warrior dash, heat stroke, and death

A few days ago (last Sunday), a local man died from complications related to heat stroke after participating in the Warrior Dash here in Kansas City.

Yesterday, the local news stations interviewed his family, who were understandably upset and questioned why the race had not been cancelled.

His death was, without a doubt, tragic. But this situation doesn’t quite add up.

I am not denying that the Warrior Dash was a tough race. I even have a friend who ran that race. It was hot and it was hard work, and I totally respect everyone who completed that race.

But at what point does the health of the runners become the race’s responsibility? Where do we draw the line?

I’ve run races in the heat before. There was the Hospital Hill half marathon and the Rock the Crossroads 5k. I worked hard during all of my races to stay hydrated. I drank lots of water. I knew I had to place my health ahead of everything else.

There were water sprinklers at Hospital Hill, and I absolutely appreciated those. At the same time, I got a monster blister on my foot due to my wet socks and shoes. I understand why a person might choose to avoid those sprinklers (and subsequent blisters). The race can’t force a runner to run beneath the sprinklers- there are valid arguments either way.

The goal of a race is to push yourself and push your body. If the race forces runners to stop and have their temperature taken at every aid station, runners would be angry and fewer people would sign up. Not to mention the additional logistical challenges!

If the race is cancelled due to the heat or any other reason, the race loses money. Runners will demand refunds. Not to mention it will hurt the race in future years, when runners irritated by the cancellation won’t sign up.

Ultimately, once the race has provided adequate opportunities for hydration and medics to care for any medical problems, they have to trust that the runners will take care of themselves, including adequately hydrating and dnf’ing if their bodies are unable to handle it.

I feel bad for the family of this individual who died at the Warrior Dash, but with so many people who finished the race successfully, I can’t help but wonder what other variables affected him. I suspect he may have been drinking and thus, dehydrated prior to the race. Either way, ultimately I believe the fault does not lie with the race.