Recently an article alarmed me with its coverage on the death of a man during a marathon in Singapore. I was not particularly shocked by this tragedy. But rather, I found it perplexing as to why I’ve grown indifferent to news like this over the years. To my recollection, lately several popular marathons in the U.S. were involved with death-related incidents. And it seems to me that strangely there’s quite a large amount of reports on fatality in marathons, compared to other sports.
Looking back just a few months, I remember when I heard about the deaths during the Chicago Marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon, and the Philadelphia Marathon. Many of these articles share a common theme: a “healthy” runner suddenly drops dead after or near the completion of marathon. I can’t help but question the real motives behind publishing these articles. Without close examination, one can easily overlook the fact that there is a subtle yet unanimously negative connotation towards the running community from media outlets across the world. It’s as if these journalists all set out to demote running as a fun, exciting, healthy, and (most importantly) safe sport.
A study of the London Marathon over 20 years concluded that there is a 1 in 64,714 risk in running the London Marathon – comparable to “many daily activities”.While it is true that people have died from partaking this challenging activity, I’ve noticed that the causes of death in marathons are not unique to the sport. Without too much medical jargon, I’ll point out that the majority of these deaths is related to pre-existing coronary condition, genetic defects, hyponatermia, or heat illness. The truth is, people can die for the same reasons doing just about anything from extreme sports like rock climbing to other activities of less intensity. Heck – people choke to death from eating. And I don’t see any news citing the fetal danger in “competitive eating” like the popular Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contesteach year. So the real question is: is running marathon seriously life-threatening? To the majority of runners – not at all. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s consider this question with some hard data:
…men who averaged 0.2-0.8 marathons per year had 13% lower odds for antihypertensive medication use, 22% lower odds for LDL-cholesterol-lowering medication use, and 67% lower odds for antidiabetic medication use.
It is worth noting the significant lack of a positive tone when it comes to informing the general public on the seemingly daunting and hazardous physical activity known as long distance running. There aren’t enough headlines highlighting the truth about marathon: it is not only relatively safe, but also beneficial. I’m not sure where all this negativity and hostility towards running came from. So I can only speculate that people will tell you just about anything to justify their own rejection in something you enjoy – just like the common misconception that “running is bad for your knees”. Or it’s also possible that there is a hidden agenda, sponsored by organizations in other mainstream sports, facilitating a concerted effort to maintain or increase their fan base and ultimately revenue. But one thing I’ll always keep in mind: if marathons are really as dangerous as they say, I’m willing to risk my life doing it. Because at the end of the day I’d rather be doing something I love and hold so dearly when my heart finally stopped.