Today brings the 113th running of the Boston Marathon. As of this moment, I'm still trying to decide whether to run.
No, I'm not joking. I've run the Boston Marathon four times already, and I've run nineteen marathons in all. I qualified for Boston a couple of years ago, at the Chicago Marathon. I couldn't run Boston last year because of my military duty, and so my entry was deferred to this year. I have my number, and all I need to do is show up at the start.
But I don't know whether I will.
Training this year has been difficult. Between the winter weather, military duty, and other obligations, I haven't run long distances as often as usual. Part of me wants to run today, but part of me worries that it will be a mistake to try. I'm going to wait until the last minute to make my decision.
Meanwhile, my Boston EMS colleagues will be out on the course, providing medical support to the runners and spectators. This is a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of EMS personnel, dozens of ambulances, bikes, "gators" (six-wheeled ATVs that carry a stretcher), and fully staffed medical tents. The medical tent at the finish line is always a zoo. Runners come in by wheelchair, with everything from calf cramps to heart attacks, and somehow they all receive treatment.
Even so, whenever I'm not running the marathon, I like to work at it. The last several years I've had the same assignment, patrolling the course by bike between the top of Heartbreak Hill and Cleveland Circle, about five miles from the finish. Not only does this give me a front-row seat when the leaders go by, but it allows me to people-watch while getting paid.
Of course, it's not all fun and sitting around. Sometimes there's plenty of work to do. When the race day is warm, runners get into trouble, and the number of ambulances can't possibly keep up with the demand. On a particularly warm day several years ago, I was working on the Bike Unit, and I was directed to a spot, ironically, near the Boston College Cemetery, where a runner had collapsed. He'd lapsed into unconsciousness, but with every ambulance tied up, I was on my own for a while. I started an IV, checked the runner's blood sugar (which was normal), and then just monitored his condition, since I certainly couldn't transport him on a bike. While I waited, another runner collpased right in front of me. He, too, was unconscious, so I started another IV and checked that runner's sugar as well. Forty minutes went by, but there was no good solution--despite all of the planning and all of the resources that had been dedicated to the event, there was simply too many runners getting sick, and not enough ambulances to attend to them. Fortunately, they both started to come around, and they were wide awake by the time an ambulance came to take them away.
So, for those of you running the race today, I wish you the best of luck. Hopefully, you won't have any need for the EMTs and paramedics stationed along the route, but you can take heart in the fact that they will be there if you do require their assistance.
And for those of you who come out to watch, maybe I'll pass by you, and maybe I won't.
I'm still trying to decide.