how to optimally plan a marathon to maximize enjoyment & minimize cardiac arrests

My latest post for the INFORMS Healthcare conference is on using OR to plan the Chicago Marathon

Karen Smilowitz gave a fascinating talk in the INFORMS Healthcare Conference about planning for the Chicago Marathon. Her talk addressed

  • long-term planning, such as course planning and locating water and aid stations
  • short-term planning for emergency medical services using demographic information provided when runners register months before the race
  • online decision-making during the race to manage health emergencies
  • post-race analysis

Several people from the medical field chimed in with comments for how to possibly plan for cardiac arrests during the race, such as monitoring runners using their RFID chip (all runners are tracked during races to record their times) or slightly more invasive methods that could track the runners’ temperatures or pulses.

Karen talked in detail about route planning, where criteria included routes close to area hospitals and that visit many neighborhoods. No loops are allowed in the course to avoid massive race chaos if the course passes over itself. The course start and finish need to be somewhat near each other, and there has to be flexibility in the finish line location to allow for possible reroutes near the end of the race (many large races have been rerouted prior to the 2013 Boston marathon).  There are constraints to avoid U-turns and frequent turns. Feasibility is easy, optimality is hard. Their next steps are to integrate the route planning with aid station location and coordination with surveillance cameras.

As a marathon runner, I appreciated the use of OR to make for a more enjoyable and safer run. It’s painful to run around a curve after almost 26.2 miles, and while I’ve never had to visit an aid station, it’s reassuring when they are optimally located.

Here is a tidbit that isn’t included in the post on the conference site: survival from sudden cardiac arrests nation-wide is about 8%. While marathon running temporarily increases the risk of cardiac arrest, the survival rate is much, much higher (about 45%). The reason for this is the proximity of aid stations and volunteers who are able to quickly diagnose and treat runners who have cardiac arrests.

(If you’re really curious about cardiac arrests and running, check out this paper. It reports that cardiac arrests are 3-5 times more common in marathons than half-marathons and they are more then 5 times higher in men than in women. Regardless, cardiac arrests among runners are rare compared to the rate in the general population).

8 responses to “how to optimally plan a marathon to maximize enjoyment & minimize cardiac arrests

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