Is There a Doctor at Your Race?

As we’re all getting ready to run our Shamrock races (I’m heading down to VA Beach for the Shamrock Marathon, Half, and 8K) this weekend, I wonder if any of us have given much – if any – thought to what would happen if we had a medical emergency during the race? With running races and triathlons increasing in popularity every year, the chances that someone will need medical attention during a race are increasing.

UTMB aerospace medicine residents providing medical support for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and the Houston Marathon

And yet, according to an article by Erin Beresini in the April edition of Outside magazine, the availability of race medical services is actually decreasing. “More and more doctors are refusing to donate their services, and it’s for one frustrating reason: they can’t get medical-malpractice insurance.”

Race organizers are refusing to offer coverage for these doctors, who volunteer their services but whose insurers often refuse to offer one day policy riders for sporting events. According to Outside, “After the 2008 Ironman World Championships, volunteer medical director Franklin Marcus famously resigned because race organizers had refused to offer coverage.”

I’ve been on the receiving end in a situation where there was no medical team at a race . When I was 19 I broke my ankle on a cross country course in Oxford, England.  It was a freezing, sleeting, February day and the volunteer medical staff hadn’t shown up. With no-one to look at my ankle, and assuming I’d just sprained it, I simply hobbled around, took the team bus back home, and didn’t go to the emergency room until the next day. Failing to immobilize my ankle at the scene resulted in my needing surgery to insert a plate and 12 pins in my ankle.

While it seems that physicians’ fears may be unwarranted, given that an American doctor has yet to be mentioned in an event-related lawsuit, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to put themselves in this situation. George Chiampas, president of the World Road Race Medical Society and medical director for the Chicago Marathon since 2007, has stepped in to help fix the problem. Teaming with USATF and sports insurance company ESIX, Chiampas has created policies specifically for volunteer medical staff.

Chicago, Boston, Houston, New York, and Twin Cities Marathons have all bought the plan, which charges $50 to $60 per doctor, since 2009. Ironman’s organizers purchased the program for last year’s World Championship. Of course, there are other options. According to Outside, the adventure races Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash hire private paramedic services, like STAT Medical, to be on standby. Competitor Group won’t discuss their policies.

So, not to put a damper on your plans to don green and frolic in this beautiful weather, but wouldn’t you like to know if the race you’re signing up for is providing medical staff?

Have you ever needed medical attention during or after a race? Do you think race organizers should disclose their policies for providing volunteer medical staff? Would having such information change what races you sign up for? 



  1. I never even thought about this, but now I will!
    Kara recently posted..Just Another Day in ParadiseMy Profile

  2. Wow – this is an eye-opening post. I needed medical attention when I collapsed at mile 24 of my first marathon several years ago. Thankfully there were paramedics and an ambulance nearby. Since then I’ve never considered that a larger race might not have medical staff on hand, but now it’s something I’ll definitely look out for.
    Jeremy recently posted..[166] Taking it easy?My Profile

    • Wow, Jeremy, that must have been scary. Glad you got medical attention right away. I’m with you, I never thought that help wouldn’t be available if and when needed.

  3. I will also be at shamrock 😉 and I have been have a leg issue so I was scouring shamrocks website to see what medical they would have a round just in case but couldn’t find anything!!!

    • Hey Erica, sorry to hear about your leg issue! I have confidence in Shamrock’s setup – J&A racing always does a good job. I guess you could e-mail them if you wanted specific info…I admit, I’m curious to know if they will share this.

  4. Wow. That’s a crazy situation going on! And with coverage costing less than a race entry, a pretty easy one to solve. Thanks for brining this to out attention.
    misszippy1 recently posted..Call me the skee ball queenMy Profile

  5. All USAT sanctioned races must have medical staff on hand. It is part of the sanction they submit to USAT in order to get their sanction and as Head Officials, we verify that they provided medical staff in accordance with their submitted sanction as part of our Post-Race Evaluation. I think the article makes a big assumption by noting a quote that some doctors have backed out due to not being able to get coverage, but then in the next paragraph says no doctors have been part of any malpractice. I have yet to see any less medical staff at races I’ve officiated and that has been between 10-15 races/year. Perhaps it is more common at running races though – while I see medical staff, running races are usually much larger, so the ratio of doctors to runners is less?
    LesserisMore recently posted..That Last Turn HomeMy Profile

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