Detroit Marathon Tragedy

Monday, October 19, 2009
Posted in category Just Stuff

It was a very sad day as 19,326 runners competed in the 32nd Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon, and 3 people died, including two very young men, and this is after only one other death (1994) in the history of the race.

Daniel Langdon, 36, Rick Brown, 65, and Jon Fenlon, 26, all died between 9 and 9:20 a.m. ET (1400-1420 GMT), Detroit’s Second Deputy Chief John Roach said, CNN reported.

This was a shocking thing to hear yesterday. One of the runners who died had already completed his half marathon. And I am amazed I never heard anything about this on the radio, yesterday, because of the swarm of coverage about the detestable balloon family parents. I think one problem with these marathon events is the number of newcomers that compete. People often do it as a goal that goes along with other aspirations such as weight loss, health betterment, or sometimes, just to “do it” and say they did it. Marathons attract goal setters who seek more immediate gratification as opposed to staying in for the long term. I’m not dissing that, but I’ve always thought that short-term goals, such as one-time marathoning, are never in the best interests of people. That brings me to this interesting article I read the Wall Street Journal on October 6th: “The Fleeting Benefits of Marathons.”

Fitness and dietary experts say marathons increasingly are the exercise equivalent of crash diets, with similarly disappointing results. There’s no evidence that running a marathon leads to lasting weight loss, marathon researchers say. And it’s unknown how often such runs initiate or perpetuate a lifetime of steady exercise. Indeed, in a long-term fitness sense, marathons are really sprints; the true marathon is the exercise program that lasts for decades, fitness experts say.

This is an interesting article about people who run consistently, at shorter distances, as opposed to running marathon lengths. There are scores of magazines, websites, and publications devoted to ‘training for your first marathon.’ And mostly, these appeal to people who do that one marathon. In fact, I know so many folks who always aim to do that one marathon, or half marathon, because they really believe that it will be a lifetime milestone for them. I always try to dissuade them from doing this to themselves. Most never do the marathon anyway, and never make it through the initial training schedule, and that’s because it demands absolute discipline. (See Mark Sisson’s article on the effects of not training properly for a marathon.) I don’t know the background of the folks that died, and their athletic experience, but I believe the autopsies are due today.

This issue really interests me because, as a former endurance jock, I eventually came around to Mark Sisson’s way of thinking after years of baffling, bizarre illnesses. (See “A Case Against Cardio (from a former mileage king).” It’s not so baffling, however, when you eventually open your brain up to the bigger picture. Forever, people have asked me why I don’t run a marathon. My answer remains the same for 20+ years: I’m not interested. I’d rather stick with sprint intervals and shorter distance, medium-effort runs off-road, usually on hiking trails. In fact, I am not a goal setter and I avoid setting goals for the most part. To me, goals are short term and discipline is long term. There’s a bigger picture that matters more than an immediate personal victory. That’s the spirit embodied by the people who engage evolutionary fitness, cross-fit training, the primal fitness/nutrition lifestyle, etc. For those interested in these issues, also see Mark Sisson’s article on overtraining and his article, “Primal Compromises for Athletes.”

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11 Responses to Detroit Marathon Tragedy

  1. Splash Daddy says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 9:54 am

    How true Karen. I always hated long distance running. I used to do it with my wife but I always preferred sprints, obstacle course/cross country trail runs, and activities and workouts that involved high intensity, short duration bursts. Also, if I don’t mix it up I get bored with a routine and tend to slack off. I’ve never understood people’s obsessions with marathons as a goal. I know several people who set a goal of marathon running in their 30′s who before turning 50 had hip and/or knee replacements. Sad about those that died this weekend – it reminds me of the dead bodies on the slopes of Mt. Everest. What was the point?

  2. Zach says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Karen,
    I think you did a great job at the end correctly summing up those that are engaged in evolutionary living, giving proper “shout outs” to the slightly different takes.  Yes, indeed, running marathons is akin to the rat race.  I respect those that like challenges, but when you come down to it with marathons, it’s something to prove.  

    I came across this quote recently: “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”   I don’t mean to stretch this too far and conflate marathoners with those that have moral issues, but I would submit that I think whether you’re doing a marathon, a believer in empire, a fiat money scam artist, etc., that you probably don’t remember the seriousness of a child at play.  Continue to unite the paleo world with the freedom message!

  3. Sean says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks Karen!

    I’ve long been a fan of your blog, and it was pleasant surprise to see this article. Lately, I’ve noticed a remarkable increase of marathon events, virtually everywhere I go. I was puzzled as to why this should be. You’ve answered my question. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

    Warmest Regards!

  4. cousinlucky says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Mt high school track coach had me run a quarter mile race at a track meet and I thought both my heart and my lungs were going to either burst or collapse. Stuck to the dashes and hurdles after that. The only long wind I have is talking too much.

    It is a shame that people have died just trying to run a race; however I have known people that died just going for a swim or a ride on their bicycle. It does seem kind of odd however to have multiple deaths at one event.

  5. Splash Daddy says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    A little tidbit about Alberto Salazar, one of the greatest 5K & 10K competitors ever..
    “Salazar’s competitive decline is often attributed to a reported blow-out after the 1982 Boston Marathon (his famous “Duel in the Sun” with Dick Beardsley), after which his athletic performance gradually declined to the point at which he could barely jog. Salazar recounts falling into a “more-is-better” mindset which led him to reason that if 120 miles per week yielded a certain level of success, then 180 miles (290 km) or even 200 miles (320 km) would bring even better results. This intense and grueling regimen of such extremely long distances ultimately led to a breakdown of his immune system, and he found himself frequently sick, injured, and otherwise unable to continue training. The downward spiral of his marathon career culminated in his disappointing fifteenth place at the 1984 Summer Olympics. The story of Salazar’s 1982 win at the Boston Marathon and his subsequent competitive decline is told in Duel in the Sun, a book by John Brant.”

  6. Splash Daddy says:

    October 19th, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    In my opinion the most important aspect of your workout should be “Is it fun? Is it play or work?”

  7. Splash Daddy says:

    October 20th, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Cousinlucky – No offense but a quarter mile is a dash. IMO quarters are the perfect high-intensity short burst run. Alternating run a lap, walk a lap is a demanding and productive workout. In a lot less time you get a lot more benefit than jogging for hours on end.

  8. Jeannie Queenie says:

    October 20th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of my kids would answer me in a contrary manner when I sent them the article above. Some of my kids do marathons from time to time, so I felt this was worth sending. Here is one son’s retort to me sending him the scoop. “The autopsy reports have been released. All of the runners died from gunshot wounds. I guess you reallly shouldn’t run marathons….in Detroit! :)

    Each year .8% of the population in the United States dies each year (see stats below). That works out to .0023% daily.

    Number of US deaths in 2006: 2,426,264
    US 2006 death rate: 810.4 deaths per 100,000 population

    The deaths of these three runners represents a death rate of .0155% among the 19000 runners that day. This is about 6.5 times greater than the average, which probably overstates the increased death rate since deaths in any given location are unlikely to occur at a steady hourly clip.

    However, this analysis doesn’t really mean much. For a better idea of the increased risk of death as a result of running you should probably compare death rates of “one-time” marathoners versus those that have never run a marathon. My gut tells me the one-time marathoners have a longer life on average than those of the non-marathon group.” As we lived in Michigan and not far from Detroit eons ago, Greg wasn’t far off the mark with dying via gunshot wounds, albeit kidding.

  9. Mary says:

    October 24th, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Marathons are for challenging yourself. Sprints are great but everyone knows they can do them. 26.2 miles seems impossible. But the people who have done it before us have proven that it can be done. Sprints and 5 mile jogs are for people trying to get in shape. Marathons are for people who want to do something ridiculously hard and challenging. It’s pushing yourself with your mind when your body fails those last six miles that’s so incredible. I have never run a marathon but I have great respect for those who have. I have however won two world championships in another sport. Still, I dream of one day completing a marathon and I know the feeling will be just as awesome as winning a world championship.

  10. Karen De Coster says:

    October 25th, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Mary, your comment and opinion is welcome, but you didn’t address my case about the problems with people who attempt marathons when they are mere pedestrians. Are you the Canadian boxer? And as to sprints – not true. Most people, especially adults that have a lapse of athletic activity, decline doing intervals/sprints because they _cannot_ do them. This demands severe intensity, coordination, and the ability to take on a lot of pain without whining and complaining. Slow-pacing a marathon is much easier. It’s just like in the gym where no one wants to do the Concept2 rower, the Versa Climber, or sprint on a treadmill – but they love the elliptical or sitting on a bike.

  11. Christal Cadigan says:

    June 22nd, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Well I don’t commonly comment on weblogs but I happened upon yours whilst I was doing some job research in Bing today therefore i decided I would leave a quick note. I have to admit that I have gotten a tad distracted going through and looking at some of your articles… I ought to probably be doing work. Keep up the great writing and i am already looking towards checking out future posts. Many thanks!

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