Thursday, October 29, 2009
Some Thoughts on Training
I was reading some articles on the net that discussed the tragic deaths of three runners at the Detroit ½ marathon last week-end. Many of the experts interviewed in various media outlets thought the cluster was a statistical aberration and not a result of any changed circumstances that would raise the mortality rate for marathon participants above the current level of roughly 1-in-50,000 to 1-in-75,000. Nevertheless some interesting facts have emerged which make me wonder whether insufficient training was implicated.
According to an article at Live Science, “among people who properly train for a marathon and work their body up to such a peak performance, heart failure is very rare.” Fair enough.
Although the friends and family of the men said they had trained for the 13.1-mile race and were in great shape, from what I’ve been able to garner from news reports, this might not have been exactly accurate.
Brown, the oldest fatality in Detroit at age 65, usually ran the full marathon, but decided this year to join his wife in the shorter event. "He'd had some health problems which weren't related to running. He wasn't in the best of shape," said Allman, president of the River City Runners Club in Parkersburg, W. Va.
Langdon (36), another fatality, was apparently going the full marathon distance and had run half marathons before, but he hadn't trained for a full marathon, said his mother-in-law, Deborah Windish.
Fenlon (26) the youngest casualty, “jogged and weightlifted” and was apparently healthy. He had no history of heart disease, according to his mother, Laura Fenlon. Fenlon had been training with his girlfriend since June for Sunday's race, said his mother, "They had been running like six miles," she said. (Six miles?)
The three runners in Detroit are among a cluster of seven deaths since early September in prominent ½ marathons and marathons. If it turns out that the other’s training was implicated, one has to question whether too many runners are attempting marathons without being fully prepared.
I found this from the San Jose Mercury News: “J.T. Service, the race director for Sunday's Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Marathon, described the recent tragedies as a "wake-up call" for event organizers — and perhaps runners, too.
"I'm not sure, but sometimes people might not be ready for what they're getting themselves into," added Service, an elite marathoner himself… Hard-core marathoners have been joined on the pavement by people of all shapes, sizes and ages who view events more as challenging fun runs rather than races.”
Service, a long-time race director, was also quoted in the Mercury article as saying, "I don't know if the marathon is the answer for everybody. Maybe that's not the best stance to take as a race director. But there are worthy distances that are shorter and still great for charitable endeavors."
Three-time Olympian Craig Virgin, the runner-up in the 1981 Boston Marathon noted that "It has been packaged, marketed and promoted that anybody can do a marathon if they get a little bit of instruction." Virgin once worked with Team In Training (a leading charitable organization), but now thinks that the charity arm of road running "falsely misleads people" into believing they can run a marathon without serious training.
Now, runners are, for the most part, responsible adults, able to make their own decision about whether they are properly prepared. On the other hand I wonder whether you could get two runners together to agree on what “properly prepared” actually means. Some marathon training programs advocate running every other day, some three times a week, and the conventional wisdom holds that 40-50 miles per week should be the standard. Those are pretty divergent concepts of training.
My question to you all is whether race organizers have any responsibility to ensure that runners appear at the starting line sufficiently trained. Is there any way to even make this workable? Should it be the race organizers business at all?