When Stephen Menezes, a 43-year-old runner and employee with Airtel, Mumbai, collapsed and succumbed to a heart attack after the ‘Run, India, Run-10K challenge’ in Borivali West, the news shocked the running community.
Stephen died on a Sunday, the 19th day in July, 2015. He was survived by his wife, Evona, and three children, Laurel, Audrey and Catriel. The eldest is fifteen.
My reaction to the report in the papers the following day was on the lines, “If this could happen to a seasoned runner like Menezes, this could happen to me or anyone else for that matter. This is terrible news both for runners and his family.”
(It is never easy to be calm or unemotional about people or events in which you are emotionally vested. Silence then does its turn.)
Stephen was a runner over the past five years. He was also a swimmer.
An investigating official said:
“Menezes had a blood pressure problem for the past 10 years.”
A neighbour said:
“He had run the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, the Vasai-Virar Marathon as well as the Mayor’s Marathon. Some of these were 21km long. He used to even go swimming and jogging to stay fit. We cannot accept that he is no more.”
Sandeep Figer, a friend, said:
“Menezes was a strict disciplinarian. He was particular about his health and diet.”
Neil Bronel, another friend, blamed the organisers for the delayed response.
“I am really sorry and disappointed to say it was one of the worst running events ever. The water stations were way too far. We faced the worst of the situation when one of us collapsed and there was nothing that could be done. No ambulance or medical aid was in place, which is a basic need for every run. One of our co-runners and a good family friend is no more with us due to the delay in medical help. We had to arrange to ferry him to the hospital ourselves.”
Maitri Porecha, reporting for DNA India, wrote:
“While permissions from the roads department of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the traffic police have to be obtained for a marathon, there is no rule that prescribes the local health department has to be consulted.
Experts say basic medication like Sorbitrate, a nitro-glycerine tablet that immediately expands blood vessels, should be mandatory in the first-aid kit, and it should be within easy reach of a patient during marathons.
Ambulances equipped with para-medical staff trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and equipment like Atrial Electronic Difibrillator (AED) should also be there.
In Italy, every marathon runner has to submit his/her latest electro cardiogram (ECG) report before attempting the run. In the US, event organisers have to be affiliated with the local Athletic Federation. The federation ensures certain level of quality, checks and balances.”
Venkat Raman, a senior city-based marathoner, said:
“In India, none of this is followed. Local groups should screen all runners for fitness and cardiac risk profiles before enrolling them. Organisers should keep everything ready so that there is no risk to life. Every organiser should be conscious of the fact that they are playing with the runners’ lives.”
At this year’s Mumbai marathon, almost 4000 participants needed medical attention.
That’s 10% of the total runners participating.
Most of the patients were dehydrated.
Dr. Vijay D’silva said:
“Oral dehydration, treatment for cramps, physiotherapy and nausea were the most-attended problems. Thirty runners were treated for intravenous rehydration therapy. The number of dehydrated runners has increased since last year.
Younger runners, too, faced problems this time. People are unaware of what goes on inside their body. We recommend a medical check-up and conditional training before running to all participants. A large number of people are over-confident and adventurous. They refrain from seeing a doctor before running. That is unadvisable.”
52-year-old Kirit Ganatra suffered a heart attack and after being resuscitated on the spot was rushed to Bombay Hospital.
Another runner, 27-year-old Ashish Malkar, suffered convulsions near the finish line and hit his head on the pavement. He was an epileptic.
Dr Ramakant Panda, Asian Heart Institute, said:
“If a person undertakes arduous activities like continuous running for hours, he can injure himself. Also, runners get excited as the finishing line nears and the level of excitement heightens suddenly, causing injuries.”
Inexperienced runners tend to finish races on a high note sprinting the last few hundred metres. As a runner, I would not advise this for the longer races (21K or more) especially if you are not accustomed to doing it in training.
A mild speeding up may be fine but not an outright sprint because the cardiovascular system is overloaded with the stress of the past one-and-a-half to three hours. It is best to maintain your pace and finish calm and cool. The extra seconds you gain on your finishing time or the photo-op are surely not worth the additional risk.