Running Well, Running Safely

Photo via ThinkStock.

I ran the Philadelphia Marathon two weeks ago, along with 10,000 other full marathoners and 9,000 half marathoners. It was a beautiful, warm day and the course along the Schuylkill River was full of crowd support and framed by colorful foliage. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and, although not my best time, crossed the ?nish line feeling good and strong and healthy.

But two runners didn?t. Twenty-one-year-old Jeffrey Lee, in the half-marathon, and 40-year-old Chris Gleason, in the full marathon, both passed away from heart problems near the ?nish line.

This resonated with me because one of my best friends, a multi-marathon runner in his late 30?s was on a training run this spring and had a sudden heart attack. Thankfully, two of his running companions that day were doctors who resuscitated him. But this was a shock to me. My buddy was young, strong, and ?t. He seemed invincible. I made a doctor?s appointment the next week.

And of course, many of us remember the tragedy of Ryan Shay, an elite Olympic contender who fell victim to cardiac problems during the NYC Olympic Trials three years ago.

These stories should be a good reminder to us that distance running, and in fact all cardiovascular exercise, carries risks. And some of those risks can be deadly.

Now, I?m not equating running with skydiving, shark-baiting, or Russian roulette, but in the wake of this, we should all evaluate our exercise habits and make sure we?re being safe. After all, this is a hobby that?s supposed to help our health and extend our lives.

Exercise medicine experts, in the wake of this story, are making some concrete suggestions to avoid catastrophes like these. Many of these we know in the back of our mind, but we can sometimes be lax in prioritizing them. Let this be a good reminder to bring them to the fore:

  • Visit your primary care physician regularly. Share with your doctor your exercise goals and make sure that they?re medically advisable.
  • Be wary of the dangers of extreme dehydration and overhydration. Both of these create electrolyte imbalances that are dangerous for heart muscle function.
  • Be wary of overuse of stimulants (i.e. caffeine), as this can cause excessively high heart rate.
  • Sudden sprints towards the ?nish line of a distance race may also be dangerous.

Again, I don?t want to scare anyone away from running; I just want us all to be safe and smart about it. Overall, the sport is statistically hugely beneficial to health, with only a few outliers that grab the headlines.


This is my ?rst post about distance running for Hub Health, our new online health section. I want my posts to re?ect the joy I feel when I crunch through dried leaves on a trail run in the Fells in mid-October. I want them to show the pride I experience when a volunteer hangs a ?nisher?s medal around my neck in an Ultramarathon I wasn?t sure I was going to ?nish, and to share the feeling of camaraderie I get when I strike up a conversation with a stranger along the Esplanade only to ?nd I?ve run miles farther than I intended. These columns should focus on abetting and encouraging running in Greater Boston through training tips and suggesting fun workouts and races.