A 30-year-old racer from Long Island died of heat stroke during Sunday’s Whiteface Sky Race on a day when temperature rose into the 90s.
Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw said that Nick Marshak collapsed during the race in the early afternoon and was found to be unresponsive. Attempts were made to resuscitate him, and then emergency personal from Lake Placid took him to the Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid, where he was found to have a body temperature of 108 degrees.
In addition to the heat, Whitelaw said dehydration may have been a contributing factor to Marshak getting heat stroke.
The race was organized by Red Newt Racing, which described the race on its website as being “15.2 miles with 8,000 vertical feet of gain with an Alpine, Flume, Alpine figure loops.”
According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, only 48 of 83 entrants finished the Sky Race.
On Wednesday, Red Newt Racing paid tribute to Marshak on its website. “With heavy hearts, minds, and spirits, we convey without adequate words or sentiments, the loss of one of our own, Nick Marshak, on the mountain this past Sunday. While we’ll continue to struggle to process it, we find solace only in understanding that Nick died doing something, and surrounded by a community, that he loved. That his mind, spirit, and resolve, carried him further than his body ended up allowing, shutting down in the, and his, final mile.”
On the Enterprise Facebook page, some people commented that the race should have been cancelled.
“My heart goes out to this man and his family. With conditions the way they were on Sunday, it should’ve been canceled,” said John Sasso on Facebook.
However, Marshak’s girlfriend, Danielle Asher, told the Enterprise that Marshak died doing what he loved and she didn’t blame the race organizers for his death. Instead she felt bad for them for having to accept the level of responsibility for the race.
Whitelaw also defended the race organizers, saying that extreme athletes know the risks they are assuming in an event like the Sky Race.
“Some people might say, the race organizer may have had an obligation – with the extreme heat and all the warnings that had been put out – to shut down the event before it occurred. But like said, these athletes go in knowing exactly what they’re facing, and they assume the risk they take,” Whitelaw said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it just turns out this way.”
Sarah Keyes, who works for Red Newt Racing and helped organize the race, has participated in these events around the country, in events up to 100 miles long. She said “part of the appeal is the extreme nature of these events. Only once have I experienced a cancellation for extreme winds where the bus company wouldn’t shuttle racers to the start for fear of tipping over. The other occurrence where races are typically canceled for weather is when there is lightening present. Races will run in 100-plus degrees.”
Keyes said when organizers saw the forecast a week in advance, they discussed how to manage the conditions. They did things like stock up on extra ice and water.
“Whiteface mountain was also aware of the forecast, and it was discussed with them,” she said. “We did not consider cancelling the event; if we could’ve moved the start time up we may have.”
But she said they were unable to move the time earlier in the day because the chair lifts weren’t available early enough for the organizers to get supplies up the mountain.
Keyes said the Marshak family has set up a fundraising effort for his funeral expenses, and noted the death has hit many people hard.
“The mountain ultra trail running community is small, and when something like this happens, we all grieve for the loss of a fellow runner.”
(This story was updated on July 5 to add comments from Sarah Keyes, part of the Red Newt Racing team.)