By Gina Tiano
This year’s annual All-America City 10K Run/Walk drew thousands of on-lookers, as runners made their way to the starting line. The
race was held Saturday, February 7, a day when temperatures soared to 85F — 15 degrees above normal.
At the head of the throng were men and women who make their living winning races. Behind them were hundreds of people of all ages and from all walks of life, most there to participate for fun. Among those competing were registered nurses Maribel Martinez and Erika Guerra, who had run Edinburg’s 10K the
“Erika is the one who got me into the whole running thing,” Martinez said, laughing. “We have done a lot of 10K races, biking and several marathons. We are involved in a program called Team-In-Training (TNT), a charity sports training program that helps raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society.
Speaking about Edinburg’s 10K, Martinez said, “It was really hot and windy that day. It went really well until the fifth mile when a young man collapsed, likely going into heat stroke or heat exhaustion. He went unresponsive for some time.”
Martinez stopped and helped the young man, making sure he was out of the sun and not in the path of approaching runners.
“Most races I’ve run in start between six and eight in the morning,” Martinez noted. “Ten-thirty is the latest start time for a race that I’ve ever run, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that contributed to the young man’s collapse.
“He looked like he was going into shock. What he needed right away was fluids, an IV [intravenous fluids],” Martinez said. “But out of the hospital setting, I felt helpless. Other than putting him in the ‘recovery position’ [on his left side to prevent choking] and monitoring his breathing and pulse, all I could do was wait for the ambulance.
“A lot of other races I’ve run,” Martinez continued, “require that on the back of the number there has to be emergency contact information. I reached for the young man’s number, but there was no information on it anywhere. It would have been a good thing to know.”
As nurses living in the Rio Grande Valley, it is not unusual for Maribel Martinez and Erika Guerra to see people suffer from heat-related illnesses. The heat and humidity are a deadly combination for those who overheat while working or exercising outside. Many people underestimate the extent of their fluid loss, and it is very difficult to avoid dehydration during a long race because the rate of sweat loss usually exceeds the rate of absorption of ingested fluids, according to Martinez.
“We like to compete against each other to see who can get there fastest, but we always train and prepare for the event. Safety is a top priority.”
Martinez pointed out that even well-conditioned athletes can fall victim to dehydration and heat stroke, which can be potentially life-threatening.
There are three stages to heat illness; heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke — listed from bad to worst. Heat cramps caused by dehydration cause muscle spasms and often occur in the arms, legs, or abdomen. Heat exhaustion is due to more profound loss of water and electrolytes, and is identified by
generalized weakness, headache, dizziness, low blood pressure, elevated pulse, and temperature elevation as high as 104 degrees F. Both can usually be treated by moving out of the sun, drinking fluids, and eating salty food, according to Martinez.
The worst of these three is heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition and represents severe dehydration, high body temperature and shut-down of the body’s ability to cool itself. That is when the runner may become delirious or comatose. Eventually damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs may occur. Sometimes despite the best medical care, death is the end result.
“When I run, the outdoor elements are out of my control,” Martinez said, “but there are many things that I do to help prevent myself from getting sick.”
Listed below are a few of Martinez’s tips:
Play it safe and always check with your family doctor your ability to race in the heat before you sign up.
Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing that will reflect the light and allow air circulation.
Certain drugs may cause dehydration or interfere with sweating.
Antihistamines and some blood pressure medications decrease sweating. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics and can cause your body to lose water, so avoid their use for several days prior to a race.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after the race. Hydrate thoroughly the day before the race.
Don’t forget that how hard you push yourself during a race is under YOUR control. Know your body and don’t press beyond your limits.
Although most people think they already know how to run because they jog, this is not true. Running takes a new set of skills. This is why some people start with a 2K, 5K or 8K race before they start running in 10K races.
Consider running with someone who can coach you, someone who has been successful at running a 10K before.
“I hope he’s okay,” Martinez said, thinking again about the young man she had helped. “I’m wondering what happened to him.”