How dangerous is ultra-running, or even marathon running? Over the years there have been many stories that have focussed on the deaths of competitors at running events. Statistics showed that between 2000 and 2009 a total of twenty eight people died in the USA as a direct consequence of running a marathon, twenty two males and six females, the average age was forty one and ninety three percent of the cause was heart related, oh, and this is out of a total pool of just under four million people. Jim Fixx, the pioneer of jogging and the man who made running the popular participation sport it is today, died in 1984 of a heart attack during his daily road run in Vermont, aged fifty two. High profile articles have been published in newspapers and blogs about deaths in other countries too, so where does this leave us? The main reason for tackling this subject is because in our ultra community we have been recently hit with a double whammy of tragedy. The first was a few weeks back at the Cavalls del Vent race where only 223 out of 896 competitors finished a gruelling eighty four km course that saw even the most high profile ultra runners abandon the course. The principal factor was inclement weather with forty eight year old Teresa Fariol succumbing to hypothermia overnight. The second fatality was this past weekend where Daz Holloway, a much loved runner on the British Fell Running scene died after collapsing during the stage between Brothers Water and Patterdale at the Ian Hodgson Fell Running Relay, the post mortem ruled hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as the cause. These unfortunate events remind me not only of the fragility of life but also to make the most of it. Running endurance races help me to maximise living so do these risks put me off running ultra distance events? No, because everything in life has risk attached to it. I do however think a modified approach needs to be taken and looking at the French way of doing things is definitely a model that could be followed. Whilst Teresa Fariol's death was related to the weather conditions, the majority of the others could have probably been avoided.
I was at a sports therapy appointment with Pearl last Wednesday when I saw on the notice board of the waiting area a local trail race that would be taking place in a few days time. I thought to myself that it would be an excellent opportunity to get back into racing again after a long lay-off. On checking the site that night it gave me the option of scanning my medical certificate or mailing it, at this point I realised that I hadn't done my physical this year and it was a bit close to the race to have to go and see my doctor and go through all the tests. I cursed the French system for a few minutes but soon remembered that all the previous years, no matter how fit I was, I had to go to the doc and get a thorough check up before he would sign off on my health for the year ahead. It has always been a hassle to get round to doing it but whether you want to run five km or a hundred and five km you cannot enter a race in this country without a certificate. Most other countries require just the entry fee and away you go, yet going through marathon death records I can't find any that have occurred in France. My view on the importance of this rule became even more galvanised when I was reading Runners World a few years back. An English guy had written a letter describing the process of applying for the Paris Marathon and his annoyance at having to get clearance from his doctor before he could register. Faced with no other option he reluctantly made an appointment with his doc and had his medical check. Turns out the doc found a rhythmic error in his heart and told him in no uncertain terms that had he run a marathon with he would have died. After a treatment of medication and learning more about his condition he was able to lead a full life and did run his marathon in the end, he was a success story, not just another statistic. I think it is not unrealistic to ask for an across the board rule for all marathon and running events to adhere to this simple but very effective concept. It may seem like a hassle to have to pay a doctor and take time out of a busy schedule just to get to the start line, but, when you consider the possible unknown alternatives, it could be the investment of a lifetime.