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Death Renews Old Concerns about Marathons

A 34-year-old woman died running the Montreal Marathon on Sunday. In addition to the American woman dying, a Canadian man required resuscitation after a heart attack.

That which doesn’t make me stronger can kill me.

The London Marathon witnessed runner deaths in two of the last three years. In 2008, three runners died competing in the New York Marathon, and two years ago, that race’s oldest runner died just hours after crossing the finish line. The Philadelphia Marathon, a 13.1-mile race like Montreal’s, suffered two fatalities in 2011 when a 21-year-old and a 40-year-old collapsed. A 32-year-old mom died at a South Carolina half-marathon earlier this year.

Most people who run marathons hobble away unscathed. But the heat, a lack of preparedness, and pre-existing conditions claim a few lives each year.

A 2012 article in the American Journal of Sports Medicine reports, ” Of 3,718,336 total marathon participants over the 10-year study period, we identified 28 people (6 women and 22 men) who died during the marathon race and up to 24 hours after finishing.” The group of scientists, which included a marathoner, found less than one death per 100,000 runners of the grueling races.

A 2013 study round similar results. “Among 10.9 million registered race participants there were 40 cardiac arrests in marathons and 19 in half marathons,” the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study concluded in its abstract. “The mean age of runners with cardiac arrest was 42 years and 86% were men. The incidence per 100,000 was higher in marathons than in half marathons; and among than among women. More runners died than survived the cardiac arrest; the incidence of sudden death was 0.39 per 100,000 participants.”

In other words, marathon deaths don’t happen often. But when they do happen, they often make news.

That has always been the case. Pheidippides, after running the 26 or so miles from Marathon to Athens to bring news of the victory of the Greeks over the Persians, collapsed and died. And people continue to talk about his death 2,500 years after the fact.

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