2 runners die at end of Philly marathon

Chris Togneri
| Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

Two runners died on Sunday in the Philadelphia Marathon, where unseasonably warm and humid conditions made the grueling 26.2-mile event even more difficult.

"It was warmer than it should have been," said Kevin Smith, owner of Elite Runners and Walkers in Robinson, who organized an outing to the marathon for 34 local runners. "A lot of runners were going down at the finish line. A lot. The heat took its toll."

Temperatures were in the low 60s at the end of the race, about 10 degrees above normal.

Race officials did not release the victims' names pending family notification.

"We are deeply saddened, and our thoughts are with their families and friends," Melanie Johnson, executive director of The Philadelphia Marathon Race Weekend, said in a statement.

Officer Jillian Russell, a police spokeswoman, said a 21-year-old man collapsed at the finish line on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and a 40-year-old man collapsed about a quarter-mile before the finish line.

Russell said both were taken to nearby Hahnemann University Hospital, where they were pronounced dead of apparent heart attacks.

Smith saw the 21-year-year old collapse.

"I didn't realize he'd died until later," he said last night by cell phone as he and the group rode a bus back to Pittsburgh.

"We advised our runners to listen to their bodies (and) definitely go out slower for the first half," he said. "Especially under the conditions, you are pushing your body beyond what you normally do."

More than 25,000 runners participated in the marathon.

Anyone can sign up, and sometimes people who do not train properly get into trouble during the endurance test, Smith said.

"With a race of that size, you get a lot of new runners that maybe have never run a race and don't understand the stresses on the body," he said.

Philadelphia race organizers had many emergency services personnel at the finish line, and they acted quickly when a runner needed help, he said.

Kate Hrach, 41, an emergency medicine doctor at UPMC Passavant in McCandless, ran her first marathon yesterday. She paid close attention to hydration and indicators of heat- and fatigue-related stress.

"As a doctor, I understand the stress on the body the marathon causes," she said. "There's no screening of people to see who's fit. I see a lot of older runners, people overdoing it on the course."

Dave Hufnagel, 24, of Finleyville said he "didn't push it too hard" in running his first marathon.

"It's really sad they died," he said. "Everybody who does this stuff, they're all great people. I'm sure they had family out there watching. It's just devastating. I couldn't imagine it."

Moon native Samantha Howard, a former Duquesne University runner, finished fifth among women at 2:45:45, good enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

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