Top contender Ryan Shay died yesterday at the U.S. Olympic Men’s Marathon trials in New York City. Shay was a 28 year-old elite athlete and collapsed about 9k into the central park course on a cool fall day perfect for running. I really don’t have much useful or meaningful to contribute to any conversation on the matter, but his death will certainly bring the question of whether running is a dangerous sport back into the spotlight (whatever spotlight running commands in the media, that is). I find the idea of collapsing mid-run to be terrifying – doubly so because when I run at least part of my thoughts are about how I’m happy to be doing something that’s good for me, not risky.
No runner can deny that running is a high-impact (bear with me, pose methodists and chi-runners) activity, and that it puts a physical strain on our bodies. The payoff is usually that for the 95% of our lives when we’re not running we’re in much better condition and considerably less stressed/strained. I fear we’ll hear some refrains of “remember Jim Fixx“, but Jim’s tale ought not be a cautionary one but a celebratory one. Fixx had advanced coronary artery disease and a cholesterol count of 250 at the time of his death (from genetic predisposition and 35 years worth of bad habits before he took up running). From what I’ve read, Ryan Shay also had a serious medical condition (enlarged heart) which put him at increased risk. I don’t write this to down-play the risks or say that Jim and Ryan were flying foolishly in the face of medical advice, but that for 99.9% of runners running will add years to our lives, not take them away. The handful of ‘poster children’ for the risks of running should have positive voices or at least be heard in a healthy balance with the risks of inactivity (heart disease and stroke are the #1 killers in North America and Europe).