The craze of adventure racing has swept the United States in the past couple of years and therefore has brought on a new frontier for the sports medicine community. Adventure races range from smaller beginner level races such as the Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder to races that may last up to ten days. Participants of these events compete in courses that require performance of multiple disciplines including climbing or rappelling, flat- and white-water boating, mountain biking, orienteering, trail running, and trekking.
The origin of adventure racing may date back to the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon or New Zealand’s Coast to Coast. Adventure racing continues to gain ground in popularity in the United States and is now one of the fastest growing sports throughout the world.
As with any other sport, with a growing number of participants there will also be a growing number of injuries and illnesses. According to a study by McLaughlin et al, skin and soft tissue injuries accounted for 70.4% of all encounters, with blisters accounting for 45.6% of all these injuries. Other conditions needing attention included orthopedic injuries (14.8%), respiratory illness (3.7%), and dehydration or heat illness (3.7%). These numbers were taken from a 10-day study period with 356 patient encounters and 406 injuries and illnesses were recorded. During the trial period six participants needed transportation to the hospital. The reasons being cellulitis, closed head injury, compartment syndrome, hypothermia, pneumonia with reactive airway disease, and renal colic.
When preparing for an adventure race event as a sports medicine professional, numerous variables need to be taken into consideration. Staffing, supplies, and equipment should be at the top of the list. Factors such as the course, location, environmental conditions, altitude, weather, and disciplines should be taken into consideration when developing an emergency action plan. An ironclad emergency action plan should be determined and put into place prior to the event. With the size of the events, a communication system needs to be established so that each and every portion of the field is within site. Due to the wide variety of destinations that these events are held at there is no way to make a generalized emergency action plan.
Taking the percentages above into consideration the medical personnel team should be prepared to treat a large number of skin and soft tissue injuries, especially blisters. The nature of the race needs to be observed prior to the event to determine what type of medical personnel will be needed for the event. For example, a podiatrist would be beneficial to have on site for almost any adventure race, considering they specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of foot, ankle, and lower leg injuries. Due to the high risk of catastrophic occurrences, an emergency medical team needs to be on site that may easily access any portion of the course.
Any person considering taking part in a adventure race should consult with their primary care physician prior to doing so. Although this latest workout fad is fun and exciting, there are numerous risks involved and a participant should be sure they are physically capable to complete the race.
McLaughlin, K. (2006). Pattern of injury and illness during expedition-length adventure races. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 17, 158-161.