Getting a Running Start


Photo provided by wk photography

Ever wonder what goes into planning the medical considerations for a marathon the size of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon? Serving as the marathon’s medical director, there’s at least one man who knows: Dr. Bill Roberts, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota Medical School.

For more than two decades Dr. Bill has been providing runners with information on preparing for, and running the race. He takes great care to compile the latest medical research and data from marathons around the globe to safeguard the runners’ health. Under his leadership, a volunteer medical team of approximately 400 health care and emergency professionals will be standing by on marathon day, ready to assist runners.

We caught up with him for a quick conversation about his experiences over the years with the marathon.

What role does the medical team have prior to their presence on race day?

Athlete safety. Race day care planning. Analyze our race and other race data to improve runner safety.

How about on race day?

Race day safety advice. Care of runners who have difficulty along the course or at the finish area. Serve as the marathon’s spokesperson for medical problems of the day.

You’ve been with the Marathon since its inception, twenty-six years ago. What kinds of changes in the “world of running†have you seen in the last 5-10-20 years?

Runners are aging. More of the younger runners are women and the gender gap is closing fast. The average time is slower by about an hour. Hydration was and still is an issue – overhydration and hyponatremia have increased in prevalence or we recognize it better.

What other considerations does the marathon’s medical team make?

We assume there will be a cardiac arrest at any moment of each race. Every volunteer on the course is a part of the medical team acting as our eyes and ears.

Is there anything else you would like to share with marathon runners and Minnesota monthly readers?

We are out there to help, but you are the only one who can judge if you should push the pace, hold back, or not start due to recent illness or other considerations. It is better to get checked if you have chest discomfort, loss of exercise capacity, shortness of breath, or skipped heart beats during your training than it is to gut it out and have a cardiac event on the course. Although we are prepared to care for cardiac arrest, not everyone will make it through the event.

If it is hotter than the weather leading up to the race, slow down and stop if you feel like you are overheating. Once the start temperature is above 60, or the race temperature hits 70, we see a marked increase in medical encounters and dropouts so watch the weather and pace your-self appropriately. And enjoy the day!