The death of a 32-year-old runner in Saturday’s Brooklyn Half Marathon underscores the threat posed by underlying medical conditions, especially when the body is forced to adjust to high temperatures and extreme conditions.
The man reportedly collapsed only minutes after finishing the 13.1-mile marathon, and was then brought to a nearby hospital where he died. The temperatures in New York on Saturday were suddenly and unseasonably warm, with the humidity hovering at 83 percent.
While no specific cause has been linked to the Manhattan behavioral health therapist’s death, Brett Nowlan, MD, a cardiologist with the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute, said a heart attack at the age of 32 is “pretty rare but not unheard of.”
Other cases of young athletes collapsing during play, he explained, are typically linked to underlying conditions like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or anomalous cardiac arteries, which are a genetic abnormality. But this runner, who seemed otherwise healthy, Dr. Nowlan continued, could have something like an undetected genetic condition that causes plaque to develop and build up in the arteries.
“You don’t know you have it, and no one checks for it because you’re young and otherwise healthy,” Dr. Nowlan said.
Searing heat, such as the region experienced over the weekend, can always exacerbate a variety health conditions, including those people are not aware they carry.
“Depending on the underlying condition, (the heat) can be a struggle. It affects the whole body – your blood becomes more viscous because you’re dehydrated and your body is busy coping with the heat,” Dr. Nowlan said.
Dedicated runners can follow these tips to head out during spells of intense heat:
- Carry fluids.
- Wear light clothing made of fabrics that wicks the moisture away from your body.
- Try to tackle a shady route if possible.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Run early in the day or in the evening when the sun is lower in the sky.
- Take walk breaks.
- Wear a hat.
- Take it slow.