Hardy marathoners run with injuries —to their regret

Christine Boyd is not easily dissuaded. The 31-year-old Towson mom went back to training two months after giving birth to her second baby in mid-June, determined to compete in the Baltimore Running Festival.

On Saturday morning, fit and ready but running late, she tripped and twisted her left ankle while sprinting toward a light-rail train in Lutherville on her way downtown for the half-marathon's start. "I was in agony," Boyd recalled. "It was really bad — black-and-blue and swollen — and my leg was shaking. I didn't think I could stand up."

She ran the race anyway, and even posted a respectable time of one hour, 52 minutes.

At the finish line in the shadow of the city's stadiums, Boyd was one of dozens of runners receiving medical attention from an army of medics, doctors and nurses.

"I'm told I need an X-ray," Boyd said, her enlarged foot encased in ice and propped on a chair.

In a medical tent near the finish line of the Baltimore race, the event's effects on a few runners were more serious than ankle or knee injuries. One prone man, surrounded by a busy team of doctors and medics, appeared to have chest pains — he was hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine. Another was pale and wheezing, an intravenous line in his arm supplying fluids to treat dehydration.

Of the 24 cots in the tent, more than half were filled at midday with runners in various states of distress or exhaustion. Some received vigorous massages to treat leg-stiffening cramps, while others simply rested, eating something or drinking water. Outside, four ambulances waited to take any runner requiring urgent care to Union Memorial Hospital.

"You see the same issues with any athlete," said Ron Sheldon, operations manager for LifeStar Response, an ambulance company that provided transportation to the hospital and coordinated care at the marathon's seven medical stations. "Dehydration is common, cramps, chest pains. We see them all."

Fitness experts say that good footwear, strength training and proper hydration all help in preventing injuries before and during long races.

A race spokesman said there were no critical injuries during the running festival's 10th year, but Dave Gell of Corrigan Sports Enterprises said the race does not disclose the number of people taken to area hospitals.

In Boyd's case, when someone suggested, gently, that it was her head that needed examining rather than her extremities, she smiled sheepishly. "Once you start training …" she began, then trailed off. "I was here, so I thought I'd try to run. I took two Aleve before I started, but I didn't know if I was going to get through it. And right now I'm not sure how I'm going to get home."

A friend assured her of help. "I'm so accident-prone," Boyd said. "They call me Calamity Jane."

A paramedic who treated Boyd said it was rare for a runner to injure herself before a race and decide to compete regardless. "For some people," he said, "it's an addiction."

Habitual runners are a hardy lot. In the rush to compete, the wisdom of plowing through pain is not always a consideration.

"My orthopedic surgeon said I could run," said Mollie Millero, 41, as she applied an ice pack to her left knee after running the half-marathon. "And he's the knee guy for the Redskins."

Millero had sought the doctor's advice after tearing her left medial meniscus, a band of fibrocartilage in the knee, during a previous run. She said that she had been bothered by pain Saturday but took some Motrin as soon as the race was over and felt fine. In fact, she said, she considered the race a mere training run for the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 31, an event she has no intention of missing.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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