The news media is full of reports about the three runners who died while competing in the Detroit marathon. This is somewhat unusual for a medium sized marathon. I suspect it is just one of those statistical blips. It was a great day for running, so it wasn’t like the Chicago disaster of 2007, where the temperatures hit the 90’s, runners were dropping like flies, the race got cancelled after 4 hours, and one person died. I was there and I witnessed a heat-struck runner sucker-punch a female runner. He’d just gone loco from the heat.

It is hard to believe there was something unusual about the Detroit marathon. Interestingly, none of the deceased had gotten past the halfway mark.  According to the report:

Daniel Langdon, 36, of Laingsburg, collapsed at about 9:02 a.m. Sunday between the 11- and 12-mile markers, said Rich Harshbarger, vice president of consumer marketing for the Detroit Media Partnership.

Rick Brown, 65, of Marietta, Ohio, collapsed at 9:17 a.m., near where Langdon went down, and 26-year-old Jon Fenlon of Waterford collapsed at about 9:18 a.m., just after finishing the 13.1-mile half-marathon in 1:53:37, Harshbarger said.

So, it wasn’t the marathon distance that killed them. We’ll have to wait for the autopsies to know why these men died. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be too concerned about an epidemic of marathon deaths. From the same report:

Deaths at marathons are rare. Minneapolis cardiologist Kevin Harris presented a study this year at the American College of Cardiology’s 58th Annual Scientific Session showing the death rate for marathons was 0.8 per 100,000 participants.

I’m not going to stop running. I ran my 17th  marathon on October 11th in similar conditions to Detroit and had a blast. I ran my second best time ever and qualified for the Boston marathon ( a big deal in marathon circles). I’m doing another marathon on November 7th to celebrate another runner’s 60th birthday.

If you have an underlying heart condition, or you carry on running when your body is screaming “stop”, or you drink too much water during the race, or conditions are extremely hot and humid, then you risk death. I think you risk an earlier death by not being active. You don’t have to catch the marathon bug  (which is mild compared to the Ironman bug or the ultramarathon bug), but you can get a lot of the  benefits of being a marathoner simply by walking a 3-4 miles, 4-5 times a week. In the two years before I started running, I lost 30lbs just by walking to and from work, a 4-mile round trip.

The caveat, as always. Get a physical and your Doctor’s blessing before you hit the road (or better, the trails through the woods during fall).

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