Richard Dodakian’s Story – August 11, 2013
Sunday Morning, August 11, 2013 was a gloriously sunny and dry day in Falmouth, MA. The temperature at 10:00AM was in the 70’s and there was zero breeze coming off of the ocean and not a cloud in the sky at Woods Hole Harbor. For those that are unfamiliar with Woods Hole, it is the starting line for the Falmouth Road Race (www.falmouthroadrace.com). 2013 marked the 42’nd running of Falmouth and my 11’Th consecutive time running the 7+ mile course from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights. Little did I know that my 11’Th Falmouth was almost my last and could have possibly been my last day alive.
The Falmouth Road Race is a very popular event that has been run every August since 1973. It attracts runners from all over the world and is the feature running event of the summer in New England. The field includes many world class runners and past and present Olympians, but it is really a race for casual and recreational runners to enjoy with family and friends. This year there were over 12,000 runners and wheel chair participants making the field the largest in the races’ history. New Balance and the other sponsors do a great job organizing the event and it is really enjoyable to run for casual runners like me. Because the race is run in the heat of the summer, a pretty substantive medical tent is set up at the finish line to treat anybody hurt during the race. I often wondered what went on in the medical tent as I do not know anybody that had ever had to visit it. Unfortunately, I found out firsthand what goes on in the medical tent and how truly awesome the volunteers are that man the tent in Falmouth.
The Falmouth Road Race has become a great tradition for my family and friends over the years. My sister has run Falmouth about 30 times and my wife almost 20 times so my experience with the race goes back a long ways even before I ran the past 11 races. Over the years, more and more family members have joined my wife and sister so now there 10+ of us that participate in the race. See the picture of our race day group. I am in the back row, second from the left with the blue shirt and white hat. After the race we have our traditional meeting place by the backstop of the baseball field near the finish line to talk about our race experiences of the day and then we head to our annual road race barbeque. The barbeque is really a lot of laughs where all the runners in our group and the rest of our family and friends have a few drinks eat like gluttons and talk some smack about our family order of finish. The Falmouth Road Race is really a great reason for all of my family to get together before the summer ends. We have been doing it for many years now and it is a blast.
My personal experience at the Falmouth Road Race this year was a true eye opener. I am 52 years old and in decent shape. I am fortunate enough to be able to still stay very active year round. I still play basketball, softball and run to keep myself in good condition. My body has held up well over the years so running the Falmouth Road Race has never been a problem for me, not until this year.
The past several months have been busy for me and my family. I am an accountant by trade but have focused my profession more on international operations in fiber optics for many years now. I deal with numerous companies and individuals in Asia on a daily basis. Because of the 12 hour time zone difference between Boston and most of Asia, my work day tends to be quite long. The improvements in communications allow us to work from home at any time, day or night if need be. This is great for work and is necessary to stay competitive. But the added work time for me has replaced a few hours of normal deep sleep time in the early morning. The reason why I mention this is that I believe this reduction in quality sleep time probably contributed to my frightening experience on August 11.
On the day of the race, I followed my normal routine. I woke up around 6AM and took a shower and had my pre-race meal: A bagel with peanut butter and a bottle of water. The only thing different this year was sleep related again. On the Saturday night before the race my family and I went to a family wedding which was really nice. The wedding was late in the afternoon and the reception finished around 11PM. Because I had to run the next morning and I had to drive for 1.5 hours from the wedding to Falmouth after the wedding, I only drank water and some juice at the wedding. Not a drop of alcohol for me on the night before the race. I was hopeful that behaving at the wedding would have helped my running experience on race day. The wedding was great and a lot of fun, but the timing was not conducive to a good night’s sleep before race day. I plan on 8+ hours of sleep the night before Falmouth is run but only got 5 hours this year. Another red flag I did not see.
The Falmouth Road Race begins at 10AM and 2013 was no exception. The race started right on time as the sun climbed higher in the sky. My pre-race hydration included drinking a bottle of water with breakfast and another bottle of Gatorade while waiting for the race to start in Woods Hole. Physically, I felt fine before the race began, just the usual butterflies that I feel before I participate in any athletic event. I suppose I was a little tired, but certainly nothing in my mind that would have made me worry or be concerned. My mind was focused on running the race and breaking my goal of one hour. Prior to 2013, the only time I was unable to break 60 minutes was the first year I ran and that year I ran in 60:04. All other years my times were under an hour so my goal was something certainly attainable.
The first approximately 3 miles of the race route at Falmouth are rolling hills and relatively shady which I personally enjoy the most. The next 3+ miles are pretty flat but very sunny. Sometimes you catch a breeze off of Surf Drive Beach which cools things down a bit but no such luck this year. Not a cloud in the sky and no breeze made the Surf Drive portion of the run torturous for me. Like most runners and humans in general, I do not enjoy running in the heat and burning sun. My preparation for this year’s race included about 15-20 runs of 6 miles, but all primarily in the shade and early morning, when the weather was cool and comfortable. I probably could have trained more for the race this year, but I felt confident that I was in good enough shape to run Falmouth and break an hour. In retrospect, by training in conditions that were not similar to the race day weather did not condition my body sufficiently to manage the heat and blistering sun on race day. Just another contributing factor to my ultimate demise that day.
As I progressed through the run I felt pretty hot, but nothing unusual in my mind. I would pick up a sip of water and dump some water on my head at the numerous water stations along the race route. Although I didn’t feel thirsty while running, more water would have helped me to cope with the heat of the day. I did not drink enough while running. People, including me, think that running for an hour you don’t need to continue to hydrate since it is a pretty short period of time. Well, this just isn’t true. Another life lesson for me!
At about the 5.5 mile mark of the race route I remember running past my daughter who was unable to run this year. After that, I remember passing the 10K mark as the crowds were building near the finish line of the race. Unfortunately, the last thing I remember on the race route was passing the 10K mark. My mind blacked out at that point but my body kept running. Around the final corner and up the last hill my body went while my mind was absent. From what I was told, a few more of my family members saw me with a few hundred yards to finish and called out to me but I did not respond. After the race, they told me that I was limping and they thought that maybe I had rolled and ankle while running. They didn’t think my condition was anything serious so they continued to look for more family members as they finished. My ankle was fine, but the limp was from the serious heat stroke that whacked my mind and body.
My body continued down the final hill and under the American flag that waves across the finish line. Thanks to the photographic evidence from Marathon Foto and my official time being registered, it was confirmed that I actually did finish running the entire Falmouth Road Race this year. I have no recollection of finishing. None at all. It appears I ran the last .8 miles and I do not remember a thing! How frightening is that?
The next thing I remembered was being surrounded by 6 or 7 people working frantically trying to cool my body temperature down in the medical tent that is manned at the finish line of the race route. I was awake at that point but my mind was very, very confused. The heat stroke not only does a number on your body, but really messes up your mind too. When I entered the tent my body temperature was 107.7 degrees. The medical team immediately put me in an ice bath and started working to get my temperature down. The team also hooked me up with my first bag of IV fluid of the day. 107.7 is something that the team had not seen very often in the past while treating heat stroke victims. It was a very high temp for the human body to endure. Fortunately enough for me, I had the best team on the planet working on me and they were able to treat me. My mind was working at that point, but not great so I could hear and see how hard the team was working to cool me down. I am extremely lucky that experts in treating exertional heat stroke grace the medical tent at Falmouth. Volunteers from Cape Cod Healthcare and from the Korey Stringer Institute surrounded me and worked very hard to cool my entire body. Before August 11, 2013 I had never heard of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. I knew of the tragic passing of Korey Stringer, but was unaware that the Institute was founded as a result. In my mind, if the team from the Korey Stringer Institute and from Cape Cod Healthcare did not treat me that day, I could have died, no doubt about it. I would be lying to you if the thought of dying did not cross my mind while being treated in the medical tent.
It took a little time, but my temperature started coming down out of the danger range where my body could have been permanently damaged. During these 30+ minutes I met Rob Huggins, a final year PHD Student from the Korey Stringer Institute. While others were working on my body, Rob was working on my mind to keep me occupied and conscious. This was a huge part of the treatment for me as Rob tried to keep me calm and kept me informed of what was going on with my treatment. I can tell you that I was not calm and was panicking for sure due to the heat stroke. I was pretty scared too and Rob Huggins’ experience and training of treatment of exertional heat stroke helped to saved me.
As my temperature was getting under control, the team decided to remove me from the ice bath. After a few minutes, my temp started climbing again so they decided to throw me back in the ice tub. A few more minutes in the ice tub for the second time and my body temp began to drop pretty quickly so the team removed me again. This time, my body temp continued to drop even after I was out of the tub. I began to shiver uncontrollably so the medical team decided to take me out of the shaded tent and into the hot sunshine on the Falmouth Heights Beach, the same sunshine that led to my heat stroke! How ironic is that? Just to add more problems to the day, I could not warm up on the beach. The volunteers that just worked so hard to cool me down were now trying to warm me up! They are there primarily to treat heat stroke and not low body temperatures.
So, at that point the team made the decision to transport me to the hospital. This was my first and hopefully last ambulance ride. My family did not know where I was so they were not around when the ambulance left the medical tent. In my confusion I was able to tell the medical team my wife Maureen’s name and remembered that she was also running the race so they were looking out for her. I did not do myself any favors that I forgot to fill out the emergency contact information on the back of my running bib. I can tell you I will never make that mistake again. I was still pretty confused so Rob Huggins volunteered to go in the ambulance with me and the EMT’s on the trip to Falmouth Hospital. Maureen is a nurse practitioner so her instinct kicked in when she could not find me after she finished the race. She decided to check out the medical tent just in case. Unfortunately, her instincts were correct but when she arrived at the tent I had just left in the ambulance.
The EMT’s and the ER Staff at Falmouth Hospital gave me two more bags of IV fluid and provided some nice warm heat blankets to get my body temp back to the normal 98.6 degree range. After an hour+ in the ER, my vital signs were all back to normal and my blood work also came back as normal. My mind was also calmed down and back to somewhat normal condition. My wife had made her way to the hospital and had some dry clothes for me to put on when I was discharged a short time later.
I felt really sheepish at that point and bad that I had put my family and the team of unbelievable medical volunteers though such a trying and frightening experience. I was so fortunate that Rob Huggins and the Korey Stringer Institute Team and the volunteers from Cape Cod Healthcare were there to treat me and save me from who knows what fate. I am a pretty lucky guy.
It took a few days of good sleep and hydration for me to get my color back and to feel better. The only lingering affects I felt from the heatstroke and treatment is a little tingly feeling in my forearms which seems to be getting better every day. The heat stroke took a lot out of me but I also learned a lot from such an awful experience. There is not one thing that you can point to that caused my body to overheat, but several contributing factors that culminated in 107.7 degrees body temp and an ambulance ride to the hospital. My new friend Rob Huggins educated me so this will hopefully not happen to me or anybody I know again.
It appears that a lack of quality sleep over a prolonged period of time was one of the major factors that contributed to my heat stroke. In addition, although I thought I was fully hydrated, I probably was not. I should have drunk more water along the route to maintain some level of hydration on a hot day. Sipping water and dumping some on my head was not enough to save me. Another contributing factor which Rob explained to me was that I have to modify my training regimen. As I mentioned, I did train for the Falmouth Road Race and put in my miles, but my training was done exclusively in cooler, shadier conditions. The weather conditions were sunny and hot on race day with no breeze. If I had trained more in the hot sunshine, my body would have been more acclimated to the heat on race day and maybe I would have avoided heat stroke. I know I will be training longer and in hotter conditions when I prepare for Falmouth in 2014.
I hope this article will also teach anybody that reads it that heat stroke is a very serious affliction and can hit anybody at any time. It doesn’t matter if you are in shape or not, young or old, male or female, it can hit you. I never would have expected this to happen to me, but it did. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to experience heat stroke. It takes a lot out of your mind and body. If you can learn anything from my experience, you can do things to help prevent your body from overheating and almost shutting down.
I want to thank Mr. Rob Huggins and the Team from the Korey Stringer Institute and also the volunteer team from Cape Cod Healthcare for doing such a great job in treating my heat stroke. If they were not at the medical tent at the Falmouth Road Race on August 11, 2013, I would not be here writing this article for those of you who took the time to read it.