KYW’s Pat Loeb is a veteran marathon runner. She reflects on the risks runners take when they challenge themselves.
The deaths at the Philadelphia Marathon are tragic and shocking, but most marathoners are aware that the distance poses serious risks.
History’s first marathoner was sent from the city of Marathon to Athens to report the army’s victory over the Persians. He ran the whole way, uttered the word victory, keeled over and died. So part of the challenge of a marathon is staring down a distance that has killed lesser men.
That’s why every marathon, including Philadelphia, requires participants to sign a release form, stating that they know the risks, they’ve been judged fit by a doctor and have sufficiently trained.
Many people do get a doctor’s clearance before they start to train. Most don’t. Training is like one giant stress test. Adequate training takes a minimum of four months and runners assume, if they had any cardiac weakness or deficiencies, they would show up during training.
Some people may go out there with no training or too little training. It’s very unlikely that they’ll run the full distance. The real risk is for people who have trained, but not quite enough or perhaps not the right way. The most dangerous part of the marathon is the last four miles. Standard training programs will take you to a 22-mile training run, pre-marathon, and those last four miles, in the actual race, with your adrenaline pumping, puts a tremendous strain on all your muscles, including your heart.
Now, you expect to feel bad to a certain extent, so even when the tell tale signs of a problem begin, (shortness of breath, light-headedness) you can see someone ignoring them and focusing on being so close to finishing what they’ve trained for, for so long, and that’s when tragedy can strike.