What Came First – The Marathon or Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Pheidippides WAS the first. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the last. Who’s this guy, you ask? He was the first person to complete a marathon. At the time, it wasn’t called that – the name was born out of his story.  Pheidippides, a soldier, ran from a battlefield in Marathon to Athens to announce a battle victory. He traveled 26.2 miles. Upon arrival, he dropped dead.


According to a cursory Google search, three runners this year collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest after a running event:  Naperville Half Marathon, the Rock n’ Roll Savannah Marathon, and the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. There are probably more.

In Philadelphia, we just witnessed another well attended and highly successful marathon. I can’t imagine how much planning goes into these events: logistics, safety, hospitality and more. Leading up to the event, we read about one of the biggest concerns – a terrorist attack. What was our city going to do to protect runners and spectators from danger?

I think we were focused on the wrong conversation, and I’m pretty sure that Pheidippides would agree.  The Boston Marathon bombing was horrific. It killed three runners and wounded over 100. It tarnished an iconic event and shattered our sense of security.

However, I wanted to hear a discussion about sudden cardiac arrest because two years ago, two runners dropped dead at this very marathon. Yes, in this city, and in every other city around the country, the risk of losing runners to sudden cardiac arrest is greater than in a terrorist attack.

We could have benefitted from a news story about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest or the locations of AED devices. We could have also benefitted from the investment. New York doubled the security around its recent marathon to $1M. That could pay for a lot of AED devices or heart screenings.

It seems like we only need to look at history to determine that the heart is a bigger threat to runners than terrorists. By the way, the sudden cardiac arrest is the #1 cause of death of adults in this country so the benefit of investing in these safety measures goes way beyond the race. I’m not sure the same applies to race day counter-terrorism efforts.

Of course, there’s a good chance that the race organizers and city officials will ignore history in favor of sensationalism. Nothing motivates people more than a boogie man or a bombing. Therefore, I propose another change too. From here on out, SCA will stand for sudden cardiac Al-Qaeda.