My mom -- a great woman who, bless her, still reads newspapers religiously -- made sure to alert me yesterday about a story in the Arizona Republic about sudden deaths during marathons.
The way Mom read it, I'm at great risk for dropping dead on my next long training run. Mom worries a lot. But what Mom doesn't realize is that millions of people compete in marathons and half marathons a year and six died in 2009. I think those are pretty good odds, myself.
Plus (and this fact was played down in the Republic story, which served as a preview to Sunday's Phoenix Rock 'n Roll Marathon), nearly all sudden deaths of runners are those with pre-existing conditions, such as high cholesterol or congenital heart abnormalities. As Mom knows, McManises and Waughs have freakishly long lifespans. So stop worrying.
As the two sports exercise physiologists at the blog The Science of Sport write:
The reality is that people who die during exercise have some underlying, probably undetected condition that predisposes them to a cardiac event during exercise. Those who are simply unfit don't die - they just stop at the 10 mile mark (or sooner) and walk the rest of the way, because their brain does not allow them to continue running. The fact of the matter is that there are conditions that predispose us to sudden cardiac death, and exercise can bring this out - but it could happen to the elite (Ryan Shay, a few soccer players in recent years) or to the average runner. It's not that they're unfit or undertrained.
Of course, behaviours contribute to some deaths - overdrinking, for example, can lead to hyponatremia and death. But even here, the criticism belongs with those who advocate excessive drinking, the dangers of "dehydration" and advertise sports drinks to unknowing consumers, not to the athlete who makes the mistake.
Here's the link to their sudden death posts.