Don't Blame Philadelphia Marathon Deaths on the Race

marathonPrepare for the hue and cry. The deaths of two runners at the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday are already drawing out the inevitable "ZOMG, marathons are so dangerous, we must stop people from putting one foot in front of the other in fast succession over 26+ miles right NOW!" It's a predictable response to tragedy. But predictability doesn't make for a well-thought out argument.

That lives were lost in Philadelphia this weekend -- 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania senior Jeffrey Lee at the finish line, a 40-year-old man about a quarter mile before the race's end -- is tragic, for sure. But let's be clear about one thing.


These men chose to get up on Sunday morning, tie on their running shoes, and tackle one of the meanest feats a human can master. They chose the marathon; it didn't choose them. They died -- both of apparent heart attacks -- doing something that they enjoyed. For them, this wasn't about danger. It was about choice.

How many of us will be able to say that when our time comes?

I didn't talk to either of these men before the marathon. I don't know their stories. But I can only imagine they were pumped up that morning. Why else would they have signed up for a grueling 26.2-mile run on a Sunday morning in what is usually a chilly Pennsylvania city? People don't run marathons because they think it will be a walk in the park. They run marathons because there is something inside driving them to test their body's limits.

I ask again: how many of us can say we have that kind of chutzpah?

Not me. I'd like to say I'm totally kick ass. But I would never run a marathon. I'm too sedentary. Too enamored with the feel of my pillow beneath me in the early hours when most runners are out training. Too uncomfortable with my own body.

I'm in awe of people who do because of what it says about them. They don't sit on their couch dreaming. They burst out the front door, ready to take on anything.

I feel for the families of Jeffrey Lee and this other, as yet unidentified (at least in my scouring of the Internet) man. I really do. To lose a loved one is never easy, and to lose someone just as we go into the holiday season, well, it's heartbreaking.

But bashing on the marathon won't bring these guys back. And frankly, it's unfair to the thousands of people every year who train hard for a marathon, with full knowledge of what they're getting into. These people know there are risks. But they want to do this. And it's their choice!

Marathons may be dangerous, but as people we have the right to take risks with our bodies. The question is whether we have the courage.


Image via Phil Roeder/Flickr

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