Monday, October 19, 2009

Will running a marathon kill you?

It's hard to ignore the steady stream of reports of deaths at big-city races around the country in the past few weeks. Two runners died at the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on Oct. 4. A marathoner collapsed at the Baltimore Running Festival on Oct. 10. And then on Saturday, three men died while running the Detroit Marathon (one had just completed the half).

Obviously, these are terrible tragedies. Terrible, and puzzling. You can't say this happens all the time, because it doesn't: In Baltimore, there hadn't been a death since 2001; in Detroit, it had been 15 years since a runner died during the race. You can't say it happens only to older runners, because all but one of the six recent victims were 36 or younger. And it's not just men -- one of the two who died in California was female.

You can say, however, that the odds of this happening to you during your fall distance race are very, very, very slim. As noted in the story about the Detroit deaths, "Minneapolis cardiologist Kevin Harris presented a study this year at the American College of Cardiology's 58th Annual Scientific Session showing the death rate for marathons was 0.8 per 100,000 participants."

Anyway, I know your non-running friends are going crazy forwarding you all these links to all these articles about the marathon fatalities. And hey, it's OK to feel sympathy for the families of the victims. But don't let people scare you.

Remember: There were 50,000 runners at these three events who all had the experience of a lifetime.

If you want a medical perspective, check out this decent Q&A with a running cardiologist/expert published today on the Runner's World Web site.


Allen said...

Whenever you examine any large segment of population, there will be deaths, whether you're looking at 50,000 people singing in church choirs, 50,000 mowing their lawns, or 50,000 people running marathons. We're all going to die one day while doing something - you might as well do the things you enjoy. Remember, live every day as if it was your last. Because one day, you'll be right. =)

Joey said...

Well, you certainly don't run a marathon for your health, so no surprise that people die doing them sometimes. It's a risk like anything else that's very hard on the body.

Still, it is kinda freaky how many marathon deaths there have been recently.

Anonymous said...

I would feel much better if people knew the risks of not just running a marathon but training for one as well. Perhaps this type of endurance activity is simply not good for the human body. 3 died during the race but how many others caused themselves permanent damage by completing the event? How many hundreds if not thousands weakened their immune systems for several weeks? How many set themselves up for a heart attack in days or weeks to come? These are questions that can no longer be ignored so that these tragic deaths are not in vain.

Chris said...

I hate to be Mr. Obvious here, but the legend of the first person to complete a "marathon" says that the person died after completing the feat. I'm not saying the legend is true, but death has always been associated with the origins of the marathon.

Anonymous said...

It's hardly an apples to apples comparison here. He didn't have support stations on his run, he didn't have the benefit of training, he didn't have the benefit of the nutritional foods on the go that we have today. These deaths are usually attributed to a heart condition that went undiagnosed. It's important to get a full physical, even if you're young, before you start training for any long distance event and a half marathon IS a long distant event. Don't take it for granted just because it's not a full marathon.

Lillie said...

My mom is a member of the River City Runners in Parkersburg, WV where she got to know Rick Brown, the 65 year old runner that died at the Detroit Marathon over the weekend. By her account, Mr. Brown was an experienced runner and a great volunteer in their group and a valued coach to many. I am sorry for his family. I am also sorry, however, that some people use incidents like this to paint distance running with a broad brush and claim that it is a by-and-large dangerous and reckless pursuit. Thousands and thousands of people (including myself) participate in distance running events weekly and find that their quality of life and health is dramatically improved as a result. I would hazard to guess that many many more untimely deaths can be attributed to a non-active lifestyle than those very few that happen to coincide with running events.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure some of you couch potatoes feel better knowing that you've avoided a one in 125,000 chance of dying while marathoning. In fact, the Surgeon General just announced that we Americans will be healthier if we just avoid exercise altogether.'s that working for you?