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Desert Halloween

Today is Halloween and I am celebrating it with a costume made of bandages. One roll of elastic tape can make you look like the mummy, a creature from Pans Labyrinth or just Robin. I am also celebrating it with over one hundred competitors from the race. Sometime between yesterday at 10 p.m. and today at 2 p.m., they finished a 54 segment of the race. That makes four marathons and one double-marathon. At the end, most runners successfully completed the race. The things that stopped a few were stress fractures, torn ligaments, and severe dehydration.

A surprising number of runners with IT band injuries pushed on for miles through the pain. The iliotibial band runs from your hip on the lateral side (outside) of your thigh to an insertion point near your knee. With strain and asymmetry, it gets tighter and begins to rub against the bone. This creates a sharp knee pain with running that is only relieved with stretching, rest (sometimes for months), ice anti-inflammatory medication, and massage. Unfortunately, most did not rest or have time to stretch, thus aggravating the problem.

The runners I've treated struggled with IT band pain for months, to even a year, with intense efforts at rehab. After rest cures the pain and running is ceased, the underlying problem requires a more relaxed muscle. That can only be achieved with stretching and rolling. The foam roller is a simple invention that amazes me. A cylindrical piece of foam, in the proper hands, doubles as an expert and powerful masseuse. By placing the roller and body weight on the latter-lying IT band, a back and forth movement can slowly roll out the leg. This is one of the few things I have seen really cure this injury.

I don't expect to see any of the desert. It is over 100 degrees here again, with endless sand dunes and at least a cool breeze. In the end, all these days in the desert are unforgettable. Despite the heat, lack of shower or clean clothes, nights without light pollution, and with stars that beam brighter than any location I have been—all this has burned into my memory. The runners' triumphs have also been inspiring. One Korean runner completed the race without seeing the sights because he was blind. He had someone lead him through the course by rope, and finished with great speed. 

I am ready to head to the trail myself now when I get back.


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About the Author

The Stanford Emergency Room is the center of emergency care at Stanford University.