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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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