How safe are marathons?

Recent marathon deaths raise safety questions


People looking to get fit use marathons as a goal to kickstart their exercise program, but a series of deaths during marathons has some wondering if they’re really so beneficial. Two runners in their 30s recently died during a half-marathon in California; and this weekend, three men aged 26, 36 and 65 died during the Detroit marathon (they were all competing in the half-marathon event). Still, the cause of death isn’t known for any of the runners and deaths during marathons are rare. A study presented at a conference of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, reported the risk of sudden death during a marathon is 0.8 per 100,000 people. The risk during a triathlon, which includes running, swimming and cycling, is 1.5 in 100,000. In childbirth, the risk of dying is 13 per 100,000 births, and the risk of dying in a car accident is 1 in 6,700. In a Canadian study, 129 non-elite runners received blood tests before running a full or half marathon. Prior to the run, their blood markers for heart injury were normal, but when they’d finished, most of the half-marathoners and more of the marathoners had elevated troponin and other markers of heart damage. After an hour, even more did. Even so, while several studies have found short-term heart damage among marathon runners, the benefits of regular exercise seem to outweigh the risks. “There’s no doubt the marathon is a very hard, stressful event,” says Dr. Paul Thompson, director of cardiology at Hartford Hospital. “We’re confident that exercisers have lower heart risks than non-exercisers, but the truth is we don’t know this for sure about marathoners.”

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How safe are marathons?

  1. Hmmm, post hoc fallacy here. Just because more people die in marathons, it doesn’t necessarily mean marathons themselves are dangerous. Marathons used to be for serious athletes. Now, people run half marathons in clown suits with little or no training. With less serious athletes who train less and less effectively, deaths are likely to increase. So the real issue is likely more poor fitness.

  2. Were any of these deaths due to over-hydration? I have read about deaths that resulted from over-hydration (also known as hyper-hydration and water intoxication) during a marathon as a runner exhibited symptoms that were thought to be from dehydration.

    The subsequent intake of water only exacerbated the problem and led to death.

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