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Detroit's Marathon: What Caused Three Deaths?

Sunday's Detroit Marathon delivered one of the rarest of sights here: People. The race began promptly, just before dawn, with temperatures barely above freezing. A record 19,300 people registered for one of the world's largest races, which included crossing the tunnel beneath the Detroit River, into Windsor, Ontario, and back. (Marathon participants were cleared by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security before receiving race badges.) In Detroit neighborhoods along the route, residents hosted parties. In parts of downtown, there was traffic. It was, in a way, strangely reminiscent of how one feels during a war, or after a hurricane: You're happy simply to see another friendly soul.

But the festivities were marred about 9:02a.m., when a man the authorities have not identified collapsed near the 11th-mile marker. Fifteen minutes later, not far away, another man collapsed. Then, at 9:18, a third man collapsed near the finish line. Officials say all three men died of heart attacks, and that the cases do not appear to be related. Medical officials are investigating. But, could even a half-marathon, in which all three men participated, be too grueling a race? Could it have been too cold? Rich Harshbarger, a vice president for the Detroit Media Partnership, which handles the business affairs for the News and the Free Press, one of the marathon's sponsors, says talk that weather was a factor “is speculation. There's no way to know.” Nevertheless, veteran marathon participants say that Sunday's crisp, clear weather was actually ideal.

The last fatality during the Detroit Marathon was in 1994, when a male competitor died near the 21st-mile marker, of a heart attack. Several other races have been marred in recent years. In 2007, a rare October heat wave forced Chicago officials to halt that city's marathon, in which one man died.

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  • 1

    Great reporting on such a recently-breaking tragedy. A runner myself, I wonder if autumn marathons aren't the culprit: as much from people being, due to the summer heat, undertrained for them as for the weather on the race day itself.

  • 2

    But, could even a half-marathon, in which all three men participated, be too grueling a race?

    No. I personally have participated in 3 half marathons, with a total of over 80,000 participants between the races. Of those, only 3 have died. Strikes me as an pretty low mortality rate...but that's only my personal experience.

    Could it have been too cold?

    No. 30s-40s is great running weather. Personally I prefer 40s-50s, anything over 60 and the heat can start to impact your performance. If it had been in the 90s, or below 0, I'd say the weather could have been a factor.

    People have heart conditions, and sometimes they don't know about them. People also occasionally attempt things that are beyond what their body can handle. A lot of those people end up going home with a blister or a strained hamstring, but some aren't so lucky.

    It's tragic, and unfortunate. Really tragic, I hate it when people that are doing something that is good for them don't make it. But other than that...not much of a story here.

  • 3

    Yesterday was tragic. I agree with both kth and cecile468.

    I've only participated in one half-marathon (to date) but I trained for six months; in anywhere from 0 to 50 degree weather. Experienced runners know the hazards. When I spoke with three friends prior to the event, one who was participating in his 11th DMP marathon, he was still cognizant of the extent of the challenge and the fortitude it takes to run a full marathon.

    I actually dissuaded others to fun even the half, due to lack of extensive training; to run a half-marathon, you should be running at least 20 miles a week (at your peak) in a variety of conditions. I salute those individuals who made the commitment and accepted the challenge. I'm sorry that something so positive and life-affirming turned into a devastating tragedy.

  • 4

    [...] Detroit’s Marathon: What Caused Three Deaths? Sunday’s Detroit Marathon delivered one of the rarest of sights here: People. The race began promptly, just [...] [...]

  • 5

    Wow way to slam Detroit for absolutely no reason on this story...and obviously the author has never run a mile in his life speculating that the distance or weather contributed to the deaths...and hopefully people do not think of this race as "marred" as the author put it--I like how there are "several" other races "marred" and there is one listed (one of the largest marathons in the world in Chicago). Runner's World magazine did by far the best article necessary to read for anyone concerned with running and deaths around six months may be online somewhere

  • 6

    Yeah, the first paragraph leaves a little to be desired, but I think once you've been here for a while you'll realize this is how we do things. Events and occasions are when you will see crowds, otherwise we just go about our daily lives - school, work for some, puttering around the house, cocooning with family and friends, maybe taking day trips to someplace.

    I've heard people comment about how the streets seem empty here, especially during the work week, as compared to other places. I've never understood, given that people are supposed to be at work or in school, why so many in other places are expected to be out on the street. Same thing with lights on in offices buildings at night - unless someone is in a particular office working, why do people expect the lights to be on, wasting money and energy, in the buildings?

  • 7

    Marathon deaths, a hoax??

    I have not been able to read any follow-up news on the autopsies, which were initially determined not to be cardiac related. Does anyone know the hospital that the runners were taken to? Any updates on their autopsies?

  • 8

    [...] At the Detroit marathon in 2009, 3 runners died of heart attacks. [...]

  • 9

    click to read more

    Detroit’s Marathon: What Caused Three Deaths? - The Detroit Blog -

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