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A marathon, not a sprint

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The medical tent at the Brighton Marathon is Justin Walford’s home away from home

justin walford

justin walford

After four years of volunteering at the Brighton Marathon, Justin Walford has learned a few key things.

Number one: training properly for a marathon is a must.

Number two: avoid recreational drugs.

Number three: on the morning of the marathon, eat a good breakfast – something high in carbohydrates – about three hours before the event.

Number four: drink as much water as necessary when running.

Number five: have fun!

Given his extensive experience, this advice can be trusted. He’s previously been responsible for managing one of the marathon’s medical tents, ensuring that the ambulance cases are treated appropriately, and making initial assessments of the walking-but-struggling participants.

“I make sure there’s space for whoever’s coming in and if they get worse and need to be transferred to hospital, I make sure they get there at the right time,” Mr Walford says. “I also make sure the right people are looking after them, since they’re all volunteers.”

It’s a job without much of a typical routine: in one day there could be trauma calls and cardiac arrests, as well as junior staff to train.

This year his role will be more of the same - coordination and management – this time at the finishing line; of course, he hopes that by the time they’ve reached the finish they won’t need his help.

Mr Walford first got involved with the marathon, now in its seventh year, when the medical director asked him to volunteer to manage the nursing team for the Phillips Healthcare medical tent. This was partially due to his long interest in running and his dismay at not having done very much to get involved.

He’s well equipped for it thanks to his day job as a charge nurse in the Royal Sussex County Hospital Accident & Emergency Department, a position he’s held for the last three years.

It’s a job without much of a typical routine: in one day there could be trauma calls and cardiac arrests, as well as junior staff to train.

A disruption of routine is something Mr Walford enjoys about the Brighton Marathon as well. “It’s not your usual working day because everyone’s there to cheer people on,” he says.

However, that lack of a regular working environment can also be a bit of a problem.

“There are also pharmacists to make sure you’ve got the right medications, and podiatrists.”

“You don’t have your usual equipment around you and you might not know the people you’re working with, so you have to keep an eye on people… you don’t necessarily know what each person’s capabilities are.”

Still, Mr Walford says the volunteers are well prepared for the potential challenges of the day, thanks to a teaching session that everyone attends before the event.

“We talk about the differences between normal people and elite athletes, things that you need to look out for, all the different equipment they will find there – like blood machines to work out how well people are or whether they need to go to hospital,” Mr Walford says.

“There are also pharmacists to make sure you’ve got the right medications, and podiatrists. There’s a range of medical resources right through from basic first aid to qualified medical consultants.”

Beyond the marathon, Mr Walford has had several other unique nursing experiences. After training at the University of Brighton about 15 years ago and working on an acute medical unit and in A&E, he travelled around Australia for a year. He then returned to Australia after getting married, where he completed a trauma course. When a cyclone blew through where he was working in Port Headland, he went out to the airport to rescue people, a feat that landed him on the cover of West Australian magazine.

“Everyone’s happy and cheerful, it’s a fun day.”

Mr Walford also won Mentor of the Year at the Hospital Awards in 2014, which he calls one of the highlights of his career.

The marathon is another of those highlights, one he returns to year after year. He says the joy of the event is what keeps bringing him back: “Everyone’s happy and cheerful, it’s a fun day.”

The Brighton Marathon will take place Sunday 17 April at 9:15am in Preston Park, Brighton. There are multiple other events during the weekend – visit for more details. The medical tent is sponsored by Phillips Healthcare.

Kelsy Ketchum

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