Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Light of the Detroit Marathon Deaths...

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...

10 comments:

HEATHER @ runfastermommy! said...

hmmm I can't say that I'm overly concerned with someone spiking my gatorade, but if you feel better carrying a fuel belt, by all means do!! I am 99% sure I read that one of the deaths (the older man I believe) was due to a head injury...he slipped, fell, and hit his head on the pavement. So sad :(
My somewhat scientific guess leads me to believe that the coincidence in time correlates to the lcoation: the finish line. SO many people push themselves that much further and harder when they know they are almost done. If there was foul play, i would guess it would have affected more than just 2 or 3 people...

Anonymous said...

The odds of three individuals, varying in age, dying during a half marathon with good weather conditions, within a 17 minute span of time is very suspicious in my opinion. Of course it is possible that heart disease played a part, however the time interval is what has me questioning that possibility. I know from running many marathons that there are people on the course, not affiliated with the aid stations, that offer food and drink and I for one have always avoided them. Call me paranoid but I didn`t feel safe comsuming anything not associated with the race. I hope they figure this out soon. My condolences to the families; what a tragic outcome to what should have been a joyous event.

shellyrm said...

It does give a runner something to think about! Even if they find a health related reason for their deaths, it is good to be aware of the risks associated with all aspects of distance running and to proceed with our own level of prudence. I teach my kids to not take things from strangers but after 17 miles of running I am willing to take orange slices from a strangers hand. Hummmm. It does make you think. Thanks for the point of view.

TLS said...

setting the cause of death aside for a moment. Just the fact that someone could of done something to the drinks is enough reason to not take them. Its something you never really think about. I was at the Detroit Marathon, actually I was on Belle Isle hours before any runners went through, and all the drinks were poured and waiting, uncovered where bees, bugs anything could of flown into those cups. Not to mention all the chatting over them that was going on. It just seems there should be some sort of water bag or something that is sealed and you just squeeze and pop the seal and drink away. That way no one has to pour all those drinks, and runners dont have to worry about bugs, germs or whatever except about the next mile. I think enough money is made at these races that this should be done, or do you just wait for some freak to do something stupid ? Just my thoughts.

Jill said...

I have run in a fuelbelt in many races before and finally weened myself off of them, due to the fact they just annoy me when I'm "racing" - but how can one not rethink their own fuel after this incident. Still....I have to believe that volunteers have good hearts; otherwise, it's a sorry world we live in. I know there are those out there that are not but I need to believe that race volunteers what to see us succeed or will I have more than normal pre-race anxiety every time I get to the start line.

Great post, thanks for getting our minds thinking and being precautious. I will certainly think a lot more about this in the upcoming weeks as I prepare for Tucson. Thanks.

RunningMama said...

It is strange? Who knows what really happened, but I was shocked when I heard three people had died on Sunday. I ran the Des Moines (Iowa) marathon that same day and had an amazing experience. It's so hard to think of an event like that ending so tragically!!

PRgirlSTL said...

Hi Kelly! My name is Jennifer, and I work for a PR agency. I’m trying to find your email address so that I can contact you regarding a special opportunity on behalf of one of my clients. Could you please send me your email address? Thanks so much!

RunMom said...

Oops! Sorry about that PRgirlSTL I see my email address has vanished since I erased the how to comment box from the sidebar. It's back on my profile now, but for those of you who want to contact me via email it's runfastmommy@gmail.com

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to get it to you PRgirl b/c I don't see your email on your profile, but maybe you'll re-visit this comment for a response. Look forward to hearing from you. You can also find me on facbook and twitter. See the left side bar for details.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered that they
could have been Over Hydrated!
Consumming more fluids than you
need thins the blood and prohibits
oxygen flow,or so I read!Just
a thought1

Anonymous said...

I just happened to stumble across your blog. I'm a physician and a researcher--I think you make a thoughtful and logical rationale for your concerns. No, RunMom, I don't think you are off base. The more I read about the facts, the more suspicious I became--particularly when the autopsies did not come up with a definitive cause of death.

I'm running in the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and plan to pass on the water and cookies!