Detroit Marathon Tragedy Raises Awareness


The tragic sudden deaths of three runners who participated in the Detroit Marathon on Sunday, October 18, follow just one week after the death of a marathon runner in the Baltimore Marathon. These and other sudden deaths due to sudden cardiac arrest are raising awareness of how this heart disease can affect people of any age, and even those who are apparently in otherwise healthy physical condition.

Although sudden cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death is not common among marathon and half-marathon runners, the seemingly recent increase in such deaths is drawing attention to the condition. In the 32nd Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon, weather was not believed to be a factor in the deaths, as the temperature at the start of the race was in the high 20s and rose only to the low 40s during the marathon. More than 19,000 people were registered for the race.

Two of the three Detroit marathon runners died during the race at about the 11- to 12-mile markers; Daniel Langdon, age 36, and Rick Brown, age 65. The third runner, 26-year-old Jon Fenion, collapsed after finishing the half-marathon. The last death at the Detroit Marathon event occurred in 1994 when a 42-year-old man died after completing more than 20 miles of the race.


According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association (SCA), about 325,000 people in the United States die of the condition each year. The overall survival rate is an extremely low 8 percent, because the condition involves an electrical disruption of the heart that prohibits the heart from circulating blood and oxygen to the body. Unless immediate medical attention is given, involving cardiopulmonary resuscitation and often use of a defibrillator as well, death is almost certain.

Known risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest include a previous heart attack or presence of coronary artery disease, a family history of sudden death or unexplained fainting, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.

Several other sudden cardiac deaths related to marathons and half-marathons have occurred in recent months. In April 2009, a 26-year-old man died during the Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon in Nashville. Two runners died as a result of the 2009 San Jose Rock ā€˜nā€™ Roll Half Marathon as well.

About every two minutes, one American dies of sudden cardiac arrest, according to the SCA. According to medical experts, sudden cardiac arrest is not a random event. Although it may occur in people who otherwise appear to be healthy, most victims have heart disease (undiagnosed/undetected) or other health problems. Knowing this, people who wish to engage in running, from going around the block to participation in grueling marathons and half-marathons, should have a thorough physical examination to determine whether there are any cardiovascular or other health conditions that could place them at risk for sudden cardiac death or other serious medical events.

Detroit Free Pres
Heart Rhythm Foundation
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association