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FEBRUARY 21, 2007

Winter Temperatures Bring Epidemic of Frozen Lung Deaths to Running Community
New Division Head Seeks to Stem the Tide

SILVER SPRING, MD — Recreational runners have long been familiar with warnings from family and co-workers about the hazards of running. Last winter finally proved one such warning well-founded: running in freezing temperatures will actually freeze a runner’s lungs. While millions of their neighbors managed to continue breathing winter air for periods lasting up to several hours, runners in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area froze their lungs and died last winter at a rate of 13.7 per day. Explanations for this remain a mystery, though not a surprise, according to Mary Kay consultant, Frannie Grotebillen. “Somethin’ ain’t right about them joggin’ folks.”

Following last winter’s epidemic of frozen lung deaths within the recreational running community, city and state governments rushed to implement programs to meet the looming threat of cold air. Frank “Two Fists” Beauchamp, acting director of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s new Dead Runner Division (DRD), took questions following a briefing in which he introduced the agency’s public awareness campaign, “You Could Freeze Your Lungs And Die,” part of the agency’s strategy to meet its ambitious goal of reducing frozen lung deaths in the state’s recreational running community by ten percent.

“If you run when it’s cold, your lungs’ll freeze and you could die. It’s common sense,” explained Beauchamp. “It’s an important warning, and it’s not getting through to these people, so we developed a two-pronged approach. On the one prong, we've got the ‘You Could Freeze Your Lungs And Die’ campaign, which includes PSAs on the radio and a few TV spots by the Ad Council, plus all the billboards. The billboards are very stirring, showing a stray dog chewing on the carcass of a runner on the side of the road. The words read "You’ll Probably Freeze Your Lungs And Die And Then Be Eaten By A Stray Dog At The Side Of The Road" in big type, with some smaller text explaining that temperatures below 32 are in fact freezing temperatures, and while you may be dressed warmly, all that cold air will freeze your lungs even if the rest of you is fully thawed.

“On the other prong — remember, there were two prongs — our agency worked in conjunction with the Department of Sanitation to respond to the problem of all the dead bodies piling up along the roads and trails. People in the test areas are now familiar with the bright green, so-called, "frozen lung trucks" and children often greet them with that arm-pully-downy-thing to get the drivers to blow their large air horns. These trucks--a kind of mobile abattoir--can retrieve and dispose of bodies at the rate of 1,200 a day, so we should be ready for a really cold snap lasting several days. We also lease the trucks to county governments to serve as school buses during the warmer months, so the costs are offset.

Asked if the DRD’s focus on frozen lung deaths was too narrow, given the agency’s mission to address running-related deaths in general, Beauchamp bristled visibly, asking one reporter if he was a “damned agitator from the Department of Assessments and Taxation,” before kicking the man in the groin and telling him to “Tax this, bitch.” After order was restored, Beauchamp explained, “Look, you eat the elephant one bite at a time. Frozen lungs are the first bite. Common sense tells us that running leads to all sorts of problems. There’s vital organ bruising, fatal chafing, knee cancer, and a host of other injuries. They’re even finishing a study up in Canada to see if hard running causes women’s uteruses to fall out. Early indications are that it does just that. Most runners or joggers probably have some lucid, caring person in their life who has tried to point out these dangers before, but the warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Apparently, it’s not enough to know that your coworker’s girlfriend’s cousin had to have his knees surgically removed, or that there’s that web site showing links between running and smooth jazz. These people want to help, and it has—and I want to make this absolutely clear—NOTHING to do with their own level of fitness or any personal feelings of guilt associated with it. We have to start somewhere.”

The press conference ended abruptly when the deputy secretary of the State Board of Architectural Review hurled a tomato at Beauchamp and an intra-departmental melee ensued, apparently over jurisdiction. The governor later announced the creation of a new Advisory Committee on Zoning and Intra-Departmental Warfare which would make recommendations on whether or not the Department of Inter-Departmental Warfare should broaden its jurisdiction, or if the recent swell of gang-like activity within state government was simply an effort by the DIDW to get a bigger operating budget in order to procure more office space, preferably something with windows.


© 2007 Chris O'Connor

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