Wendell man survives two marathon scares

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 8, 2013 

Bob Albritton of Wendell at the Boston Marathon.

COURTESY OF BOB ALBRITTON

— For the second year in a row at the Boston Marathon, death missed Bob Albritton by about an hour.

This year, the 61-year-old pastor of Wendell United Methodist Church crossed the finish line about 70 minutes before two bombs exploded there, killing three people and injuring dozens more. Albritton was resting at a friend’s house in nearby Hopkinton when it happened.

He finished the race last year, too. But, a day after running the 26.2 miles in summer-like heat, Albritton lost consciousness and collapsed in his hotel room.

“The night before, he was complaining that he had a headache and flu-like symptoms,” said Anne Albritton, the pastor’s daughter and the only person with him.

“The next morning, we walked around Quincy Market. When we got back (to the hotel), he blacked out,” she said. “It was pretty scary.”

Albritton awoke about 15 hours later at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where doctors treated him for overhydration. They told Albritton he flushed many key nutrients such as potassium and sodium from his body by drinking so much water so quickly after the race.

“They said if (their daughter) had not been in the room, he could’ve had swelling in his brain ... and died within an hour,” said Albritton’s wife, Becky.

Overhydration in marathon runners is common, but not to the degree Albritton experienced, says Sheri Allen, a registered dietitian with Rex Wellness Center: “Rarely do you see someone have seizures or black out.”

Albritton downplays both scares. He points out he was hospitalized “only” 48 hours for overhydration and was on a plane home by 7 the night of the bombing.

But he admits his emotions crested about two days after the bombings, while he was sitting at home reading the newspaper.

“When you read about a ballet dancer who loses her leg ... it’s just a terrible feeling,” he said. “I am glad to be alive.”

Bob Albritton has been trying to live differently since last year’s hospital stint. As recently as this year’s Easter sermon, he mentioned how it affected him. “I am now trying to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of this life, which I almost did not have,” he said. “I will refuse to waste my life on the small stuff.”

That attitude is reflected in Albritton’s decision not to run the Boston Marathon again. Though he wasn’t satisfied with his race time this year, 3 hours, 34 minutes, he insists this year’s race was his last – not because of the bombings or his recent misfortune, but because participating in Raleigh’s Memorial Run brought him “closure.”

Still, Anne Albritton isn’t convinced. “You know how runners are,” she said. “They’re always determined to reach a personal best, to keep running no matter what.”

Specht: 919-829-4826

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