Dr. Joshua Blomgren Reflects on Chicago Marathon

October 11, 2019

It’s marathon weekend in Chicago and with more than 40,000 runners going over last-minute checklists and preparations for race day, Dr. Joshua Blomgren reflects over his 13 consecutive years of serving as a medical volunteer for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

His first volunteer experience was in 2007, while still a resident and it was a hectic experience due to the head index peaking at around 85 degrees.

“Many runners succumb to the heat that day, and as a result the race was canceled before all runners could cross the finish line,” said Dr. Blomgren. “I was stationed at one of the two ‘finish line’ tents that year and we were busy. Despite the heat and the busy day, I was hooked.” Over the past 13 years Blomgren has been stationed at various points on the course or at the finish line in a variety of roles, but since 2010 he has served as an Aid Station Medical Captain.

“I oversee many volunteers spanning the spectrum of health care professionals such as physicians, resident, fellows' medical students, nurses and physical therapist,” said Blomgren. I help coordinate the care for injured or ailing runners at one of the 20 aid stations along the marathon course.

Through his many years Blomgren has seen how the medical care has changed for runners who are injured or have collapsed. This change stems from lessons learned and the excellent leadership of Dr. George Chiampas, Medical Director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Under Chiampas the medical care has grown and changed into something that resembles a pop-up hospital in Grant Park for marathon weekend. It has gone from providing care until the ambulance support could arrive to life-saving treatment on-site.

“The team that I over saw in 2010 provided life-saving resuscitation to a runner whom had collapsed from cardiac arrest, it was truly one of the most gratifying experiences of my 15 years in medicine,” said Blomgren. And just like the runners, the day starts early for the medical volunteers. The teams assemble and disperse to their respective stations around 6:30 a.m. As the race begins so does the excitement as the first of the runners come in waves and then a steady pace passes through the tents for reasons big and small.

“Many runners present to the tent with musculoskeletal complaints and many are seeking diagnosis and treatment of their knee, feet, hip or leg pains,” said Blomgren. “Soft tissue work, stretching, tape and ice will allow them to continue towards their goal of finishing.”

Sometimes runners will also seek the tent when they experience cramping and nausea which are common symptoms of dehydration and occasionally runners need additional fluids and rest before continuing or possibly having to stop.

“Unfortunately, some runner’s conditions are serious enough that they have to be transported for a higher level of care,” said Blomgren. “It’s always with great difficulty when I have to explain to a runner that it is not in their best interest to continue running.”

Dr. Blomgren will be Captain of Aid Station 15 located in Pilsen this year and for those running the marathon here are a few pieces of advice he offers for race day.

  1. Drink to thirst. Focus on drinking when you are thirst. We often see runners over hydrate because they want to ward off dehydration and this can cause the sodium content to decrease.
  2. Stick to your game plan. I have heard many runners say that they started out too quickly and end up with problems later in the course. The buzz and excitement of the large event can take over and lead you to unknowingly run at a faster pace.
  3. Plan for the weather. This year's temperature is predicted with being cool in the morning and warming to the mid-50s so plan on having layers in the morning that can be shed as the temperature rises.
  4. Upon completion of the marathon is its normal to have soreness and possibly pain. You should see gradual improvement each day and if you experience any significant pain at rest, pain that is not improving or pain that is keeping you awake at night see a consultation with a Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician