Yesterday amateur radio operators from across the island assisted with the radio communications for the 45th annual Honolulu Marathon.
I was assigned to Aid Station #12 located at the 25.5 mile marker of the race course, which is the last place for first aid and medical care before the finish line.
I arrived at Kapiolani Park at 3:00am to start getting my communications equipment set up and the medical team started arriving around 4:00 to get ready for the start of the race.
At 5:00 the early morning Waikiki skyline was lit up with fireworks to signal the start of the race. Since Station #12 was located near the end of the course, it would be at least a couple hours before the racers made it to our station, or so we thought.
With the layout of the track, the racers actually past by our station twice. near the beginning of the race at just short of the 7 mile mark, and again near the end of the course, which means we got hit twice by the runners, on their way out and again on their way back in.
The medical staff was set up to work in shifts of a few hours. Unfortunately the radio operators were not set up to follow that plan and had to work their stations until their stations were secured for the day. Since I was at the last station, that meant I would be the last to secure my station.
Working public service events like this is good practice for emergency communications (EmComs) situations. Being the only radio operator at this station was a bit of a challenge at times with everything happening so fast.
Right off the bat we found there was an issue with the preferred VHF frequency that we had planned on using for our radio communications. Even though I was within just a couple blocks of the repeater tower, I could not get a clean connection to it, everyone else around the course was having the same issues. The Net Control Station decided to have us switch over to an alternate UHF frequency repeater which worked out quite well for the duration of the race.
I had to radio in the times of front-runners of each category of the race as they passed my station, while watching the race numbers on all of the runners passing by to pick out certain runners who were reported to be having problems in the race and the medical staff wanted us to keep an eye on them. I had to call in paramedics for two runners who were having medical issues and call for transportation for a few others who just physically could not continue the race.
On top of the stress I was under already, AMR Ambulance Service decided that our station needed to have one of their radios as well as my ham radio so that they could contact the medical staff at our station without going through Net Control. Unfortunately, none of the medical staff had any experience with radios and wanted nothing to do with running that radio so I got stuck with running both radios.
Several times as I was trying to relay information to someone on one radio someone else was calling for me on the other radio. Trying to listen to simultaneous conversations on two very active radios is quite a challenge. Also, since I now had to keep up with radio traffic on two separate hand-held radio I could no longer utilize the headset that I had been using to blockout nearby conversations and the cheering from the race spectators, adding to the confusion and stress.
Luckily we did not see too many major injuries at our station. There were a few tumbles and one runner took a nose-dive onto the asphalt and curb causing a nosebleed and a golf-ball sized swelling above her left eye among some other scrapes and bruises. An improvised ice pack later and she was back on her way to finish the race.
Yesterday was a very long day. Eleven hours after the start of the race Net Control decided to have us secure our station at 6:00pm, even though there were still a few runners out on the course which I did not agree with.
One of the things that makes the Honolulu Marathon different from many others is that it down not have a time limit. Anyone can finish the race, no matter how long it takes them. Other cities have a cut-off time, runners who have not made it to the finish line before that time do not finish the race. The inclusive aspects of the Honolulu Marathon means that everyone can compete and finish the race.
Runners who remained out on the course still needed the aid stations and communications that we provided for the race, yet I feel like we abandoned them just as it was getting dark.
Since the timer does not end until the last runner completes the course, the aid stations should not close down until the last runner has passed by their stations. Otherwise this leaves the impression that we are only there for the faster runners, the slowest people who may be having medical problems causing them to be slower are on their own. This does not sound very inclusive to me.
My hope is that this situation will be resolved before next years marathon and we will not abandon any runners out on the course.
It's Honolulu Marathon Time
In upcoming episodes we will take a look at Morse Code, Antennas, Handheld UHF/VHF Radios, Mobile UHF/VHF Radios and Emergency Communication (Emcomms).