It was the death heard ’round the running world. In July 1984; acclaimed author and running guru Jim Fixx died of a heart attack while trotting along a country road in Vermont. Overnight, a nascent global movement of asphalt athletes got a gut check Just because you run marathons does not mean you are safe from heart problems. Fast-forward 35 years and Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray is amplifying that message for marathoners; especially those who have coronary artery disease or a family history of it.
Being fit and healthy are not the same things. Six months ago; the lifelong competitor underwent open-heart triple bypass surgery after suffering chest pain and shortness of breath while running. As marathons, ultramarathons, mega mile trail races, and swim-bike-run triathlons continue to explode in popularity, doctors are re-prescribing some longstanding advice: Get a checkup first and talk with your primary care physician or cardiologist about the risks and benefits before hitting the road.

The aerobic exercise

“Aerobic exercise such as running, brisk walking, cycling, and swimming is to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and certain types of cancer, and it is a key way to fight obesity, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and more. Studies have shown those who exercise regularly are more likely to survive a heart attack and recover more quickly than couch potatoes. But new research is providing a more nuanced look at “extreme exercise” and the pros and cons of running long.

They measured substances that can signal stress and found higher levels in runners who covered the classic 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) marathon distance compared with those who raced shorter distances such as a half-marathon or 10K. Running is good, and they want people to act. But your running does not make you invincible. “The bottom line is that individuals with a family history especially men who are older than 40 and those people who have symptoms they are oncerned about should have an informed decision with their health care provider before they run a marathon.”

“If you are going to take on strenuous exercise later in life, and especially if you have active heart disease; it is clearly in your interest to be tested and make sure you can handle it,” says Dr. William Roberts, a fellow and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. McGillivray says his doctor has cleared him for Monday’s 123rd running of the Boston Marathon, which he’ll run at night after the iconic race supervises is in the books.

The died of cardiomyopathy

It will be his 47th consecutive Boston, and this time, he is trying to raise $100,000 for a foundation established in memory of a little boy who died of cardiomyopathy an enlarging and thickening of the heart muscle. In this Aug. 23, 2018 file photo, Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon, runs past fans inside Fenway Park, as they commemorate the last leg of his 80-day run in 1978 to benefit the Jimmy Fund; before a baseball game in Boston.
A few months later, McGillivray underwent triple bypass surgery after suffering chest discomfort and difficulty breathing while running. He is cautioning people thinking of running a marathon to talk with their doctors before hitting the road; especially if they have coronary artery disease or a family history of it. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Heartbreak Hill will have special meaning this year. “My new mission is to create awareness; If you feel something, do something. “You have to act. You might not get a second chance.”