We're into the fall marathon season, and on Sunday that meant another victory for Kenya -- in this case, Daniel Rono in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Unfortunately, it also has come to mean time for another one of these sad stories -- a 41-year-old runner collapsed and died less than one kilometre from the finish of the half-marathon.
I don't know of any organization or website that collates marathon fatality statistics (if there is one, let me know and I'll post it at the bottom as an update). But there is no doubt they have become much more common in this age of larger fields, where more has brought in a whole new range of issues, not all of them particularly positive: Taking shortcuts in the name of getting a medal; Race bibs for sale (NYT subscription required) to the more high-profile, high-demand races; Experienced grumps upset that all these people have spoiled their cosy party. Walk into any running store, and among the GPS units and the hydration kits on offer, chances are there are marathon clinics that promise to get you to the finish line.
As Randy Starkman noted in the story linked earlier, the death of Martin Poyser marks the third year in a row someone has died in running at one of Toronto's two fall marathons (the second, the Toronto Marathon, goes two weeks from Sunday). And while this particular case may be just an example of the explanation thrown out by organizers -- the bigger numbers mean it's just the percentages catching up, running is actually quite safe, there's nothing we can do, etc. -- here's a case where someone actually suggests there are other factors involved:
Peter Donato of Toronto, a veteran race promoter who runs marathon clinics, said there are a lot of runners who overstep what should be their limits and those are the ones who usually get into trouble.
"Some just try to do too much too soon," he said. "If you look at where a lot of trouble happens, it's A-types who work 50 hours, don't eat too well and are egged on by their ego.
"I do a lot of talks and get a lot of questions and I just end up shaking my head thinking, 'You don't know what you're doing.' They don't take the proper approach. I don't think that's the sport's fault."
I have no idea what happened here (in the Sun's reports this morning, there's the suggestion that the runner had completed the full marathon last year.) But I do know this: Getting ready for a marathon requires a lot of time and commitment, including building a proper base before you get into an actual training programme. If you're contemplating running a race -- of any distance where you're going to be pushing yourself beyond your own limits -- consider a local running club instead of one of those shoe-store clinics, where you'll be surrounded by experienced runners more than willing to help you (and as a bonus, there's no suggestion you buy some shoes while you're there).
But most important of all: see your doctor first to find out if there are any pre-conditions that might increase the risk you're taking. Get a complete checkup.
Update (9-27): Martin Poyser, 41: Hair stylist travelled world.