SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Think it's hot here this week? Jeff Lynn, Slippery Rock University professor of exercise and rehabilitative sciences, spent the week in scorching Death Valley, Calif., where he provided medical treatment for the legendary Badwater Ultramarathon in temperatures topping 120.
The 135-mile marathon melt, one of the toughest footraces in the world, pitted close to 100 athletes against one another and the elements. The race is especially grueling, Lynn said, because it moves from the Mojave Desert, which is 285 feet below sea level, to Mount Whitney, elevation 8,300 feet.
Lynn manned the medical station at the 42-mile marker. He assessed heat-related problems experienced by runners and their crews, helped runners control nutrition, hydration and sun exposure so that they kept their bodies in working order until the finish line.
"My job is to help people who are truly sick," Lynn said before he flew west for the Monday-Tuesday event. It could be the runners or it could be their crew," he said. Treatment was to involve IV or emergency-based interventions.
Lynn said he was to work at his medical station overnight since the race began Monday and proceeded for 36 hours.
Lynn expected to provide care of minor issues such as blisters and cramps as well as triage of serious medical conditions such as chest pain or loss of consciousness.
In the desert, a runner can sweat off several pounds of water weight, becoming dehydrated without realizing it. Runners typically take a crew with them, and they can be vulnerable to heat exposure, too, he said.
Each runner was provided a flag that he or she was told to stick in the ground to signal the need for medical intervention. The crew would then driver the runner to a medical station.
A zero-fat ultramarathon runner himself, Lynn said the Badwater event would be too much even for him to run, because of the heat and potential for dehydration.
"It's amazing, and it obviously takes a lot of training and dedication to be able to run that far."
Lynn, who joined SRU in 2003, serves as chair of the special interest group on endurance medicine for the American College of Sports Medicine, an association promoting and researching fitness. The association asked Lynn to provide medical treatment because of his expertise in endurance fitness.
"I am a lifelong learner. I became an exercise physiologist because I am fascinated by the ability of the human mind and body to manage these extreme circumstances," Lynn said. "The Badwater Ultramarathon is like a laboratory to study the limits of human endurance. When you combine the distance and the temperature, it's truly an extreme challenge."
Lynn's current line of research involves the exercise physiology of ultramarathon runners. He earned his doctorate in exercise physiology at Kent State University then spent two years as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Colorado Health Services Center School of Medicine.
The race took place amid heat-related Death Valley media attention marking the 100-year anniversary of the hottest air temperature ever. The National Weather Service recorded a 134 degree Fahrenheit temperature July 10, 1913.
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