Jacques Bussereau, the 48-year-old French runner who died during the New York City Marathon Sunday, was "pushing himself," running just 10 minutes slower than his usual pace despite the oppressive heat, the chairman of the marathon's medical committee said today.
Dr. Andres Rodriguez, an orthopedic surgeon at Brooklyn's Methodist Hospital, said that Bussereau, who was 2 hours 20 minutes into the race when he collapsed, was running "at his regular pace, like it was a good day."
Bussereau, of Perigueux, France, was in cardiac arrest when he was picked up by an Emergency Medical Services unit, an EMS spokeswoman said, and died in the emergency room of Elmhurst Hospital at 2:10 p.m. Bussereau, who had run four marathons and had a personal record of 4:04, was past the midway point of the 26.2-mile race at the 14 1/2-mile point in 2:20. Race director Fred Lebow estimated he was running 10 minutes slower than usual.
At a news conference, Lebow corrected information he released after the race concerning Bussereau's medical history. Lebow announced Sunday that Bussereau suffered a heart attack four years ago, but today said that was not true and blamed a problem in translating from French to English for the incorrect information. However, Lebow did say today that Bussereau was "10-15 pounds overweight" and was a "heavy smoker prior to five years ago, when he started to run."
Rodriguez called that news "two strikes" against Bussereau, adding that there are seven such "warning signals" for a heart attack.
An autopsy was performed this afternoon in New York, and, while it did not prove Bussereau suffered a heart attack, it found he had a heart condition "which is what will produce a heart attack," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the autopsy discovered that "the lining of the arteries to the heart (were) covered with calcium plaque. The autopsy definitely proves and confirms that the runner had evidence of arteriosclerotic heart disease, which is what will produce a heart attack."
Bussereau was part of a group of about 500 French runners entered in the race. He ran on the hottest (up to 79 degrees) and most humid (96 percent) day in the 15 years the New York City Marathon has been run.
EMS personnel estimated today that they treated 1,180 of the 16,315 starters (14,492 finished) and that more than 200 runners were taken to the hospital. Rodriguez and Lebow said they didn't know how many runners required assistance and/or hospitalization.
At the news conference, located at Tavern on the Green near the marathon's Central Park finish line, Lebow and Rodriguez faced a barrage of questions about the heat and the precautions necessary to prevent heat-related problems during a marathon. They said they ask runners to provide their medical history and past medical problems when they enter the race. "We do not require medical exams," Lebow said, "but we do require them to sign a medical release."
They emphasized the incessant warnings given to runners throughout the week and on the morning of the race. "I blow my brains, my face gets red, telling them, 'Go with your body,' especially in a hot-weather day," Rodriguez said. " 'Go slow, don't run for a time,' I told them."
But Rodriguez repeatedly denied that the heat caused Bussereau's death. "Heat causes exhaustion, but heat doesn't cause a sudden death, like a heart attack," he said.
Rodriguez lamented that no matter how much he says, "80-90 percent will not pay attention to us."
And Grete Waitz, who won the women's championship for the sixth time Sunday, said such nonstop running may be the nature of the marathon craze.
"There is so much talk about the marathon . . . everybody wants to run the marathon," she said. "There is so much prestige to run a marathon, so even runners who are not qualified to do it, they do it, they try to run a marathon.
"But who would judge who shall be allowed to run?" she asked. "I can't see how they can manage to decide who shall run a marathon and who shall not."