Death at the finishing line of StanChart marathon

From ’21 year old dies after StanChart half-marathon’, 4 Dec 2011, article by Jeanette Tan in Sgyahoo news.

A young man died after competing in the Standard Chartered (StanChart) half-marathon in Singapore on Sunday morning. According to a statement from the StanChart marathon organising committee, the Chinese runner, whom they declined to identify, was 21 years old, and had collapsed after finishing the 21km race at the Padang at about 8:30am.

He was attended to immediately and sent to Singapore General Hospital (SGH), where he died an hour after he collapsed.

With 65000 runners stampeding the city area, some casualties would be expected, but something has to give when otherwise healthy individuals collapse after completing punishing distances and die even when attended to immediately. Ironically, such a fatal outcome is in accordance to what legend says of the first marathon ever run in Athens. In 490 BC, a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran from the town of Marathon to Athens, a distance of 24 miles, or 38km (close to a FULL marathon), delivered the momentous message ‘Victory!’,  then collapsed and died. As much as completing a race comes with the addictive rush of conquest and satisfaction, under no circumstances should marathons end up as Greek-tragedy martyrdoms.

In 2007, a 25 year old army captain Ho Si Qiu perished after completing the same distance in the Singapore Bay Run, or Army Half-Marathon, collapsing at the finish line around 7 am.  Resuscitative measures were administered immediately but Ho still died about half an hour later. More than a decade earlier in 1986, veteran runner Tan Bok Lim, 52, collapsed of  heart attack at the 21 km mark as well, eerily around the same time as the latest StanChart victim, 8.30 am. He was given CPR by doctors who happened to be in the race as well, but to no avail. Wouldn’t it be a safer bet if these people just looped a dozen times around Singapore General Hospital instead, considering that zapping their chests with defibrillators in this instance merely delayed the inevitable?

The risk of dying from a strenuous long-distance run is still pretty rare. You’re probably more likely to be trampled to death at a Natas travel fair or IT show.  The jury is out as to what is it exactly about prolonged exercise that puts the heart out of commission. But aside from the masochistic pleasure of physical abuse, these runners were also pressured to excel in their race, which could add to existing cardiac stress.  You see similar deaths occurring outside marathons in a ‘rite of passage’ that is the bane of NSmen everywhere, the treacherous IPPT 2.4km walk/run.

Earlier this year, an SAF regular died at the halfway mark of the 2.4 km run during his IPPT. In the 2000s there have been at least 3 reported cases of army personnel dying after the same event. In rare cases, you don’t even need to run to collapse; in 2008, a recruit collapsed after doing chin-ups. Before the lethal IPPT, fitness tests were already killing NSmen. In 1978, a private with an existing cardiac infection died during a 10km run (though we should be thankful we don’t run such distances anymore). So here’s a chilling fact, you’re more likely to die from an IPPT test than a 21 km half-marathon, and in most cases without even a Bronze award  as a legacy of your sacrificial efforts.

Death is no joking matter of course, but here’s an unfortunate headline taken from the Ns.sg blog on the StanChart months before the event: ‘Never say die in the marathon this December’. It’s likely that a ‘never-say-die’ attitude is partly responsible for this marathoner’s death here.  People who genuinely ‘feel like dying’ during the run MUST be taken out of the race altogether for their own safety, instead of soldiering on as if the fate of the world depended on it.  In the wake of this terrible incident, organisers and the medical circle should all work towards ‘Never die in a marathon’ instead.

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