Tuesday, March 21, 2006

More on LA Marathon fatalities

Excerpts from today's Los Angeles Times. The complete story. This doesn't make me feel any better about running my first marathon on Saturday ....

Marathoners' Deaths Stun Friends

By Lisa Richardson and Michelle Keller

Friends and co-workers said Monday they were stunned by the deaths of two Los Angeles Marathon runners, the first fatalities in 16 years in the annual race that draws more than 20,000 participants and whose only qualification is a desire to participate.

Retired Sheriff's Deputy James Leone, 60, who may have suffered from cardiovascular disease, collapsed three miles into Sunday's 26-mile race, and Los Angeles Police Det. Raul Reyna, 53, whom friends described as being in good physical condition, had a heart attack two miles from the finish line, officials said. The exact cause of death for both men is still pending.

"For everybody here, [Leone's] death comes as a shock," said Sheriff's Lt. Tim Murakami, who worked at the department's city of Industry station with the former deputy. "When a guy does his time and retires — he paid his dues in the line of fire — you wish him a long life. It's sad when that's kind of cut short."

Capt. Jim Voge, Reyna's commanding officer, said he rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital after receiving a call about his colleague but arrived too late.

Voge said Reyna, who investigated officer-involved shootings, had recently lost a few pounds and talked about how he was preparing for the marathon.

"He was always in good shape and I wanted to know what his secret was," Voge said. "This was not something he undertook haphazardly."

The only other known death during the Los Angeles Marathon came in 1990, when a 59-year-old Altadena man under a doctor's care for hypertension suffered a heart attack.

Unlike the elite Boston Marathon, where entrants must qualify by time in a previous marathon, Los Angeles, like New York, has no requirements to prove readiness. Entrants can register to participate up to the day before the race, and typically 4,000 to 5,000 jump in at the last moment.

Experts said the deaths of the two officers are a reminder of the basic precautions one should take, particularly those over 35, before engaging in long-distance running or other strenuous workouts. For example, participants should be aware of their family's health history, especially if there is evidence of heart disease, and should have seen a doctor recently, they said.

"When you look at the age of the victim, if they're over 35, the underlying heart disease is almost always hardening of the arteries," said Dr. Steven Van Camp, the head of UCI Medical Center's sports cardiology program. "We know that's the culprit in 90-plus-percent of the victims who died when they're running."

Studies have found that the risk of dying while running is low — an estimated one sudden death per 1.5 million episodes of physical activity. [emphasis mine]

And only one in 20 heart attacks is associated with exertion, according to a 2003 article published by Dr. Benjamin Ebert, a physician and scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The risk of a heart attack or cardiac arrest while exercising is highest in people with an existing heart condition.

The most famous case of "sudden death during exercise," as the phenomenon is known, is that of running guru Jim Fixx, who died during his regular 10-mile trek at age 52, in 1984. An autopsy showed he had severe coronary artery disease. He also had hereditary predisposition; his father died at an early age of heart disease.

Other primary known risk factors for cardiovascular disease include older age, high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels and a history of smoking.

Running itself, Van Camp said, is not necessarily to blame. [emphasis mine]

"In general, exercise is beneficial for people, and it has been shown to decrease heart disease risks," he said. "But during vigorous exercise there is an increase in risk…."

Dr. Rudra Sabaratnam, medical commissioner for the Los Angeles Marathon, said deaths of any runners during a marathon were "a fairly rare occurrence."


  1. Of course it is a terrible tragedy what happend to these two gentlemen and thier families.
    That aside, both cops, from what I can tell both friends. I wonder if there is more to the story then meets the eye here.....

  2. I've been thinking a bit about this over the last few days. I searched the LA Times and could not find the article about the people who died last Sunday while sitting on their couch drinking beer.

    You also have to wonder whether these guys actually lived longer than they might have because they were in better health. Your article doesn't mention it but one of these guys was running his 11th LA Marathon, and the other was also in excellent shape.

    Run strong in your marathon. You'll live a longer, healthier life.

  3. I've been in the game 30 years and I've seen this happen many times before. I've had my own episodes, just not fatal. Public reaction is always the same. Press coverage is always the same. Meanwhile the other 3,000,000 marathoners are doing just fine.

  4. Good luck on Saturday! The first marathon is so exciting. Can't wait to read your race report.

  5. I saw that it was shocking!

    Don't worry though - you'll be great. Can't wait for the report!

  6. Thanks for all of your support, guys. I'll need it! And Bob, Drew and Sumorunner, you're right - people always focus on the one or two tragedies during a marathon, but not all of the successes.