Last week my daughter’s friend completed her first marathon in Philadelphia, which inspired me to write That First Marathon. I woke the next morning to learn that two runners died during the race. A twenty-one year-old college student collapsed after he finished the half-marathon portion of the race and a forty year-old succumbed near the marathon finish line.
The news reminded me of the 1998 Broad Street Run when a runner fell in front of me before the halfway point near City Hall. I learned he died later that day. The Richard Lagocki Memorial Award was established in memory of the forty-five year old runner from the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia. The award is presented each year to the first male and female finisher.
A runner’s death during a distance race brings out the skeptics like Black Friday brings out the shoppers. They are quick to mention that Jim Fixx, running guru and author of The Complete Book on Running, dropped dead of a heart attack while out for a run on a Vermont road in 1984. The chief medical examiner who performed Fixx’s autopsy found that his coronary arteries were severely damaged by arteriosclerosis. Undetected medical conditions can play a role in a runner’s sudden death and should serve as a warning to all athletes that genetics and heredity have as much to do with their health as physical conditioning. It’s a mistake for anyone to think they are immune to coronary disease or other serious health conditions just because they are able to run long distances.
Such deaths prompt non-runners to ask, “Why do you run?”
There are many reasons why a runner runs. Common responses to the question are to improve fitness, lose weight, increase energy and reduce stress. Collectively, these reasons translate to an improved quality of life. There are an abundance of studies that conclude exercise improves both physical and mental well-being. Naturally, runners advocate their sport as the best form of exercise, however walking, cycling and team competition have similar benefits.
Nevertheless, more than forty years of hitting the trail is all the evidence I need that a long run will never let me down.