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27-05-2012 | Cardiology | Article

Marathon mortality remains low despite increased participation


Free abstract

MedWire News: The number of people who die after completing a marathon remains low even though participation has increased almost twofold since 2000, say researchers.

"It's very dramatic when someone dies on the course, but it's not common," said study author Julius Cuong Pham (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA) in a press statement.

"There are clearly many health benefits associated with running. It doesn't make you immune, but your risk of dying from running a marathon is very, very low."

Pham and co-authors used public racing and news databases in the USA to calculate the countrywide number of marathon races and competitors, race finishing times, and deaths during or after completion between 2000 and 2009.

As reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers found that the number of marathon finishers increased from 299,018 in 2000 to 473,354 in 2009. However, the mean finishing time did not change significantly over this period (4 hours 34.5 minutes in 2000 to 4 hours 35.3 minutes in 2009).

Out of an estimated 3,718,336 total marathon participants over the 2000‑2009 period, only 28 people (6 women; 22 men) died during or up to 24 hours after completing the race.

This translates to a death rate per 100,000 overall, male, or female finishers of 0.75, 0.98, and 0.41, respectively. Notably, no significant change in death rate was seen between 2000 and 2009.

Of those that died, half were under the age of 45 years. In older participants, cause of death was atherosclerotic heart disease or myocardial infarction in 93% of cases. Cause of death in younger participants was more variable, but the most common was cardiac arrest not otherwise specified in 21% of cases.

"Our national study determined that while overall marathon participation has increased over the past 10 years, the average race times and mortality rate have remained constant," say Pham et al.

"The majority of deaths continue to be cardiac related but do not appear in a predictable pattern," he added, concluding that "marathons remain a safe endeavor, despite recent high profile incidents."

By Helen Albert

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