In the wake of two deaths at the New York City Triathlon earlier this month -- one of which was a 40-year-old Elmhurst woman -- safety remains of chief concern to race organizers.
The risk of death for triathlon participants is 2-4x that of marathon runners, according to a 2009 study, with nearly all triathlon deaths occurring during the swimming portion of the race. From 2006-2008, 14 people died during triathlons. Seven of the nine who had autopsies died from cardiovascular abnormalities.
Dr. Justin Levisay, a clinical cardiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem who has extensive experience working with athletes, joined us to talk about the do's and don'ts of triathlon and marathon training and racing.
- Dos and Don'ts:
- Athletes think that because they exercise and are fit, that they are immune. Nobody is immune. Everybody needs to be aware of the risks.
- Athletes must be in tune with their body, aware of any changes and looking out for things out of the ordinary. Any time you have a decrease in exercise tolerance, shortness of breath, have quick pains or chest pain, one should seek medical attention.
- Triathletes haven't always trained in the systems, and that can lead to unwelcome reactions. Most swimmers train in pools. The lake swim brings an added element of danger. Cold water constricts blood vessels, making the heart work harder and aggravating any pre-existing problems. It also can trigger an irregular heartbeat. On top of this temperature shock is the stress of competition.
- Risks of heart problems are much more severe for the inactive, though still present for those who exercise. Although 30 percent of couch potatoes suffer from heart issues, 7 percent of athletes still suffer from cardiovascular problems.
- Race organizers help prevent illness and death by anticipating elements like extreme heat and supplying water and defibrillators along the course.