A death near the finish line

Running deaths always give me a weird feeling, and I'm sure it freaks many people out to hear that a runner died during a race. Well, in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon a runner did die. Erik Wellumson was in his early 20s and was nearing the finish line when he collapsed right in front of a medical tent along the boardwalk shortly before 9 a.m. I'm sure many runners weren't even aware of this -- with a quick response by the medical team, I'm sure people who even went by him when he was being treated didn't see what was going on. But I did. I've kept quiet about it for a few days because I've had a tough time putting the right words together. It's also one of the reasons that I kept my race report somewhat vague on Sunday. At the time of course I didn't know that he had died, but in the back of mind I sort of knew it -- I didn't find that out until the next day that he in fact died and his name was not released until yesterday. You can click here to read the Virginian Pilot story about him that really put this all into perspective for me.

As I rounded Atlantic Avenue onto the Boardwalk for the final stretch of the race, my mind was on beating 2 hours. In fact I was hoping to make the final mile the fastest mile of the race. But shortly after venturing onto the Boardwalk, I passed by the medical team of a few people who were doing CPR on Erik. They were off to the right side of the Boardwalk and had I not been in the very middle, I probably would have not seen it. While I am certified in adult CPR, I've never seen it really done. The Red Cross videos don't do it justice. And those couple of seconds of seeing it just sent a chill up my spine. It made a fastest final mile seem worthless. In fact, at that point, it pretty much was. I slowed down; I stopped pushing myself so hard. For me I knew that the 2-hour goal was going to be met and another 15 seconds wouldn't matter. It didn't matter. I just wanted that guy to be OK.

Now for anybody who may have something negative to say about running because of this, there is no need to. Deaths during races are rare, but not unheard of. When 16,000 people gather together to run or walk that far, risks do exist. The cause of Erik's death has not been released, so you can't assume that running actually killed him. And you can't use that as a reason not to run and work out. Often times when a runner dies on a course it's because he or she had a pre-existing condition they were unaware of.

One thing I noticed on Sunday was how much medical staff was at this event. It was great to see. In fact I saw a couple of other people getting various treatments during the race and a couple afterward. To know that this type of support is out there is very comforting. And in Erik's case -- directly in front of the medical tent -- I am sure he received treatment much quicker than anyone at home ever would.

I hope that the organizers of the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach honor Erik in some way next year if the family allows it. It's not something to sweep under the rug and act like it didn't happen.