I bought a fuel belt. Now in all honesty, I never had any attention of blogging about the fuel belt or the Detroit Marathon for that matter. I mean 3 people died there and I in no way shape or form want to make light of that. My heart goes out to the families who lost a father, brother, or a son at the race this past weekend. To have such a wonderful day end that way is tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with the families.
But here's the thing. There's rumors floating around metro D and I can't seem to shake them. Now, I'm not too sure I buy into all this, and quite frankly I generally tend to be a skeptic until proven otherwise or I've had the chance to dig into the details myself (perhaps I learned something in those journalism classes after all eh?) but regardless of the truth of these rumors I think there's some valid points that we as runners need to consider. Hence, the reason for this post. So excuse me as I put aside my lame attempts at humor for a moment to look at the facts of what happened this past weekend (side note: this theory is actually not my own, but was first brought to my attention by a fellow MI running friend over on facebook, who shall remain nameless because the discussion has since been deleted and I'm not entirely sure why.)
I've repeatedly seen it discussed by various doctors on news broadcasts covering the marathon deaths that it is most likely these men were suffering from some unknown underlying medical condition (a few I've heard mentioned: an enlarged heart, heart deformity or narrowing and/or blockage of the arteries) and that this underlying condition coupled with the stress on the body from an extreme sport like marathoning would have caused these men to go into cardiac arrest. So too on Runner's World is the same thing suggested (you can read about it here). And the advice that these doctors give to avoid such a fate is advice we'd all do well to follow, "See your doctor for checkups. Get a physical before taking on ANY sort of new exercise program. "
But here's the problem I'm having with all this underlying condition talk (and thus the reason for the fuel belt):
Chances of dying in a marathon are .8 per 100,000 participants. This was 3 in a field of about 9,000. But you see these men were not even running the marathon. They were running the half. So you've got to think the chances of that are even smaller right? None of them were new runners. Rick Brown, who was 65, had run 2 full marathons in the past and travelled the country with a group running various races. Daniel Langdon, 36, had run halfs before. And Jonathan Fenlon, 26, had been training since June for the Detroit Half Marathon. He had competed in various shorter races before including a leg of the Detroit Marathon Relay the year before.
Each of these men died within 16 minutes of eachother and within a mile and a half. Brown died just past 12 miles, Langdon, just before 12 miles and Fenlon at the finish (13.1). So let that sit for a minute...3 apparently healthy males and at least somewhat experienced runners die in a HALF marathon within 16 minutes of eachother and fairly close together. Really? What are the chances of that?
But it gets weirder. Remember the "underlying condition" that all the doctors on tv seem to think is a suitable explanation. Well, the autopsy results came back on Monday and they are being withheld as "inconclusive." More tests have been ordered including a toxicology report. Now, I know nothing about autopsies and so maybe somebody can correct me here, but wouldn't an enlarged heart (or one of the other above mentioned conditions) show up pretty easily on an autopsy?
So perhaps now you can guess the reason for the fuel belt? And no, I don't totally buy into the sinister rumors floating around that somebody spiked the aid cups, but it definitely got me thinking. I mean I appreciate the hundreds of thousands of volunteers that come out to races to hand out water and gatorade. They are AWESOME to do that and I can think of plenty of times in the scorching heat where I might have stopped and kiss one full on the mouth just for handing me that little paper cup of water if I wasn't trying to hit some goal. They are an integral part of racing. So I in no way want to seem ungrateful, but at the same time, I have witnessed fingers in cups more than a time or two and on one occassion even saw a volunteer pick something out of a cup then hand it to a runner. Come on now, how sanitary is that? If I think of all the races I've run, I can only name you one where the volunteers wore gloves (Bayshore Half Marathon if you're interested).
So all I'm saying here is maybe we ought to think about this a little bit before we grab a cup from some random stranger on the course, as thirsty as we might be, especially now as we are rapidly approaching flu season and with H1N1 already floating around. Maybe runners don't only have a better chance of getting sick following a marathon because of a lowered immune system but also because they've been drinking who knows what in those cups?
Am I way off base here guys? Or is this something we'd do well to think about?
'Til next time...