More than 1,100 runners suffered dehydration, heart ailments, and other medical problems at the Boston Marathon yesterday in near-record heat, more than twice as many injuries as medical officials have seen in recent years.
Though most of the ailing athletes were treated and sent home, at least one runner suffered a heart attack on the course and had to be revived. Another competitor experienced serious respiratory problems. Both were taken to hospitals but were expected to recover, said Rich Serino, Boston Emergency Medical Services chief.
With the exception of the historic 100th running of the Marathon in 1996, veterans of the race said they could not recall such heavy volume at the main medical tent in Copley Square or at satellite facilities along the 26.2-mile course. Hospital emergency rooms also reported a flood of patients, with Newton-Wellesley Hospital summoning workers from across the medical center to tend to more than 70 runners.
"People look pretty miserable," said Dr. Peter Moyer, medical director of Boston EMS. "Makes you not want to be in a marathon."
The temperature reached 85 degrees, the hottest marathon since 1987, when the high was 87. But there was one major difference between those two races: At more than 20,000 runners strong, the 2004 version had more than three times as many participants. More than 40,000 runners entered the 1996 marathon, the all-time record, resulting in 1,300 injuries.
Two runners have died in the last decade: In 1996, Humphrey Siesage, 61, of Stockholm, collapsed at the finish line, and in 2002, 28-year-old Cynthia Lucero died from hyponatremia, essentially, drinking too much water. Four runners were diagnosed with hyponatremia yesterday, but all were expected to recover.
By late afternoon, a steady parade of wheelchairs and stretchers ferried gasping, ashen-faced runners into the tent, where they were quickly tethered to intravenous bags filled with saline and spritzed with water by whirling fans. At their busiest, medical tent personnel found themselves treating 270 runners at once, forcing them to establish two waiting lines for treatment.
"This is my first time ever running Boston, but I've never seen as many people walking the last few miles in a race in my life," said Gina Basile, 32, of Woodland Park, Colo., who finished in 4 hours 13 minutes 59 seconds, her worst time for a marathon.
Looking up at the IV solution that was treating her bout of dehydration, Basile joked, "I should carry one of these in my next marathon."
Jessica Piecuch, 26, ran in last October's Chicago Marathon, covering the route in 3:34. Yesterday, it took her 4:26:53 to traverse her hometown course, and on top of that, she was violently ill by the end.
"I didn't think I was going to make it, and now I'm in the medical tent," said Piecuch, who lives in Brighton. "It must have been the heat today. It was horrible.
"I'm just so upset and now I'm here throwing up."
Thirteen yellow school buses prowled the course looking for injured competitors, with stretches in Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline proving especially daunting to runners.
Additional medical teams had to be dispatched to Brighton and Kenmore Square, where more runners than expected required attention.
Emergency room doctors at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, which is near the midpoint of the course, have grown accustomed over the years to treating hobbled marathoners. But they'd never seen anything quite like yesterday.
"This is double the amount of runners we've ever seen," said Dr. Mark Lemons, the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine.
By 7 p.m., Newton-Wellesley had treated 72 runners, mainly for dehydration. Some arrived via ambulances, others came in under their own power.
By 7:30, emergency vehicles had transported 141 marathoners to hospitals, nearly three times as many as last year. Doctors, nurses, and paramedics at the main medical tent at Copley Square had treated 969 patients by early evening.
Among the runners who received care was Wilson Komen, a Kenyan who finished 12th in 2:24:06. Boston spring heat, he said, exceeded what he's accustomed to in his homeland.
"It was too hot," said Komen, who spent about an hour getting treatment for dehydration.
Piecuch, who was running to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, had made plans to celebrate her marathon run with friends last night. But those plans evaporated with the heat.
"I'm supposed to go drink with all my buddies," Piecuch said. "I don't think that's going to be happening. I think I'll just go home and take a cold bath."