Sponsoring A Marathon? Provide Water!
In 1998, runners gathered in San Diego for the "Suzuki Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon." For the benefit of the uninformed, a marathon is 26 miles, 385 yards. A long way to go without adequate water and electrolyte replacement drinks!
Since the so-called first marathoner, Philippides, died at the end of his run, we can assume that there were not many water stops along the course!
Who was Philippides? In 490 B.C., an army from Persia landed on the plain of Marathon, which was about 25 miles from Athens, with the intention of capturing and enslaving the city. The Athenians sent a messenger named Philippides to Sparta to enlist the aid of the Spartans in the anticipated battle. He apparently covered the distance of about 150 miles in less than two days, a remarkable achievement.
In the meantime, the Athenians elected to strike the larger Persian forces without waiting for the Spartans. Against great odds, the Athenian or Greek army prevailed. Although historians writing shortly after the battle make no mention of the event, some 600 years later, writers claim that a runner was dispatched to Athens to carry the news of victory. According to the legend, the runner reached the city, said "Rejoice, we conquer," and fell to the ground dead. Some suggest the runner was Philippides who had made the run to Sparta. Considering the length of the run to Sparta, however, if the runner was Philippides, historians of the time would likely have noted the occasion.
The modern Olympia marathon began in 1896 and covered a distance of 40 kilometers (24.8 miles). The current marathon distance of 26 miles (385 yards) was established for the 1908 London Olympics. The course began at Windsor Castle and ended in front of the Royal Box at Wimbleton. The power of royalty!
But now back to our 1998 marathon in San Diego, California, where controversy erupted because of insufficient water and refreshment stations along the course.
Richard, a participant in the Suzuki marathon, sued the organizer of the event for negligence. The event organizer had mailed written materials to the participants advising that there would be 23 water and refreshment stations located throughout the course, from the 2 mile mark to the 25.1 mile mark. Participants were also advised that all stations would include water and 11 stations would distribute an electrolyte fluid.
Although the race was scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m., the race did not begin until about 7:45 a.m. Richard drank water at about 6:15 a.m. and then was directed to his "corral" to await the scheduled start of the race. A "corral" is simply a gathering of runners of similar ability. Participants are assigned to a corral based on their projected race times with the fastest runners stationed closest to the starting line.
During the 45 minute delay, the cloud cover burned off and it became warm. Runners, however, could not leave the corrals to get water or other fluids.
Richard completed the marathon in 4 hours, 17 minutes and 32 seconds. A fellow runner finished the race in approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes and testified that at the first refreshment station at the 2 mile mark, "there was nothing. There were no volunteers, no cups, no water. Nothing." This fellow runner also testified that at the next station, there was only a "big trash can filled with water –- no cups and no volunteers." Although water was available in cups on tables at 20 remaining stations, there was no electrolyte fluid available at any station.
After completing the race, Richard boarded a plane to return home to Chicago; however, 60 and 90 minutes into the flight, he suffered a grand mal seizure, necessitating an emergency landing in St. Louis. Richard was hospitalized in St. Louis and diagnosed with severe hyponatremia, an infliction which occurs as a result of decreased sodium concentration in the blood. The runner’s condition was critical; he was kept on a ventilator for four days and hospitalized still longer. The injuries caused him to suffer a neurological deficit to the effect that at trial, he only had a "vague recollection of hearing some music, some bands . . . ."
The trial court ruled that hyponatremia is an inherent risk of running a marathon and concluded that Richard’s claims were barred by the doctrine of assumption of risk.
The Court of Appeal, however, viewed the matter differently. The court noted that on analogy, although being struck by an errant golf ball is an inherent risk in the sport of golf, the owner of a golf course "owes a duty to golfers ‘to provide a reasonably safe golf course’ which requires it ‘to minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport."
The court thus held that a race organizer staging a marathon has a
"duty to organize and conduct a reasonably safe event, which requires it to ‘minimize the risks without altering the nature of the sport . . . . This duty includes the obligation to minimize the risks of dehydration and hyponatremia by providing adequate water and electrolyte fluids along the 26-mile course —- particularly where the race organizer represents to the participants that these will be available at specific locations throughout the race."
The moral of the story? Human beings, as well as washing machines, require water for effective operation!