December 16, 2007

Exploring the Dangers of Running

Today’s post is going to be a bit more serious than usual. Diet Blog had an article today called Why Do Healthy Athletes Die of Heart Attacks? This is a topic that’s a bit hard-hitting for me. I’m sure a lot of you in the running community heard about the guy who died at the Chicago Marathon (due to heat stroke, I believe). If you were really watching the news, you would have heard that another runner died the same day during the Army Ten Miler in Washington, DC. That runner was my friend and former co-worker, Mike Banner.

I hadn’t talked to Mike in a few years, but he was always in great shape when I knew him. He wasn’t overweight or anything, and while I don’t know his running habits, a 10 mile race shouldn’t have been that difficult for him. At the time, reports surmised that like the Chicago marathon, it must have been a lack of water on the course.

This was a bit scary to me, because I can be really bad about drinking water while I run. In races where there are water stations, I usually take a cup at each one – but it makes me feel a bit nauseous when I drink it. According to an article about hydration while running an endurance race, that’s definitely not a good thing. It specifically says, “drink less if you begin to get a queasy, sloshy feeling in your stomach.” When I’m running on my own for training, however, I rarely carry a water bottle. Now the furthest I’ve ever run in a non-race scenario is 8.3 miles (last week! Yay!), but that’s still longer than I should really be going without a drink. I feel good running without water, but I always guzzle it down when I get home, which still could cause hyponatremia (basically, the opposite of being dehydrated: it means you’re overhydrated).

So how much should you drink? Old reports used to give you a set number of ounces per hour or per mile, but those were found to be inaccurate because each person is different (I hate when they say that and don’t just give an easy answer!). The new guidelines from USATF tell you to weigh yourself before and after a workout – any weight difference is your unique “sweat rate.” You want to drink sixteen ounces of fluid for every pound you lose, so once you’ve figured out your sweat rate, you can calculate it to a per hour or per mile or whatever rate you want. This sounds like a great idea, and one I’ll definitely try next time I go for a good workout.

So after all that about water and dehydration… newer reports showed that Mike actually had a very rare heart condition that was the cause of death. His arteries were severely clogged due to a heart disease that’s very rare in people our age, and much more common among the elderly. We don’t know if Mike knew he had this disease or if he was unaware. My (completely uneducated) guess is the latter. I mean, if you’re a twenty-something, you’re probably not even thinking about heart disease or tests for it or anything like that. At least, I know I’m not. Ryan Shay, the 28 year old elite distance runner who died running the U.S. men’s marathon Olympic Trials, had an enlarged heart that helped him to excel at running, but ultimately killed him. He knew about it – presumably because he was such a great athlete and did so much running that he had been thoroughly checked. But how many young, generally healthy amateur runners do that?

I know they say so many places (or at least on my fitness DVDs) that you should see a doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program. I always just assumed that was really aimed at older people or extremely overweight people who were starting from a completely sedentary lifestyle, and also that it was meant to just be a CYA (Cover Your A**) move for the producers of the DVDs. But the more I hear, the more nervous I get. Is what I’m doing safe? I don’t have a nutritionist or a personal trainer. (Actually, I don’t even have an official doctor right now, since I still haven’t bothered to find one yet since moving to NYC – I should really get on that). Everything I’ve done to change my diet and change my exercise plan is just based on things I’ve read and what I think feels “right.” I don’t go over the top. Until I started calorie counting about a month ago, I didn’t even really track what I ate or limit certain things: I just ate what I considered reasonably healthy (limited fatty foods, cooked a lot and didn’t eat processed, etc). But maybe it’s time I got things checked out to be sure I’m good to go.

Have you gotten a full physical screening from a doctor before exercising? Do you check your diet and exercise plans with them? Or do you just do what feels healthy to you? I’m interested to hear.


3 thoughts on “Exploring the Dangers of Running”

  1. Hey Laura, this is a great Food For Thought. I am just like you, I always thought those warnings were just CYA. Thanks for sharing. And thanks for commenting on my new blog! I appreciate the support! -Ana Lee (

  2. Very interesting topic. Let’s just say until I passed out on the Chicago Marathon course due to extreme heat and dehydratoion this year and ended up being hospitalized for nearly 2 days I didn’t have a PCP. Now I do. I consider myself in decent shape and drink water all day, everyday so it is so crazy how that can happen in the wrong conditions.

    And you should definitely take a water bottle on the run with you – anything over an hour especially!

  3. Jamie – I’ve been reading your blog though and loved your Dallas race report; was glad to see you more than made up for Chicago. Congrats on your 2nd first marathon!

    Sometimes I get concerned about drinking TOO much when I’m not running. I usually hit my eight glasses of water by 1 PM or so every day, though I eat a fairly low sodium diet so it’s probably more important to keep drinking. I will try to start taking one on runs though.

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