The IronMan Whistler Experience!

By Dana Ranahan, Registered Physiotherapist and Sports Physiotherapist

I was fortunate enough to be asked to be part of the medical team for the Iron Man event in Whistler July 24th 2016. I was the only Sports Physiotherapist present! What an honour.

My experience began with the medical team orientation the evening before the event started. I was overwhelmed by the number of medical volunteers who had come out for this event. There was at least 100 people there. The people who volunteered for the medical team ranged from general volunteers, first aiders, nurses, doctors and of course myself, a physiotherapist. I was the only physiotherapist there, but there was also a Physiotherapy student there who worked with me and he was a great help.

I was surprised and amazed at the number of people IronMan Finish Line Whistler July 2016 involved and the amazing level of organization needed to make this event a success from a medical perspective.

The Ironman race started at 7 am with a swim in Alta lake. After a 3.8 km swim, the athletes transitioned to their bikes for a grueling 180 km bike ride, and then finishing with a full marathon. The finish line was open until midnight!

This required long hours of coverage and various stages of staffing. Some of the medical staff were required to be at their shift at 5 am to set up and be there in case any medical assistance was needed prior to the race and/or during the race. There were medical staff positioned at various points along the race to assist as needed. There were even motorcycle first aiders on the bike course to help out. With the highway being largely closed for a good portion of the race, this was needed to ensure those could get help if needed on the course.

I was stationed in the medical tent, which was located right after the finish line. Since my role would be largely to help those who needed help after the race, or who had experienced an injury and could not finish the race, the medical tent was the best place to be. I started my shift around 1 pm and ended about 12:45 am.

Th medical tent was set up with numerous cots and loads of medical supplies to deal with all sorts of medical issues. It sort of looked like a mash operation! I had a Physiotherapy treatment table to use, but also had to treat some athletes on their cots as they were unable to move.

Dana Ranahan at the medical tent for IronMan Whistler providing physiotherapy services to athletes at the finish line.
Dana Ranahan at the medical tent for IronMan Whistler providing physiotherapy services to athletes at the finish line.

Throughout the day, I saw a range of health concerns come into the tent, from heat exhaustion, hyponatremia, dehydration, muscle cramping a number of musculoskeletal injuries. The medical staff were amazing at efficiently dealing with medical and health issues that came into the tent and helping athletes to get back on their feet and back to their hotels to rest and recover. We even had ice bath kiddie pools, cool spray bottles and ice packs in the medical tent to help people cool down. With regards to musculoskeletal injuries, athletes came in with foot pain, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and bursitis, muscular strains and tension/cramping, and lower back pain as the primary injuries. I also treated hip pain, shoulder pain, neck pain and headaches. Not surprising one would have a headache after such a grueling race and with the hot conditions that day. Ice packs were also used for injuries of course!

The medical staff and I worked together to treat athletes who had both health issues and musculoskeletal concerns.  It was a great multidisciplinary interaction that benefitted staff and athletes alike and helped each health discipline to understand the other’s role in more detail.  I learned a lot!  Thanks!

Overall, during my time in the medical tent,, I provided physiotherapy treatment and consultation for a number of athletes and heard their amazing stories of triumph and defeat and injury. Athletes had come from all over the world to be there – all over the USA, England, France….. What an amazing and determined group of athletes. Truly so motivational to see. One of the biggest motivations was at the end of the night where a 69 year old athlete came onto the medical tent. It turns out he had done 75 iron mans in his life. WOW! How Incredible is that?

To see the final racers come into the finish line just before midnight was also an amazing experience, where hundreds of fans cheered them on to the finish where the announcer yelled out “You are an IRONMAN!”

Here is a video of the Ironman End just before midnight – listen to the crowd cheering!

To be an Ironman or woman requires hours and hours of training and planning. I am amazed and truly in awe of the efforts and grit that these athletes displayed. I have worked as a sports physiotherapist at numerous high level sporting events, but this will certainly be one to remember.

Here’s looking to see you at Ironman next year!

Thanks again for the invitation Dr. Tom Greene!