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An Interview with Mark Harrast, MD

Photo of Mark Harrast, MD

In his role as the Medical Co-Director for the Seattle Marathon, Mark Harrast, MD combines his love of endurance running with his passion for rehabilitation medicine.

I know you're an accomplished endurance athlete yourself - but what else motivated you to "hang up" the running shoes for the Seattle Marathon and become Medical Co-Director?

Really, three reasons:

  1. It’s always gratifying to be able to blend your professional life with your personal life. I’ve been a runner since the age of 11 and a physician since 26, so being able to blend the two in this setting has been a dream of mine.
  2. “Marathon medicine” is becoming a “subspecialty” of sports medicine and the clinical, research, and educational aspects of this growing field are becoming well grounded in the scientific and medical literature as well as in other cities around the world, and thus, I felt this is a great opportunity to get our university (and in particular, our department) involved in this blossoming field in hopes of furthering the field locally for starters.
  3. Making certain that the runners who race in this event are well cared for on race day as well as knowledgeable about the various medical and musculoskeletal issues that may arise in training for and racing in a marathon...with a goal of promoting running as a healthy activity and preventing ailments that may hamper someone’s ability to continue in the sport.

How long have you been doing this?

I’ve been involved in some form of medical care as a volunteer physician at marathons and triathlons since medical school at Northwestern University for the 1992 Chicago Marathon. When I heard UWMC became the title sponsor of the Seattle Marathon I immediately got involved and was offered the medical co-directorship this year. (Though we’ve been working up to this with the Seattle Marathon Association for the last 1.5 years.)

Besides Dr. Kaufman, who else from the Rehab Dept. was a part of the Medical Team? Is this all on a volunteer basis? If so, how many volunteers did you have?

The entire medical team, including myself, are volunteers. Jon Drezner, MD, (from Family Medicine) is the co-director with me. We have about 30 members on our medical team. Marla Kaufman, MD (Rehab Med) and Connie Davis, MD (Nephrology) are the other faculty involved. Kirk Danielson, MD, is our Spine and Sports fellow who is also involved. Seven PM&R residents volunteered as well: Maureen Noh, DJ Kennedy, Virtaj Singh, Troy Henning, Steve Chan, Allen Chen, and Ileana Howard. A number of physical therapists from Sports Med Clinic and the Exercise Training Center also were a part of our medical team. We hope to grow this in the next couple of years and have even more volunteers, particularly from our department.

How many runners were treated at the race? What were the most common injuries?

Full tallies are not yet complete, but we treated about 150 athletes. The majority were fatigue, mild hypothermia, dehydration, cramps, and blisters. However, marathons do have severe medical conditions that arise and this year demonstrated that. A 37 yr old male runner collapsed 30 yards prior to the finish line with a cardiac arrest. Due to our quick response, the man was resuscitated by the time Medic One arrived. He was stabilized and transported to HMC. I’ve checked on he and his family a few times this past week and he is doing exceedingly well and should be discharged this weekend.

Do you have medical professionals stationed at different points on the course or is everyone in one central location at the Medical Tent?

We have three primary locations as well as paramedics and HAM radio operators (communication specialists) covering the entirety of the 26.2 mile course. The three primary locations were:

  1. Medical tent at the finish line
  2. Medical area within the Recovery Area (inside where the athletes recover, get warm, eat, and change).
  3. At mile 21 of the marathon course in Madison Park.

Is there anything else you might like to add that might be interesting to the department? Are you already looking ahead to next year?

Yes, we are already planning our medical team for the next marathon. This year went exceedingly well and we should be able to build upon it accordingly.

Do you have any races coming up?

My main focus for the last number of years has been ironman distance triathlons. I most recently raced at Ironman Florida on November 3, 2007, and did quite well….with a personal best time of 10:14 and finished in the top 10% of the 2000+ finishers. Due to this recent race, I’m “taking it easy” this winter and maybe doing come local road races to allow my body to recover and plan for the next triathlon season.

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