Should You or Should You Not Consider Joining a Marathon?

By Lisa Franchi on April 26, 2012

Claire Squires, a 30-year old hairdresser from North Kilworth, Leicestershire, died on Birdcage Walk near St James’s Park on Sunday, less than a mile from the finish. She was the 11th person and first woman to die in London Marathon since it began in 1981.

While there are health risks associated to this popular race, experts say the risk is low.

According to Professor Sanjay Sharma, medical director for The Virgin London Marathon, seven out of the 11 deaths that happened in London Marathon for the past years were caused by heart problems such as blocked heart vessels and structural congenital problems. Marathon deaths in the UK have occurred solely in male runners who are mostly 40 years old and above. 5 of them had furred arteries while two suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a condition that affects the heart’s structure. They are still waiting for the postmortem examination for Squires but Prof Sharma believes it is also linked to a heart problem. On one American study, it was found that out of 11 million marathon runners around the world (from 2000-2010 data), 59 suffered from cardiac arrest and 42 died. Similarly, in a 1996 study, it was estimated that one in every 50,000 runners die. But experts said it was ‘exceedingly small’.

Health Risks of Marathon

Over 500 marathons are held in the world each year. Before, only the professionals sign up for marathon competitions. But as time passed by, it became an amazing activity for many people. Some call them ‘fun run’ where anyone – young or old, amateur or professional runners can join. Many charities and organisations hold marathon events to raise funds and promote awareness.

While it can be a good physical exercise, it also comes with a few health risks. These include sprain, fatigue, muscle pain, and minor injuries. Runners are also at risk of dehydration. For instance, in a humid day, one can lose up to four litres of fluid due to excessive perspiration and exhalation.

Lowering the Risk of Marathon Deaths

Experts recommend runners to see their doctors first before joining a marathon race especially if they have existing heart condition, diabetes, or anything that will put their life at risk once they engage in the race. Training is crucial in every running race. Judy O’Sullivan, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation pointed out the importance of training. She explained that marathon is a big physical undertaking so it is important that you train in advance. Once you begin training, gradually increase the distances you take to avoid extreme exhaustion. Furthermore, trainings should be done in separate days, with one or 2 days of rest. As a rule of thumb, one should be comfortable of running 15 miles one month before the marathon. This means that at the end of the 15 miles, they should feel they can still run more.

Running is considered to be one of the best forms of exercise. It strengthens the heart and the lungs, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control weight and blood pressure, improves quality of sleep, and makes our bones stronger. Running also relieves stress, anxiety and depression.

As Judy O’Sullivan said, ‘For the overwhelming majority of people the health benefits of exercising outweigh the risks’. 


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