Runner, 64, revived near end of course, sore but upbeat

Carleton Smith’s heart stopped, and he was revived by onlookers and EMS workers. He was 25 miles into the race. Carleton Smith’s heart stopped, and he was revived by onlookers and EMS workers. He was 25 miles into the race. (Steve Mclaughlin for The Boston Globe)
By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / April 21, 2010

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It was supposed to be a day for father and son to experience the Boston Marathon together, a way of enjoying a shared love of long-distance running.

But for 64-year-old Carleton Smith, an experienced runner from Louisiana, his marathon journey abruptly ended Monday when his heart stopped beating and he had to be revived by onlookers and Boston Emergency Medical Services personnel.

Smith said in a telephone interview from the intensive care unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center yesterday that he is sore, but otherwise upbeat.

“I’m doing good; I’m doing good,’’ he said. “I had a bad day [Monday], but they are taking care of me. I’m sitting up in my chair right now, talking to my wife. So it looks, right now, that everything is going to be OK.’’

Smith said he is not 100 percent sure what caused him to collapse, although he said Boston doctors placed a stent in one of his arteries, a procedure performed by his own doctors in 2007 after they discovered the circumflex artery was 95 percent blocked.

Smith, who qualified for Boston by running in the New Orleans marathon in February, said his son, Jimmy, had asked for the chance to cover the course, father and son, together.

“He wasn’t worried about time; he just wanted to run with his dad,’’ the elder Smith said, adding that his 34-year-old son has finished marathons in two hours and 59 minutes in the past. “He’s a pretty good runner.’’

The elder Smith ran the Rock ’n’ Roll Mardis Gras marathon on Feb. 28 in three hours and 22 minutes, according to the race website, and was first among 69 competitors in the 60-64 age category.

According to the elder Smith and Boston Emergency Medical Services, Smith was running at Beacon and Mountfort streets when he collapsed at about the 25-mile mark. His heart had stopped, and he was revived by onlookers and EMS personnel, officials said.

Smith, however, remembers none of that.

“I have no memory whatsoever’’ of what happened after he and his son arrived near Kenmore Square around 1:40 p.m., he said. “I had no idea that I had a problem.’’

He offered some advice to runners 50 years or older.

“Even if you think you are in good shape, you don’t know what really is going on,’’ he said. “I ran a hell of a race in New Orleans on Feb. 28, and now look at me. My advice is to go make an appointment with a doctor and get checked out.’’

Smith, a retired energy company employee, speculated that the sudden cardiac arrest had its roots in his behavior a few years ago. “I stopped running for a few years, and I was working a lot, and I had a lot of junk,’’ he said. “I wasn’t watching my diet. I attribute it to that.’’

Smith has been associated with a New Orleans runners club and has been a competitive runner for decades. His brush with death is noted on the website of the New Orleans Track Club.

Chuck George, executive race director at the club, often runs with Smith. He said friends were tracking the Smiths on the web when they noticed that neither man finished the race.

George said he was so confident in Smith’s health and running ability that he told club members it was a technical problem, not a sign that the Smiths were in trouble.

When he learned about the older Smith’s collapse, he was stunned.

“He’s one of the top runners in the area in the 60-and-over division,’’ George said. “It’s an unusual thing. Nobody would have expected it. He’s always been a top-ranked runner.’’

Smith said he expects to continue volunteering with the cross-country track team at St. Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans, an all-girls school he has been associated with for nearly a decade.

“I know they worry about me, and I don’t know what I would do without them,’’ he said. “I want to tell them I love them with all my heart.’’

Smith, who was accompanied to Boston by his wife, Mary, said he will first start to walk before he ever runs again.