here are tips from a doctor on avoiding injuries and ailments during a long-distance race.

As an active person, family doctor and lead physician volunteer for the Eugene Marathon medical tent since it began in 2007, I’ve gained a well-rounded perspective on running injuries.

We’re in the thick of marathon season, so there’s no better time to talk about how to avoid injuries and ailments during vigorous exercise.

If you’re running the race, I hope you’ve followed an appropriate training regimen these past three months to slowly build up strength, stamina, and speed. But even if you’re in tip-top shape, you can get into trouble on the course.

Here’s my best advice to avoid a visit to the medical tent—and these tips hold true for anyone who runs or exercises vigorously.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Hands down, the most common problem we see in the medical tent is dehydration—especially on warm, sunny days. The average person loses as much as 1 to 2 liters of water per hour during vigorous exercise. As you lose fluids, energy wanes, muscles cramp, and blood pressure falls.

Symptoms of mild dehydration include headache and light-headedness—bad enough to affect your time but not likely to bring you to the tent. As dehydration worsens, electrolytes—minerals such as calcium and potassium that carry energy through the body—become imbalanced, throwing off your blood chemistry, muscle function, and other key bodily functions. In more severe cases, you can get delirious.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking approximately 16 ounces of fluid about two hours before exercise to help ensure adequate hydration and to allow time to excrete excess water. Avoid caffeinated beverages, as they have a diuretic effect. During your run, you’ll want to keep drinking to the tune of four to eight ounces every 15 to 30 minutes.

Eat properly. 

Make sure meals leading up to the race include foods with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, green vegetables, legumes and starchy vegetables (potatoes, squash, corn), as well as adequate protein and iron. Carry carb-rich snacks like energy bars with you.

Wear the right shoes. 

You’ll want shoes you’ve run in and know work for you. Race day isn’t the time to break in a new pair. We see plenty of nasty blisters and lost toenails in the medical tent, and the right pair of shoes can help prevent that.

Don’t stop suddenly. 

We’ve observed over the years that runners who stop abruptly when they reach the finish line tend to experience more light-headedness and sometimes delirium, as blood pressure suddenly drops. Best to keep walking up to the recovery area, and gradually slow yourself down.

Do it for yourself. 

If I could share one thing I’ve learned in my years in the medical tent, it’s this: If you want to be a runner, do it at your own pace and for your own enjoyment!

Learn more about exercise and fitness.

portrait of Lorne E. Bigley MD

Lorne E. Bigley MD

Family Medicine
Family practice physician Lorne Bigley, MD, FAAFP, joined PeaceHealth Medical Group’s South Eugene clinic in 2008 after more than 18 years of experience as a physician. Dr. Bigley cares for patients of all ages, from newborns to geriatric patients. “I enjoy the full depth of family medicine, especially building relationships with patient,” Dr. Bigley says. “ I also enjoy using the computer, Internet and e-mail to improve patient care and communication.”