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Baltimore Marathon Officials Add Precautions Following Chicago Woes

BALTIMORE-- If Dave Cooley had been in charge of Sunday's Chicago Marathon, he would have checked the weather forecast and probably called off the race.

"I'm surprised they even ran it," said Cooley, director of the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon.

About 150 runners were hospitalized because of the heat and humidity during the Chicago race. One man died of a heart ailment apparently unrelated to the heat. The race was stopped after 3 1/2 hours, with temperatures nearing 90 degrees.

Organizers of Saturday's Baltimore Marathon said the safety of the runners always comes first.

"Safety is paramount," said Lee Corrigan, executive director of the race, now in its seventh year. "You try to prepare scenarios for everything from a lightning strike to running out of water."

Temperatures Saturday are expected to be in the mid-60s, more than 20 degrees cooler than in Chicago on Sunday.

In response to that race, marathon officials here decided yesterday to add a misting machine that will spray cool water on flagging runners in the later stages of the race. In addition, volunteers will hand out 1,000 sponges soaked in cold water late in the race.

"Their struggles made us double- and triple-check our plans to make sure we have everything covered," Corrigan said of the Chicago race. "This year, we ll be more ready than ever."

Also on hand along the course:

  • 8,000 gallons of water;
  • 4,000 gallons of Gatorade;
  • Seven medical aid stations equipped to handle everything from scraped shins to seizures. On hand are over-the-counter medications, trauma supplies and intravenous fluids.

"We are prepared to encounter the worst," said Dr. Nelson Tang, director of medical operations for the Baltimore Running Festival, which is expected to draw 13,000 runners for Saturday s four races. "If the worst doesn t happen, we consider ourselves lucky."

Each aid station boasts a trained staff : physician, nurse, paramedic and emergency medical technician. In the six years he has been in charge, he has seen it all, said Tang, director of special operations for the Department of Emergency Medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"We've had people come in during the race suffering from everything from severe dehydration to chest pains which were, in all likelihood, cardiac problems," he said. "All told, we ll have a [hospital] staff of more than 100 out there on race day. We are fairly robust, medically."

Nonetheless, all runners are required to sign a waiver taking responsibility for their own health during the race, Corrigan said.

"They [entrants] certify that they have trained to run whatever distance it is that they are running," he said.

The wild card is the weather.

"Chicago serves as a strong reminder that marathons are hard things to do," said David Willey, editor of Runners World magazine.

Willey ran the Chicago Marathon and finished, but called it an "incredibly difficult" experience performed under brutal conditions.

"I finished 40 minutes off my PR [personal record]," he said. "I found myself being humbled in a new way.

"Race organizers are very good at marketing marathons as events that deliver a great experience. The truth is what we learned last week -- the [weather] conditions dictate everything."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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