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Is the half marathon the new 10K?

Posted Oct 19 2009 10:00pm

So far in October six runners have died in three different U.S. big city marathons.

That of course has us wondering why.

To begin with we can' t even start to fathom the tragedy of having a loved one die in an event that is normally such a celebration of life.  It can not go without saying strongly enough that these recent running deaths must be carefully and thoughtfully investigated so as to give some semblance of closure to the family and friends of the those runners who so tragically died this month.

But being part of a larger community of runners we can point to a three recent trends that we wonder may have in some small part played a role in the recent disturbing trend of tragic running deaths.

1) Is the half marathon the new 10K?

Former six time Ironman champ Mark Allen' s business partner Luis Vargas likes to say there' s no such thing as a sprint triathlon.

In other words, any triathlon, and that includes the sprint distance, is a grueling test of physical endurance. We can' t help but ponder if in our current running culture we' ve lost a bit of healthy respect for the half and especially the full marathon distance?

Is there such a thing as running inflation? In other words, was it enough 30-years-ago to run a 10K and be pleased with the accomplishment. Whereas today to get that same feeling of satisfaction runners feel like they must go longer distances.

And while it certainly does not simply follow that a 10K is less dangerous than running a half marathon just because it is a shorter distance, it does seem to be fair to say that the longer the time spent running, the greater the chance of something going wrong---even if that just means something as simple as a trip and fall.

2) Is the growing the popularity of running mean that fewer runners are getting checked out by their doctors before they take on the extreme sport of marathon running?

It may just be that statically the recent running deaths are part of a larger trend of the growing popularity of running. Obviously from a statical point of view the more people that take up running the longer distances, the more tragic deaths will occur simply because more people are running long.

But while thirty years ago marathon running was an extreme endurance sports for a small population of elite runners, today' s races (like the very popular Rock n' Roll series) are massive marathons with tens of thousand of runners. These races can no longer seem like the serious feats of endurance that need to be respected with a healthy degree of fear and an all important visit to the family physician to see if one is healthy to even train, but instead mobile parties that some people run, some people run/walk and that some people just walk.

Please don' t misunderstand our point. There is nothing wrong with the new wave marathons and especially the new Rock n' Roll races. They all offer exception medical support. It is just the possible perception that somehow all marathons and half marathons today are somehow easier, and do not warrant the same amount of pre race/training caution that might be cause for concern.

Do you know what the medical term " cardiomyopathy " means?

You probably should as it is one of the leading causes of sudden death among amatuer endurance athletes.

3) Are the recent running deaths do to the aging American population?

The Jim Fixx generation of runners is now into their senior years and getting older. And while running is certainly not just a young persons sport it can be argued that it most certainly is a safer young runners sport.

As much as many of us would hate to admit it the growing older does come with a medical price tag that makes extreme endurance running more risky (from a health perspective) the older one gets.

This of course does not mean that older runners don' t statistically lead healthier lives when compared to non runners of the same age. But it does  mean that older runners face a larger variety of potential health issues.

So does any of this explain the recent tragic running deaths?

Perhaps not, but never-the-less these are potential trends that somebody should study ASAP so as to help identify, and hopefully reverse this terrible October trend.

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