A blog by runners. For runners.

Inside the medical tent: what happens if you stop during a race

Inside the medical tent: should you stop or should you goAt its core, running is a very healthy hobby. It helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve your memory, and more. But as we all know, running also taxes the body. Especially when we run long or fast, like during races. Even with proper training and execution, you can’t always prevent getting sick or hurt during a race. The most common reasons that send runners to a medical tent during a marathon include dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, low blood sodium, and collapsing.

No one wants to end up in the medical tent during or after a race, but the truth is, you may need one someday. Luckily, these triage centers are here to help.

Most large races have a main medical tent, usually located near the finish line. Many longer distance events also have smaller medical tents set up along the course. For large races, like the New York City, Marine Corps, and Boston Marathons, the medical tents run like emergency rooms. Instead of just offering ice packs and bandages like medical tents used to, the professionals who man these MASH units are now prepared to handle everything from bumps and bruises to severe trauma. It’s not uncommon for medical tents to be staffed with emergency room physicians, nurses, nursing students, physical therapists, massage therapists, and specialists, like podiatrists (foot doctors).

So, what services are offered in a medical tent? The specifics vary between races, but here are some examples:

  • Medication transfer and holding: If you need your medication or medical supplies at the start and finish of a race but don’t want to run with it, the medical team may transfer it or store it for you. Email the race medical team before the race to learn their policy.
  • IV fluids and ice baths to treat heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and dehydration.
  • Warm blankets and hot liquids to treat hypothermia.
  • Ice packs, pain medication, and first aid supplies to treat injuries.
  • Electrolyte replacement therapies and massage to help ease cramping.
  • Diagnostic equipment such as portable heart monitors and machines that measure a runner’s blood chemistry.
  • Transportation and communication. If you feel too ill or injured to continue the race, a mid-course medical team will help you get to the finish line or transport you to the nearest hospital if your condition is serious. The medical team will also contact your loved ones in case you cannot.

If you have chest pain, experience cramping, feel dizzy, too hot, or too cold during a race, go to the medical tent. Many runners hesitate to visit the medical tent mid-race in fear that they won’t be allowed to continue to the finish line. Keep in mind that medical volunteers are there to help you, and they would only strongly encourage a runner to stop if his or her health was in danger.

Have you ever needed a medical tent? I have a couple of times and was incredibly thankful for the medical staff.

Written by Jen Matz.