When you blame, you be lame

The Tel Aviv Marathon was scheduled for last Friday (March 15, 2013), but the main 42km event was postponed due to an unseasonable 35 degree Celcius heatwave which swept the country that day. Unfortunately the marathon itself has now been cancelled altogether due to a tragic death and dozens of injuries during the events which went ahead, including the 21km half marathon, and volleys of subsequent accusations levelled back and forth.

In response to the weather predictions, the Tel Aviv Municipality decided earlier in the week to postpone the main event, and to start the other races earlier than planned so as to miss the heat of the day. I started running in the 10km just after 7am and took the race pretty easy, and while it was hot I can honestly say that it wasn’t that bad. There were plenty of extra water stations, hoses literally watering down runners, and tips before the race on how to deal with the expected heat.

And yet despite all efforts, one person died (supposedly from heat stroke but the family decided against an autopsy) and some 80 people required medical attention.

It took no time at all for accusations started flying, from media and citizens alike. Against the Tel Aviv Municipality, the mayor, the Health Ministry – you  name it, someone blamed it. The question is – what does it help? It’s tragic that someone died, sure, but unfortunately – people die. They die in marathons, they die in car accidents, they die old and young, expected and suddenly. The death of a young father is a tragedy, no ifs or buts about it; in no way, shape or form do I wish to diminish that fact. I just question what purpose all of the blame surrounding this tragedy serves.

Growing up there was a well-known phrase about assumptions: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me” (ass+u+me = assume). Last week, as fingers were being pointed left, right and center before I’d even passed the finish line, a revision came to mind: When you blame, you be lame (b+lame = lame).

In Facebook posts and news articles, radio talk shows and countless personal conversations, people tried to find the authority to blame. Others turned the other direction entirely and pointed the finger at the casualties themselves, claiming they were obviously pushing themselves too hard or (as may well have been the case) didn’t know their own limits. Whichever way the accusations go, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, shit happens.

And, as it happens, deaths in marathon running are not as much of an anomaly as Israelis this past week would have you believe. A 30-year-old woman died running a London marathon earlier this year, a man collapsed and died on the finish line of the 2012 Mexico City marathon, and there were three deaths in as many Canadian marathons in 2011. Some likely didn’t train properly or pushed themselves too hard, others were found to have taken (legal) performance-enhancing stimulants. Though Israelis like to think they’re special, when it comes down to it we’re all the same.

But that’s not to say marathons are inherently dangerous; the benefits decidedly outweigh the risks. In the months leading up the events I saw hundreds of people training around the city. Fit people and overweight people alike, young and old, male and female – all taking the opportunity to challenge their minds and their bodies in a pretty damn healthy way. I have no statistics to quote but I’m willing to bet that many of them will keep running after the race (or the non-event, as the case may be). Again – it’s a terrible shame that one person had to die, but the societal gain seems worth it.

In fact, a retrospective analysis conducted in 2007 found that contrary to impressions given by the news media, marathons are not even responsible for an increase in deaths compared to those that would have occurred on the roads had they not been closed for such events. Rather, the risk of death was found to have decreased by 35%. Health gains aside, societies are benefiting merely by closing roads to hold these events.

No doubt, the authorities should conduct a proper investigation into whether or not anything could have been done to prevent the fatality and injuries. However, the bottom line is that tens of thousands of people made efforts towards their health in previous months, and will likely continue to do so. It is horrible that one person had to die, but the benefits far outweigh the risks, and people should keep that in mind before jumping to point fingers.

When you blame, you be lame.


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