Latest News - Medical Guidance - The Berghaus Dragon's Back Race®

Medical Guidance

29th Mar 2019

Introduction

DBR is a tough challenge – you will need to look after yourself to finish well (at the front or the back of the pack), so we’re glad you’ve come here to read this. We know from previous editions of the race that a large proportion of the race field will seek help from the medical team at some point during the race. In 2015, 65% of the field sought medical help, similar in 2017. Approximately half of these visits concerned blisters with the rest concerning medical issues or musculoskeletal sprains and strains. 

We have a strong and experienced medical team at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® including doctors, nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists and we are there to offer support and advice, and treatment if necessary. Experience shows that the participants who arrive at the finish, & finish well, are definitely those who are self-reliant & who look after themselves best, so to help you with this we are summarising this useful advice for the more common complaints we see.

We are expecting you to help yourselves – and us - during the event by looking after yourselves first and foremost, but you are not on your own. There will be approximately 450 participants and you’ll be sharing tents with a number of others and so do buddy up to look after each other, not only on the hill but in the camp too. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty, and help each other look after your feet and bodies!

Much as you would experience in a hospital emergency department expect a triage or assessment system if you visit the medical tent for assistance. This enables the team to deal with the most in need first, regardless of how long others may have already queued.

And, we expect you to bring your own kit for skin care – if you are asking for help with your blisters, expect to be sent away to get your (mandatory) Blister Kit, & to wash your feet if you’re not already equipped & clean! Likewise, bring your (mandatory) K Tape if you are seeking physiotherapy advice.

 

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Medic helping with blister treatment, your own blister kit is mandatory! ©Guillem Casanova​

 

NSAIDs (E.g. Ibuprofen or Naproxen)

We DO NOT recommend the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® (E.g. Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Aspirin, or Diclofenac (Voltarol)) as they are associated with kidney damage (renal failure). Participants at ultra-endurance events are often dehydrated, rather than overhydrated, and the combination of this and NSAIDs can be dangerous.

We also know that strenuous exercise, including long distance running, can result in damage to skeletal muscle cells, known as exertional rhabdomyolysis, which usually self resolves. In some cases, where the damage is severe, muscle proteins can be released into the blood, which can move into the kidneys, causing acute renal failure. Research shows that a high proportion of runners who develop this have taken NSAIDs.

The following advice should be taken:

  1. Paracetamol should be taken as a first line analgesic where necessary
  2. We advise strongly against taking NSAIDs; if you think you need them, we will happily discuss this with you & assess the risks and benefits
  3. If you notice your urine is particularly dark and Coca-Cola-like, this could indicate rhabdomyolysis and therefore kidney damage, so do seek medical advice immediately

 

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This was one runners’ urine after finishing a hot ultra. They required admission to hospital for treatment.

 

Dehydration

Dehydration is talked about (& worried about) a lot amongst athletes. Actually, if you are “drinking to thirst” (we’ll say this a lot) you won’t get significantly dehydrated & won’t compromise your performance.

When fluid loss (sweat, urine, vomiting, diarrhoea) exceeds fluid intake (what you drink), you will become dehydrated. This can occur rapidly or slowly depending on the context - how hard you are exercising, the weather conditions, if you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. Hot weather significantly increases the risk. When you have lost around 2% of your body weight, you are significantly dehydrated, you will get symptoms, and your performance will decrease. But thirst will kick in before you reach 2% body weight loss, especially in an endurance event like the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®. Drink to thirst! In the UK, dehydration is unlikely to cause serious medical problems if you are otherwise fit & healthy, but it can make your day in the mountains tortuous & possibly end your race. The advice is really clear - DRINK TO THIRST!

 

Please don’t come to the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® with a precise pre-planned hydration strategy, but please do ensure you drink small amounts frequently as dictated by your thirst.

 

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You’ll see these signs in the portable toilets at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®

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Re-hydrating during the race ©Guillem Casanova​

 

Shin splints & stress fractures

Many runners will have suffered from shin splints in the past and they are common in many high impact sports. Shin splints are the result of repetitive stress to the shin bone and surrounding connective tissues and present as an achey type pain with associated swelling and tenderness (hurts when you press it).

Some people are more prone than others to developing shin splints and the following could be considered risk factors:

  • Certain foot types-over pronation (flat foot)
  • A sudden increase in training load (or racing: like competing in a multi-day ultra endurance race…)
  • Lack of recovery days
  • Worn or damaged running shoes

These risk factors are important to consider in the build up to the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®. Please do address your personal risk factors during this time:

In training: 

  • Rest (this won’t be something that you can power through and it will go away) - Yes this may mean the end of the race for you if this is exacerbated during the race
  • Ice the area
  • Adjust your Training (low impact activities such as swimming or cycling during the recovery period)
  • Footwear (consider changing your footwear as shoes wear out, and don’t start the event in worn-out shoes!)
  • Consider seeing a physiotherapist and/or podiatrist for specialist advice

During the race: 

  • Rest (as much as possible at the overnight camps but be prepared that this injury might be the end of your race)
  • Ice (or sitting in a stream may be more practical mid-event!)
  • Try to reduce the impact as much as possible – maybe run less and walk more or wear your least-worn shoes. Aim for an event completion rather than a specific result or time

A more serious injury to the lower leg can result in a stress fracture, which is damage to the tibia bone (your shin) which runs down the front of your lower leg. At the 2017 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race®, at least 2 people received hospital treatment for a stress fracture and had to stop racing. Stress fractures are generally more serious than shin splints and are likely to mean the end of your race, but the risk factors and treatment principles are the same.

Anterior Tibialis Tendonitis

In both the 2015 and 2017 editions of the race a large proportion of runners came to us with pain and redness on the front of their legs, just above the ankle. Although anterior tibialis tendonitis has been recognised in runners, the incidence at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® is unprecedented and is the result of running consecutive days over rough terrain with frequent ankle rotation.

The anterior tibialis tendonitis runs down the front on the shin and connects the shin bone (tibia) to the ankle when this becomes inflamed from excessive stress, it results in tendonitis.

As with most musculoskeletal injuries, the mainstay of treatment is rest and ice. If you come to the medical team with symptoms suggesting of tendonitis, we will suggest rest (i.e. stopping running) and regular icing (generally in a local stream!). There is no quick fix solution for this, and whether you are able to continue is difficult to predict.

Hypo/Hyperthermia

In previous editions of our expedition races, Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® and Cape Wrath Ultra®, we have experienced wide differences in ambient temperatures from low single figures to high twenty degrees centigrade! And this brings challenges to your bodies.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature falls below 35 degrees centigrade and can result from low outside temperatures, precipitation and wind chill; usually a combination of these factors. We see people suffering from hypothermia to various degrees, in every race. 

Avoiding hypothermia from starting in the first place is the most important mainstay of treatment with wicking base layers, insulated mid layers and waterproof clothing being mandatory. We WILL check this at the kit check before the race starts and during the race. You WILL be prevented from starting if we deem your clothing to be inadequate.

MANDATORY KIT LIST

Hypothermia generally presents with the ‘Umbles’ and recognizing this in both yourself and your fellow runners is important:

  • Stumbles-Loss of control over movement
  • Mumbles-Slurred, slow or incoherent speech, sleepiness or confusion
  • Fumbles-Slow reaction time, dropping objects, poor coordination
  • Grumbles-Change in behaviours, expressing a negative attitude

Other signs of hypothermia include poor judgment, apathy (can’t be bothered attitude), increased rate of breathing and cool/pale skin. As the condition worsens, the person may develop shivering and an inability to walk. Severe hypothermia results in a halt to shivering and ultimately death.

If you detect any of the above symptoms in yourself or fellow runners, STOP and immediately put on more clothing and eat before you become unable to do so, then try to keep moving; if you stop you will only become colder. Eating something to replenish the body’s energy reserves will help. If symptoms worsen, call for help. If you do have to stop, get into your survival bag, insulate yourself from the ground, seek shelter, and stick together.

Hyperthermia

Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia and is the results of the body’s core temperature becoming too high. As with hypothermia there is a variety of symptoms and this usually occurs when the ambient temperature is high; something that was experienced at the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race® in 2017 and the Cape Wrath Ultra® 2018. Hyperthermia can be life-threatening if untreated.

Heat exhaustion results in rapid breathing, a fast pulse and heavy sweating and can generally be managed with general cooling measures such as cold water, removing clothing, seeking shade and rehydration. 

When things become more severe, heat stroke results when the body is unable to cool itself. This results in hot and dry skin, a change in consciousness level, severe nausea and a lack of sweating. This is a dangerous condition and immediate steps should be taken to cool the participant down as well seeking immediate medical attention. 

The following should be considered by all participants in case of hot weather:

  • Wear a hat
  • Wear sensible clothing
  • Keep hydrated – obey your thirst - and think about salt replacement
  • Take regular breaks, ideally in shade and consider slowing your pace
  • Pour water on head and neck areas
  • Wear Sun Cream

 

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Cooling off! ©Guillem Casanova​

Sunburn

Sunburn can also result from hot weather and can be easily prevented by the early application of sun cream. At every event with hot conditions we see people suffering as a result of sunburn and it can be an uncomfortable experience. Sun Cream is mandatory kit (whatever the weather forecast!) but you need to ensure you actually stop to apply it before it’s too late!

 

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 Careful application of sun cream is a must ©Guillem Casanova​ 

 

Electrolyte Imbalances

Exercising in hot weather can also result in salt imbalances in the body, namely low salt levels, known as Exercise Associated Hyponatraemia (EAH).

This condition generally occurs during a race and can result in weakness, dizziness and headache to more severe symptoms of low levels of consciousness and seizures. In athletes (as opposed to people with a specific medical condition causing it), it generally occurs when a person drinks too much water and the resulting hormone imbalance in the body, meaning this excess water cannot be cleared from the body which dilutes sodium levels in the blood. Symptoms are a manifestation of this sudden fall in sodium (salt) levels in the blood. It’s relatively easy to prevent – drink to thirst! In other words, drink whenever you feel you need to, but don’t drink just because you have to get through X amount per hours). 

EAH requires urgent medical attention; please do not hesitate to ask for help if you are concerned about yourself or another participant. 

Ticks

Ticks are small parasites that usually live on deer and sheep. They are found in abundance in remote upland areas, e.g. Wales! Whilst in themselves they are not directly harmful, they can carry Lyme disease, treatable with antibiotics if recognised early, but with potentially serious consequences if not.

It is therefore vitally important that you check yourself (and you tent buddies!) for ticks, every night and remove them if found. We recommend removal with a specific designated tick removal device to reduce the risk of leaving any part behind and would strongly recommend bringing such a device in your camp bag.

If you notice a “bull’s eye” rash, please see a member of the medical team; don’t wait until you get home. Many people who have tick bites will get an inflammatory reaction around the bite - this is not the bull's eye rash, and usually settles very quickly - but if you are in any doubt, please ask.

However, if you remove ticks quickly (the sooner you remove them, the lower the risk), your chances of getting Lyme disease are low, and especially low of developing evidence of Lyme disease during the event. The typical rash usually occurs 1-4 weeks after the tick bite. We won’t repeat the advice given elsewhere, but if you’ve had a tick bite, and are unwell, or develop the typical rash after the event, please do see your doctor & tell them that you have had a tick bite. If the rash is a typical rash, they will treat you with antibiotics; if it’s not a typical rash or you have no rash but feel unwell, they will start investigations.  

 

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An example of a 'Bulls-eye' rash from a tick bite

 

Final Word

As a medical team, we want you to complete the race and will try our very best to enable you to do this. On rare occasions, we may insist that you stop running because we believe you are placing yourself (and/or other people) at serious risk and this is not something we undertake lightly, and this decision will not be made without discussion with the senior doctor and race director. Please do not hesitate from seeking medical attention if you are concerned about yourself or another participant. 

 

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