It was hot. It felt cool in the shade, that wasn’t going to be enough. Those open meadows, hot and humid, would ramp it the heat even further. Plus, no breeze in and among the trees.
I went out with the leaders. A young man in white with a shaved head was already distancing us. I remember somebody telling him at the start line “don’t go out too fast” but I was pretty sure he wasn’t following that advice.
Right away I was in trouble because my heart rate pegged and my stomach felt ill. I spent the next 3 miles trying to slow down and, while my pace dropped and my perceived exertion improved, my heart rate wouldn’t budge from 175. That was okay. I would be able to handle that, but it would make the hills extra difficult.
I had the three other runners in sight most of the time, watching them switch leads, watching the boy in white fade from his initial efforts, until we hit the twisty section and I was alone.
My body temperature was building the entire time. After clearing Pine Hill, on the mostly downhill-to-flat section, I was feeling the tingle creep up the back of my neck. Whatever last minute surge I had been planning was quickly scrapped. Too hot. Too dangerous. I was close enough to the finish to know I could coast in and maybe even hold position.
Coming onto the paved path, with a mile to go, I was caught and passed. I picked up my pace a little bit but this was no neck-and-neck sprint to the finish. On the long straightaway, I could see the boy in white coming back to me. He looked blown.
As I approached him, I could see he was in bad shape. He wobbled and listed — telltale signs of heat stroke.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I passed him but when I looked at him, I didn’t need an answer. He face was ashen, the blood gone from his lips. His eyes had a wild look in them. I could see he was about to collapse and was going to run until he did so.
I put my arm around him to steady him, got him to slow down and stop running. He kept saying, “I can’t…” Stop? Or keep going? I had to convince to slow down, that it was okay. I was supporting much of his body weight at this point.
“Let’s find a spot to sit down,” and he immediately collapsed on the side of the trail, landing, of all places, on top of an ant mound. “Not here,” I said and pulled him up, brushing away the ants that had already covered his legs. “What’s your name?”
“Ok, Patrick, just a little further.”
I finally got him to a rock, got him sitting, even though he kept trying to roll off the side and into the dirt.
The sixth place runner passed by and I told him to send the medics. Another passing runner gave me a water bottle and I drizzled it over the boy’s head to help cool him down.
Finally, some help came from the finish and they took over.
I ran in the last few hundred meters with my teammate Andy. We crossed the finish line, grabbed some water, turned around and headed back out. It was confusion where I had left Patrick. He was trying to get up and run the remainder of the race and we were grappling with him to get him to sit back down. Nobody had yet called 9-1-1.
A few minutes later, paramedics arrived. They must have gotten a call from a passing motorist because when they showed up — with the police — they were ready to break up a fight.
They finally got Patrick onto a stretcher and took him off to the hospital.
I’m told he’s doing all right now.