Wake County

Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon’s route changes unrelated to deaths

Runners head down Salisbury Street during the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon & Half Marathon in 2014.
Runners head down Salisbury Street during the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon & Half Marathon in 2014. tlong@newsobserver.com

Organizers of the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and half-marathon made some changes to the route runners will follow in Sunday’s event, but stayed the course on safety and medical preparations despite the deaths last year of two participants.

Last year – the first time the Rock ‘n’ Roll series came to Raleigh – two runners collapsed near the end of the half-marathon and died. An autopsy report indicated Derrick Myers, 35, of Raleigh, likely had an undiagnosed heart problem that made him susceptible to developing a fatal heart rhythm disturbance under the stress of sustained exertion. No autopsy report has been released on Jason Schlosser, 31, of High Point, who also died.

Fellow runners stopped to help each man when he fell, and witnesses reported that emergency medical workers reached each in less than two minutes and began rescue efforts.

Dan Cruz, spokesman for Competitor Group Inc., the San Diego-based media and entertainment company that launched the Rock ‘n’ Roll series in 1998, said a combination of volunteer and paid physicians and emergency response teams will be stationed at one-mile intervals along the 26.2-mile race route, as they were last year.

“Our goal is to make the race course the safest place to be in the community on Sunday morning,” Cruz said. As it does in other cities, he said, Rock ‘n’ Roll hires off-duty medical crews to work the race so that if there is an emergency, resources are not stripped from other parts of the city where they might be needed.

Brandon Jackson, medical manager for the event, said organizers at a command center will monitor emergency calls and can dispatch additional help to any point along the race route as needed.

Researchers say that running as part of a regular fitness program helps reduce the likelihood of a heart attack overall, but that it can increase the likelihood during the run itself. Studies of runner deaths during marathons and half-marathons have found that while the deaths are highly publicized, they are extremely rare. One report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, found the rate of sudden death during such events in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010 was 1 per 259,000 participants.

At least 12 of those have happened since 2005 at Rock ‘n’ Roll races, which are wildly popular.

Postcard route

While the Raleigh half-marathon route is essentially unchanged from last year, marathoners will be redirected from the Reedy Creed and Edward Mill roads section because of complaints about too many hills in the 2014 race. As a bonus, Cruz said, the new route is even more scenic than the first year’s.

“We’ve really put together a postcard route that shows off Raleigh in the best possible way,” Cruz said. Highlights include the Governor’s Mansion and the Oakwood neighborhood near downtown, the globe at the Museum of Natural History, the Meredith College Campus, N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus and Lake Johnson.

Organizers had hoped to draw at least 7,500 runners for the 2014 race, and some 12,500 registered. This year, about 8,500 had signed up by the end of the week.

Out-of-town runners

Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, who helped bring the race to town, said it’s normal to see large numbers for the first year of an event and then a drop the second year before attendance stabilizes. He said he did not think registration fell because of concerns over the two deaths in 2014, because most runners would see the deaths as a tragic anomaly.

The event is a major tourism draw, with about 60 percent of runners coming from out of town, and most of those renting a motel room for at least one night. Runners are registered for this year’s event from all 50 states and 10 foreign countries, Dupree said.

About 20 percent of participants will be running their first marathon or half-marathon, Cruz said.

As with other races across the country, runners in the Rock ‘n’ Roll event are not screened for medical issues, though when they register, they are asked to provide medical information. That’s stored electronically and race staff can get immediate access to it if a runner gets into a medical emergency, Cruz said.

His company has hired medical staff from WakeMed to work at the race, along with Wake County EMS.

Respecting limits

Jeffrey Hammerstein, district chief of Wake County EMS, who will be working at the race, said medical teams will be at aid stations along the route. There also will be teams with ambulances, and teams on foot, bike and in motorized carts.

Hammerstein said he knows of no changes in cardiac care protocols over the past year that would apply to the kind of catastrophic events the two runners are believed to have experienced during last year’s race. The best way to prevent such deaths, he said, may be for runners to respect their limits.

“There are the obvious things, preparing yourself through training, and hydrating,” he said. “But more than anything, I would say listen to your body. We know ourselves very well. If your body is telling you you’re overdoing, you’ve gotta listen. Maybe slow your pace, or slow to a walk, or sit down.

“But if your body is telling you you’re not going to make it, listen before it goes any further.”

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