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Is marathon running going to kill you?

Posted Jan 12 2012 4:44am

There are frequently stories about marathon runners who drop dead of a heart attack somewhere during the race. It has happened on a number of occasions and even in races that I’ve done.

In the Toronto marathon, my wife saw a guy stumble near the finish line. He ended up dying. And in the Chicago marathon, on 3 occasions people have died in races that I’ve participated in. This always makes big headlines the next day. It also scares people into thinking marathon running is dangerous. But is it?

Well, this story about marathons on NPR led me to a study that was published in the New England Journal of medicine . They looked the incidence of heart attacks in marathons and half marathons accross the United States from January 1, 2000 until May 31, 2010. Here’s what they found.

During the study, there were 10.9 million runners. Of those, 59 runners had heart attacks and 42 of them died. That pencils out to 1 death per 259,000 runners.

Compare that to the sudden death rate of collegiate athletes. 1 death per 43,770. Which is slightly more dangerous than triathletes who’s death rate is 1 per 52,630.

So, No, marathon running will probably not kill you. Keep on running and keep on joggling. It’s heart healthy and carries a lower risk of death than playing football or basketball.

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