Sydney Marathon runners seen vomiting and passing out in heat

Questions surrounding the safety of Sunday’s Sydney Marathon have been raised after distressing scenes of runners vomiting and passing out were reported by competitors.

Of the 17,000 runners in the 42.2km race, NSW Ambulance said it provided assistance to 40, while 26 were hospitalised and seven were left in a serious condition.

There were significant concerns leading up to the event – which had a relatively late start of 7.10am – given thousands of runners would be competing in 30 degree heat and many would not finish until after 2pm.

Athletes were promised increased access to water and medical assistance, while organisers stressed their focus on ensuring entrants were kept safe.

Following the race however, the priorities of organisers have been called into question, with runners accusing organisers of focusing so hard on the race’s candidacy to be an Abbott World Marathon Major (AbbottWMM) that the safety of athletes was compromised.

St John Ambulance NSW treated 260 patients predominantly for heat related illness including raised core body temperature, faintness, headaches, nausea, weak pulse.

Many were also suffering dehydration and sprains and strains.

A spokesperson said both runners and spectators were provided support via its 15 first aid posts, seven bicycle emergency response teams and several medical emergency response teams.

Experienced marathon runner, Cheryl, described dangerous scenes of chaos from “start to finish”, especially at water stations and medical tents throughout the course.

“My friend got taken to the medical tent where there were at least 15 people in there, all in very bad ways from passing out, sickness, confusion and dehydration,” she told

“The staff running the medical tend didn’t seem to be all that organised and the people triaging patients didn’t seem to know what to do with patients or what exactly was going on.”

The medical tents were not run by St John, but a separate provider engaged directly by the event organisers.

The last medical tent Cheryl was in had reached capacity at 11.30am, which would have been populated by relatively fit people on track to finish quicker than five hours.

“So I can only imagine how much worse it got after that with runners in the heat longer,” she said.

Hundreds of competitors ahead of the event expressed confusion over the marathon’s 7.10am start time and half marathon’s 5.45am start time.

Organisers said the timing was structured so half and full entrants wouldn’t have any crossover, which was also supported by the half’s cut-off time being reduced to two-and-a-half hours.

Still, it was questioned why the half course couldn’t be diverted to avoid crossover and to allow runners who weren’t fast enough to finish in under two-and-a-half hours to participate.

“I think that given the forecast of the heat they 100 per cent should have moved the start time to earlier to avoid these conditions,” Cheryl said.

“Although extra water stops and ice were provided due to the heat, I don’t think they did enough.”

Even when runners arrived at the aid stations, those handing out drinks were not ready, she added.

“The water stops were one of the most disorganised I have come across in all the runs that I’ve done, quite often they were not prepared and didn’t have drinks ready, along with the fact there were just cups everywhere on the floor with no one trying to help clear them away,” she said.

“I started in one of the early groups and can only imagine how much worse it got as the day went on.”

While concerted effort had been made to separate half and full competitors, seemingly none had been made to ensure wheelchair competitors had a clear path.

“More consideration should have been given to the wheelchair marathon as they had to find their way through the runners,” Cheryl said.

The organisers were poorly equipped to ensure the safety of such a big group of people, she argued.

“The worst part of the run was definitely the heat which I understand was unavoidable and no one’s fault, but I don’t think the correct measures were taken to adapt the marathon for the heat,” she said.

“They also just were not prepared for the number of participants, with gridlock queues as soon as you got off the train at Milsons Point meaning you could not move anywhere.

“Then to arrive at the event and find absolute chaos for the toilet queues.”

The marathon was “by far one of the most difficult I’ve done with the heat” Cheryl said, and was “definitely close to one of the worst I’ve done”.

Many half marathon runners were also unimpressed by how their event was organised, with a competitor saying she was turned away from two water stations by volunteers who said the water was being reserved for runners in the full event.

“You have thousands of people running past not allowed to take the water and it was hot. You can’t really stop someone from having water,” a runner, who wanted to stay anonymous, told

After being turned away twice, she then took up every other opportunity to drink, not knowing when her next chance would be.

“I think it made me slower because every station I saw I wanted to take a drink in case there was an issue at the next one,” she said.

Having to marshal for her race at least an hour before the starting gun was another avoidable hassle she argued, given there was nothing to do but stand around and wait.

She said the out-and-back course was disappointing, as was finishing in the Botanical Gardens while the marathon competitors finished at the Opera House.

“It seemed like they really didn’t care about the half marathon, they only care about the marathon and the Majors,” she said, adding she was also upset about the shortened cut-off excluding slower runners.

“There’s so many people who run to just finish.”

Sydney Marathon said it supported athletes by increasing the water volume on course, had more bottled water at the finish, made ice available in the second half, sprayed athletes with water at the 18, 22 and 36 kilometre mark and had an additional drink station late in the course for marathon runners.

The medical support consisted of 16 medical posts on course, increased mobile medical teams, Increased ambulance capacity across the course, increased medical personnel in the second half of the course, increased medical resources and additional high-care medical facilities across the course.

St John Ambulance deployed 125 members to the event, including doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and paramedics.

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