I was a junior in high school and at the peak of my obsession with running when I learned of the tragedy that took place in New York City at the New York City Marathon. The young, seemingly healthy and elite runner Ryan Shay had passed away.
He wasn’t the best runner in the field, but he was certainly a professional. Running is what he did, day-in and day-out. His wife Alicia was also a runner. The marathon was nothing new to him. No one suspected anything to happen.
Yet somewhere around the 5.5 mile mark, Shay collapsed. He was announced dead not long after at the hospital. Doctors initially ruled it a massive heart attack. The final autopsy report said: “Cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiac hypertrophy with patchy fibrosis of undetermined etiology. Natural causes.” Basically that means he had an irregular heartbeat due to an enlarged, thickened heart, of which the cause for is unknown.
But that doesn’t explain why a 28-year-old, whose life was built upon track workouts and an acute attention to health would suddenly die. Was his heart only a ticking time bomb and the marathon set it off? It doesn’t make sense.
Which is the same thought that comes to mind when we learned that William Caviness, a seasoned marathoner and firefighter raising money for burn victims, collapsed 500 yards short of the Chicago Marathon finish line. And just like Shay, he didn’t make it. The autopsy report was inconclusive. And yet again, we are boggled.
I don’t mean to write about this to scare people away from running. I don’t think it’s usual that a perfectly fit person dies from participating in the sport, unless it was a mistake on the runner’s behalf, such as improper hydration while running in extreme heat. I haven’t done the research or the math, but I’m guessing that if you listen to your body and do what you need to do, your chances of death are pretty low. But tragedies happen.
I write this because I think sometimes as runners we see ourselves as invincible…at least, I know I do. Through all the miles and pains we endure, we start believing that we can overcome anything. We take on new challenges. We up our mileage. We change the intensity setting on our Smart Coach workout from “medium” to “hard.” We push ourselves to, literally, go the extra mile.
And these things are good. It’s what’s running is all about. Not just the times and bragging rights, but…well, I think Pre says it best:
“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Pre
But I think it’s also important to appreciate running for what it is. So often do I find myself, and several of my running friends, getting caught up in the competition. I’ve had friends give me tissues to wipe away the frustration of a missed PR and I’ve been the one to offer a hug after a bad race. It’s hard not to focus on trying to get better, to meet our goals. The disappointment that follows is only natural.
But it would a tragedy to forget the true passion behind all those frustrations. Running is a gift that unfortunately not everyone is granted. So appreciate it. Embrace it. Don’t forget it. Pre’s motto was “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” It’s a great motto and I love it. But I think sacrificing the gift would be to forget the love you have for it in the first place.
This blog isn’t completely sad though. To end on a happy note, one woman ran/walked the marathon and then received a gift of her own: she gave birth to her daughter only a few hours later! So when you’re out there huffing and puffing and thinking “what the hell have I gotten myself into,” just think about doing that with an extra 8 pounds curving out on your stomach. Yeah, that’s badass.