People sometimes die during long distances races – marathons, half marathons. It’s sad and scary. It makes headlines – validate the decision of non-runners not to run and makes runners take pause. I used to assume that these poor runners had underlying problems that put them at risk. But recently it seems like there have been more sudden deaths among otherwise healthy and young runners. These runners are in the headlines more and more… or I’ve become hyper-aware since joining the long distance running crowd – either way, the news certainly does give me (and all runners) something to ponder.
A recent review by the IMMDA (International Marathon Medical Directors) indicates there might be a culprit in our morning drinks, sports gels and energy beverages: caffeine.
The cases include the following:
- A 33-year-old male running a half-marathon dropped at the 12-mile mark, at 3:10 into his race. The morning of the race, he had drunk two energy drinks and a Starbucks Grande coffee, and used two caffeinated gels. Cardiac catherization revealed a small lesion (less than 20%) but otherwise clean coronaries.
- A 42-year-old woman running a marathon dropped at the 24.5-mile mark, 4:10 into her run. She had drunk two large coffees and had three caffeinated gels. Her cardiac cath also showed clean coronaries.
- A 26-year-old male also running a marathon dropped at the 25.5-mile mark, 3:25 into his run. He had taken two caffeine pills plus coffee the morning of his race, and also had clean arteries on cardiac cath.
(source: Please Limit Caffeine on Race Morning!, Runner’s World, Ask the Running Doctor blog)
Interviewing and examining the habits of otherwise healthy runners who’ve collapsed and been successfully revived, seems to point to a trend in excessive caffeine consumption in many cases. The current recommendation according to the Runner’s World article is no more than 200 mg of caffeine if you’re headed out for a long run or a race. 200 mg is about 2 cups of coffee. I know energy gels, chews etc… give the caffeine amount right on the package because those are the ones I normally go for. …I have read the studies lauding the benefits of caffeine for performance athletes and have a typical Pavlovian runner’s reaction – reaching for the caffeinated gel or chew when I am refueling.
While this is not an official research study, (the IMMDA is planning one), I still took a few minutes to examine my caffeine habits. I usually have a cup of coffee in the morning. That is about it. Unless I am running a long distance or racing, in which case I grab the above mentioned caffeinated gel(s) (Clif Shot products are vegan depending on flavor)… each contain about 25 mg of caffeine. So it seems that I usually stay well under 200 mg. However, I can see how one could easily exceed this amount. The Running Doctor asked runners to get the word out, so I am. I am also going to add caffeine free fuel to my long run routines – better safe than sorry.