Health

The risk of death while running a marathon

In less than two weeks I’m running the LA Marathon – my first ever marathon – so when I saw a recent headline about heart attack risk from marathons I was of course intrigued. I actually think my heart rate spiked.

A man and a women hunched over water coolers during a marathon

Masterfile

In less than two weeks I’m running the LA Marathon – my first ever marathon – so when I saw a recent headline about heart attack risk from marathons I was of course intrigued. I actually think my heart rate spiked.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine the risk is quite low. Nevertheless, we hear stories of racing deaths, such as:

  • The 27-year-old who died of a heart attack running the Toronto Marathon last October.
  • The 35-year-old who died of heart failure during the Chicago marathon in the same month.
  • Two men died running a marathon in Philadelphia a month later.

The study did say it’s more likely men who die during marathons than women, and I can think of two reasons why:

  1. We’re more prone to heart disease.
  2. We’re stupid.

Marathons have a tendency to bring out our competitive nature and we’ll keep pushing hard even if we feel like crap. Women are generally smarter than this.

Overall, the risk of death from racing is amazingly low. It’s FAR lower than being a couch potato. To be honest, I believe I am at more of a risk of being hit by a car while training than from a heart attack.

Still, there are people who believe running can kill you. They point to James Fixx, the man who popularized running yet died of a heart attack right after a run at 52. They neglect to mention things like him being overweight and a heavy smoker until the age of 36 (which is when he took up running), the fact that his father died of a heart attack at 43, and that Fixx had a stressful occupation and had recently been through his second divorce. If anything, it was the running that gave him extra years of life.

It’s because we hear these rare stories of running causing death that stick in our minds and make us worried about death during a race. For me, I’m not the least bit worried. I’m worried about what would happen to my body if I stopped running.

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