From a pregnant runner giving birth right after a marathon to a man suffering a heart attack at the Montreal marathon- runners have been in the news recently. And now, following the death of a runner this past weekend at the Toronto waterfront marathon- the running community isn't looking quiet as "healthy" as it once was.
After hearing about some of the recent injuries and in the most severe, death, my mom begged me to promise her that I would never run a marathon. She said I need to stick to the 5km or at most the 10km. I can see her reasoning, but I refused to pinky-swear to ruling out the possibility of one day running a marathon, but I do have hesitations. Do the health benefits of running outweigh the risk? I decided to look a little into this.
In an interesting study done by Canadian researchers in January of last year, blood levels of non-elite runners were taken before, during and after full or half marathons. Before the race, their blood markers for heart injury were normal. Blood tests were taken immediately at the finish line and according to the tests, more of the half-marathoners and even more of the marathoners showed elevated troponin and other blood markets of heart damage, and after an hour, when they were tested again, even more of both groups, especially the marathoners, showed blood indicators of cardiac damage. According to Dr. Davinder S. Jassal who conducted much of the research, those same blood markers were similar to someone who comes in to the emergency room and a heart attack is suspected. The blood profiles like those displayed by the runners are similar to those in a very mild heart attack.
But sometimes, more than just heart attacks occur. This past weekend, the Toronto Police reported a man died in the Toronto waterfront half-marathon. The 27 year old man collapsed and was loaded into an ambulance and was found without a pulse. The death was not the first to occur during a marathon in Toronto. Between 2002 and 2006, there were at least four deaths at Toronto races.
Deaths during marathons are not unheard of, but they are relatively rare. In April, a study presented at the American College of Cardiology scientific session in Orlando, Fla., reported that the risk of sudden death during a marathon is 0.8 per 100,000 people. The risk is greater during triathlon events were it is 1.5 in 100,000. By comparison, the risk of dying in childbirth is 13 per 100, 000 births.
Is this supposed to be a comfort? I wondered. What would I rather do, have a baby or run a marathon? Well, on October 10 Amber Miller did both. Against the doubters, she went ahead and ran the Chicago Marathon despite the fact she was 39 weeks pregnant. Apparently the doctors okayed this endeavor, but he did suggest that she run half and walk the rest. She finished the race in six hours and 25 minutes and almost immediately felt contractions and arrived to the hospital just in time to give birth to a baby girl. I was at first in awe that she had the strength to run for so long and then go through labour. However, I soon became a bit of a skeptic when I thought about what type of stress she is putting not only on her body but also on the health of her child.
With all this negativity however, I hope it doesn't overshadow some of the miraculous feats that athletes are performing. Every now and again, you hear of outstanding people who have the heart and the drive to push through pain, blood, sweat, and tears and other extreme difficulties. I think of Terry Fox who ran a marathon everyday for months for something so much greater than simply for the miles. And how can we overlook Kenyan Keneth Mungara outstanding fourth straight marathon title in Toronto with a time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 51 seconds?
I don't think we will ever fully know why death or heart attacks happen at random times to random people. I don't think we will ever fully know why Amber Miller chose to run that marathon right before her baby was born. Why do any of us run? Why do I still force myself out of the door at 5 o'clock in the pitch black and cold after work just to get in a few miles? I think it's all because we run for something much more than the exercise.
The tragedy of the deaths of those amazing runners who had the courage to get out and train and run a marathon should never be taken lightly or forgotten. We all should heed the advice of the medical professionals before putting our bodies under stress. However, does this rule out a potential marathon for me one day? Who knows? I'll have to ask my mom.
Start of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon - Photo: RunnersWeb.com