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Medical staff ready for hot, humid TD Beach to Beacon 10k in Cape Elizabeth

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Medical staff ready for hot, humid TD Beach to Beacon 10k in Cape Elizabeth

CAPE ELIZABETH — Runner Andrea McGowan has extreme feelings for Maine's most famous road race.

"I love the Beach to Beacon, but I also hate it," she said.

The 34-year-old Portland resident has run in eight of the 6.2-miles races, and many have been uncomfortably hot.

"The Beach to Beacon happens during one of the hottest weekends of the year," she said. "At the end of the race, you can barely speak and you've got to sit down. With the sun beating on you, and the humidity, it's terrible."

The TD Beach to Beacon 10k is scheduled each year on the first weekend in August, which coincides with peak annual temperatures for the region. And this summer has been noteworthy for its weather.

Earlier this month, Portland broke a 31-year heat record while the rest of coastal Cumberland County was under a heat advisory. A week before that, dozens of runners were treated for heat-related illnesses during the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland.

There's no telling what weather is in store for runners at this year's 10k, but Chris Troyanos, medical coordinator for the Beach to Beacon and the Boston Marathon, is prepared.

"The first Saturday in August is normally a pretty warm day," Troyanos said. "The combination of heat and humidity can have an adverse effect on runners. That's basically what we're there for, to make sure we can handle that need."

About 6,500 runners are expected at this year's race. Troyanos said he has enough personnel and equipment available to treat more than 300 of them without being overwhelmed.

The medical tent will have 30 tubs of ice in which to immerse overheated athletes. About 100 medical volunteers will be on hand; several worked at this year's Boston Marathon, where two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260.

"They did tremendous work down there," Troyanos said.

Troyanos, of Boston, Mass., has worked at the Beach to Beacon for more than a dozen years and at the Boston Marathon for 36 years. He said there are three components to avoid inundating local hospitals with hyperthermic runners: educate athletes before the race, monitor the weather and recognize and treat runners with heat-related illnesses.

If a runner presents symptoms of nausea, headache or changes in mental status, such as confusion or agitation, it's time to take a temperature, Troyanos said. If the runner's core temperature, which is determined with a rectal thermometer, is 104 degrees or higher, medical volunteers must act quickly and immerse the patient in an ice bath until their temperature drops to 102 degrees.

Core temperatures can climb even higher than 104 degrees, Troyanos said. He has seen temperatures in Cape Elizabeth as high as 108. The highest he has ever seen was 109 degrees during a Boston Marathon.

"Your blood temperature is so elevated, your brain isn't working properly," he said of the condition. "Your ability to think and react isn't quite what it should be."

In an average year, medical volunteers at the Beach to Beacon treat about 80 runners for heat-related illnesses. The largest number of patients volunteers treated during a single race was about 130. Troyanos couldn't recall which year that was, but said the medical response to the uptick was smooth.

Troyanos, a certified athletic trainer, works with two local doctors to provide emergency services and public safety for the race, which includes educating runners to understand the signs and symptoms of heat illness and, in particular, to combat a common misconception that sufferers of heat stroke do not sweat.

"That is not true," he said.

Troyanos will also monitor the weather using a protocol called wet bulb globe temperature, which is a "complicated equation of heat, humidity and solar radiation." The protocol offers guidelines on what to do if conditions become unsafe.

If the combined temperature rating is elevated, volunteers might announce a warning before the start of the race "telling people to slow down, which is something that runners don't always like to do," he noted.

If conditions become extreme, known as black flag conditions, the medical team would recommend cancelling the race.

In 36 years, Troyanos said, he has never seen black flag conditions. In 2012, the Boston Marathon reached red flag conditions – a less-serious benchmark.

Troyanos recommends that runners stay reasonably hydrated without overloading and stay cool prior to the race. Runners who are suffering a fever before the race, even a low-grade fever, should not compete, he said.

In Cape Elizabeth, the average high temperature during the first week of August is 79 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. The record high for that week was 103 degrees in 1975. The record low was 40 degrees in 1953.

On July 19, coastal Cumberland County was under a heat advisory from the National Weather Service. Heat advisories are declared whenever the heat index – a calculation of heat and humidity – is between 100 and 105 degrees. In Portland, the heat index peaked at 103 degrees and the city hit a record high temperature of 95 degrees.

Troyanos and other medical volunteers are holding the TD Beach to Beacon Sports Medicine Symposium from 5-8 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 1, at the Dana Center Auditorium at Maine Medical Center, 22 Bramhall St., Portland. The free event is geared for both medical personnel and runners and features a range of topics, including nutrition, psychological effects of injuries and an overview of the Beach to Beacon medical tent.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Photo: Ben McCanna / The Forecaster

Portland resident Andrea McGowan trains Wednesday morning for the TD Beach to Beacon 10k on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth. McGowan, who has run in eight of the annual races, said conditions are generally hot and humid on race day, which can make the 6.2-mile course grueling.