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By John Lundy, Published June 20 2010

Grandma's half-marathon runner dies

A runner who participated in Saturday’s Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon died after finishing the race, according to Grandma’s Marathon medical director Ben Nelson.

It was the first fatality in any event of the 34-year history of the marathon.

Marathon officials declined to release any information about the runner, including hometown or gender. Nelson said the runner was treated at the medical tent at the finish line, but declined to say whether the person was taken to a hospital.

“I feel that the medical care the patient was given was appropriate,” said Nelson, a sports medicine physician at SMDC Health System who was in his first year as the marathon’s medical director.

“I’m really sad that this happened,” Nelson said. “I feel horrible for the runner’s family. Grandma’s Marathon really wants to express our sincere sympathy for the family. Our thoughts and prayers go with them.”

Bob Gustafson, public relations director for the marathon, declined to comment, referring questions to Nelson.

Nelson confirmed that Grandma’s had never had a death among its participants in the past. One runner in a previous race went into cardiac arrest, but medical personnel were able to revive him.

Deaths are uncommon in long-distance running, but the event certainly carries a risk, even for seemingly healthy participants. Last October, three runners died while competing in a half-marathon in Detroit; all had appeared to be in good health and in great shape before the race, according to Associated Press reports. The Los Angeles Marathon has had three deaths during its 25-year history. The Twin Cities marathon has had two deaths in its 28-year history.

Nelson said the death rate for marathons is one in 50,000 participants. On Saturday, 5,631 people completed the marathon and 5,854 finished the half-marathon.

Overall, the number of runners requiring medical care on Saturday was down considerably from a year ago, when the combined temperature and humidity were high enough for race organizers to consider stopping the marathon for the first time in race history.

Nelson said 230 runners were treated at the medical tent, primarily for dehydration, muscle cramps and fatigue. Seven runners were sent to Duluth hospitals, four from the medical tent and three from the race course, none with serious problems, he said.

Last year, 577 runners were treated at the medical tent, compared with 379 in 2008 and 509 in 2007.

“The conditions were closer to ideal today and it was a manageable day in the medical tent,” Nelson said.

Steve Wannebo of the National Weather Service said the temperature in Two Harbors at 7:30 a.m. when the full marathon started was 63 and the dew point was 54, which is considered comfortable. At 1 p.m. in Canal Park, when a majority of runners were finished, the temperature was 68 and the dew point 55.


News Tribune sports writer Kevin Pates contributed to this report.