It happens all the times, people hear that you’re into marathons or other endurance sports and they start telling you all sorts of scary stories about it.
Such as that one time when a guy died of heart attack while racing, or that other time when a woman that passed away during her sleep the night after the race. The (not so) implicit message being that engaging in a strenuous physical activity is a bad thing for your health.
My response to these - useless - remarks is that I’d rather die during a triathlon (or because of it) that sitting on the couch watching TV. End of the story.
However, not everybody can be that resolute. Especially newbies can be easily discouraged by such urban legends, and might start eventually wondering if participating in a marathon is a wise thing to do.
Time has come to put things straight, as a new research conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine has uncovered that a runner's risk of dying during, or soon after the race is very low; about .75 per 100,000. And this notwithstanding the fact that the number of participants in running endurance races has increased dramatically over the last decade.
The researchers, led by Julius Cuong Pham, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of emergency medicine and anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and leader of the study published online in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, found that between 2000 and 2009, only 28 people died during or in the 24 hours following a marathon.
14 of those were over age 45, and all but one died of heart disease. And when it comes to younger runners, the cause of death were various and included cardiac arrhythmia and hyponatremia (which happens when there’s not enough sodium in the body due to excessive drinking of water).
"It's very dramatic when someone dies on the course, but it's not common," says Dr. Pham "There are clearly many health benefits associated with running. It doesn't make you immune, but your risk of dying from running a marathon is very, very low."
In order to draw such conclusions, Pham and his colleagues looked at statistics from approximately 300 marathons per year and found that the number of finishers increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009, from 299,018 to 473,354.
The researchers said they believe the recent increase in marathon popularity is partially because of increasing awareness of the health benefits gained from regular exercise.
Numerous studies have linked exercise to better physical and mental health, and to longevity, Pham says. Similarly, marathon running has been associated with decreased risks of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.
People who run regularly have been found to have lower rates of all-cause mortality and disability.
With so many more people participating, Pham says he expected to find that the pace of marathons would have slowed over time, but the average finishing time also stayed steady at roughly four hours and 35 minutes.
Pham, a three-time marathoner himself, cautions that people should not think that marathon training or running is risk-free.
He noted that studies have shown the yearly incidence of injury in people training for marathons to be as high as 90 percent, with the vast majority of injuries damaging the musculoskeletal system but not cardiovascular diseases!
The end of the story is that if you’re training for a marathon, just entered into one, or even better just completed one you can be sure that you’re doing something good for yourself. Just make sure that you have the appropriate gear (especially running shoes), the perfect running form, and a serious and balanced training regimen!
The Iron You