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Grandma's Marathon: Barring one finish-line scare, medical tent remains quiet

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Tim Cernohous of Duluth is helped to the finish line of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon after experiencing a significant medical event on the course Saturday morning in Duluth. 1 / 2
Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com Andy McNamara of Goodhue, Minn., squeezes a soaked sponge on his head to cool off during Grandma's Marathon on Saturday. He was at Fifth Avenue West and Superior Street, not far from the finish. Race temperatures were in the 60s but humidity was unseasonable.2 / 2

Compared to last year, when 369 people visited the Grandma’s Marathon medical tent, Saturday was a relative breeze — minus the breeze.

Dr. Ben Nelson, Grandma’s medical director, said the number Saturday was 281. Nelson, then, was able to kick up his feet and relax, right?

Not quite.

“It didn’t feel like that,” he said. “The medical crew stayed busy enough. They weren’t bored.”

Heat-related illness was the main reason for attention.

The temperature was 60 degrees at the marathon start line in Two Harbors. And while it climbed into the low- to mid-70s on the course by afternoon, the larger concern was humidity — 88 percent when both Grandma’s and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon went off.

Nelson said red flags, signifying high risk as determined by the American College of Sports Medicine’s color-coded flag system, were on the verge of appearing. Well-timed cloud cover, though, repeatedly staved off oppressive heat. It was warm, even sticky at times, but “we never really got to the point of trouble,” Nelson said.

In 2016, black flags (extremely high risk) came out near the end of the marathon. It never got past yellow (moderate) Saturday.

In fact, the weather did an excellent job of straddling the sweet spot in which conditions are favorable for spectators and participants alike. Not hot, not cold, but comfortable. And no wind. That much was evident by looking at an eerily calm Lake Superior, mist riding the surface, as runners streamed along the North Shore. A brief downpour did arise early in the afternoon.

In Two Harbors, 6,689 started the marathon, with 6,436 finishing. A total of 8,727 registered. For the Bjorklund, there were 8,893 registrants, 7,336 starters and 7,332 finishers.

Finish-line scare

Tim Cernohous of Duluth was about 30 yards from the finish line when he went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on Canal Park Drive.

The 33-year-old was immediately tended to by another runner, and members of the Duluth Fire Department quickly responded. Cernohous didn’t have a pulse. Chest compressions were administered, followed by use of a defibrillator, which showed that Cernohous’ heart was in a rhythm that did not need to be shocked, according to Nelson.

Soon after the defibrillator, Cernohous sat up, revived.

And completed his Bjorklund half-marathon.

Medical personnel tried to talk him out of it, but Cernohous said he was too close. He had to get across.

“He wanted to finish the race,” Nelson said. “He insisted he was fine. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Nelson said about one in 50,000 marathoners experience cardiac arrest.

Cernohous’ time was 1 hour, 51 minutes and 47 seconds. He went directly to the medical tent, and from there was transported to Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. Cernohous was in stable condition Saturday evening.

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