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Boston Marathon Course section

Patch of relief at the finish

Volunteers offer a quick fix

By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff, 4/17/2001

he sky was blue, the sun was gold. So why was Colden Baxter seeing green all of a sudden?

''Everything was feeling fine, I felt good,'' said the Portland, Ore., runner, ''but with about 3 miles to go, I hit the wind tunnel of the city and the temperature dropped and it just took everything out of me.

''I don't know why everything went green in front of my eyes, but in a race like this, you push as hard as you can. What I'll never forget is getting to Boston and hitting that wall of noise. It's an amazing experience.''

With a very respectable time of 2 hours 29 minutes 38 seconds in yesterday's Boston Marathon, Baxter, 31, was one of the first casualties to take a wheelchair ride from the finish line into the medical tent, which resembles a huge M*A*S*H unit, awash in a sea of white-and-red-jacketed volunteers.

When the race begins at noon 26 miles away, most volunteers are relaxed, sitting in groups eating tuna sandwiches. Two hours later, they are at their stations ready for the onslaught.

Starting around 2:10, elite runners finish the race and walk under their own power - some even briskly - to the elite tent.

But by 3 p.m., the broken bodies begin to arrive in droves, volunteers wheeling them off the finishing ramp and into the tent, where a cot and IV await.

''It's not that they're not ready to run,'' said Dr. Jonathan Scarlet, a podiatrist from Worcester who is one of 30 doctors that volunteer their services for the day. ''But today is the day for them. If someone gets hurt while training, they'll stop running. But not on this day. This is the Boston Marathon, and they push themselves as hard as they can.''

The most spectacular case of refusing to give in to pain occurred two years ago when a runner told Scarlet he had a fractured bone in his foot.

''I asked him how he knew it was fractured if he just finished the race,'' said Scarlet. ''He said because he had it X-rayed yesterday.''

Even as the worst cases are getting wheeled to waiting ambulances for a lift to the hospital, most runners profess an undying love for the Boston Marathon and all it stands for. But Karen Kendrick, piecing together her words between coughing spasms, expressed doubts.

''This is my second Boston, and it may be my last,'' said Kendrick, who tore open a knee when she fell around Wellesley but still managed to finish in 31/2 hours. ''The hills are just so tough, and the crowds push you. This is a tough race, very challenging.''

Even the relatively unscathed, those runners who arrived in the medical tent without that familiar ''X-Files'' gauntness, were talking about the course's notorious hills.

New Yorker Tracy Olson, 26, waved off the wheelchair but needed assistance getting a bug out of her eye. Olson, who ran her sixth marathon - her second Boston - said this race is tougher than the New York City Marathon.

''The crowds are so loud, and then those hills,'' said Olson. ''The first time I ran Boston, I cried from Mile 16 to Mile 26. It was an absolutely humbling experience.''

The medical tent was established in 1978 when area hospitals informed the BAA that they did not have enough emergency facilities to handle the number of injured runners from the fast-growing race.

Approximately 3-5 percent of the runners who start require medical attention, according to medical director Dr. Marv Adner, who along with emergency room nurse Joan Casey put together that first medical facility in 1978.

Four years later, they handled their most memorable crisis when Alberto Salazar, after edging out Dick Beardsley in record time, became so seriously dehydrated and hypothermic that he collapsed in the medical tent and had to be rushed to a hospital.

''That was our most famous case to date,'' said Adner, a Newton native who used to run the race himself.

With a cool easterly breeze - ideal for running - Adner and Casey anticipated the kinds of problems they had yesterday. On hot days, the need to stay hydrated is obvious, ''But when it's cold like this,'' said Adner, ''we get a lot of people who push themselves as hard as they can but don't know how dehydrated they're getting. That can be bad.''

Bostonians display little humility in declaring theirs the best of all marathons, and that goes for the medical folks as well. With its high-tech equipment, the 600-strong volunteer army of trained personnel can respond to almost every need of the injured runners, prompting Casey to call it ''an amazing team. We are the standard for all marathon medical treatment.''

This story ran on page G09 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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