There is no doubt there is a big difference between myself and Ian. He will be going off to Italy to cycle up a hill in October on a very nice bike. It will be sunny and there will be wine and olives. Later in the month, I am off to run a marathon in Dublin. I won’t bother checking the weather. It will be cold and wet. And there will be no wine at all, although hopefully some Guinness, so not all bad. There are times when I wish I had put a bit more effort into maths at school.

I do worry about running “long” distances, and what strain it puts upon the heart. But what are the risks of dying during a marathon? You can’t rely on newspaper headlines. They only report the bad events. They don’t write headlines along the lines of “Marathon run today, nobody died”. It’s therefore important to look at studies where it has been planned to study the outcomes, or where outcomes are tracked over a long period. But finding raw data is harder than you might think.

I thought I would start with the Berlin marathon. It’s on soon – typically taking place at the end of September. And it’s fast – a place to set world records. More importantly it’s run by a lot of people – 46,950 people in 2016. When there are big numbers there can be good data. Unfortunately, after emailing them, they don’t keep statistics. So that’s no good.

What about London? In 2001, I “ran” the marathon. It turns out that not running at all in the previous month because of a knee injury and drinking wine each night doesn’t make for a good marathon. Being overtaken by a tree is pretty galling.

The first London marathon was staged in 1981, and since then over 1,000,000 people have completed the race. There have (probably) been 14 deaths since then, although it depends on how things are counted, and there are discrepancies between reports.

From 2007, race statistics and details of deaths are pretty secure. David Rogers, aged 22, died that year from hyponatraemia (water intoxication). In 2011 Claire Squires, aged 30, died of heart failure in front of Buckingham palace. It was felt that DMAA, a now banned amphetamine stimulant, contributed (it wasn’t banned at the time). In 2014 Robert Berry, aged 42, died from heat stroke. In 2016 David Seath died from heat stroke (probably) aged 30.

258,911 men have completed the race since 2007 (including 2007 and 2017) and 140,271 women. So, the death rates are 1.2/100,000 for men and 0.71/100,000 for women.

If you accept that 14 have died over the course of the race, and that 1,039,225 people have completed it (a combination of race reports from the London Marathon website, marathonguide.com, and a page on peakendurance sport.com) then the overall risk rises to 1.5/100,000 for both sexes.

Boston is another famous city with a famous marathon, unfortunately for sad reasons at present. I’ll be looking out for Stronger when it is released in the UK. There is a professor at Harvard who has collated some data. When it arrives in the post, I will update the blog with the key points.

The New York Marathon is the world’s largest. It started in 1970. They have a great analytics page (http://www.tcsnycmarathon.org/analytics). Tata Steel aren’t popular in the UK, but Tata Consultancy Services are my new friend. 1,070,784 people have participated in the NY Marathon since 1970 – 764,609 men and 306,175 women. The average man aged 40-49 completes the distance in 04:15:57. Finding the deaths is a little harder. 3 died in 2008. They don’t keep those stats on the website, and more data trawling is required. I have emailed them, but won’t hold my breath.

What have I learned? Finding out accurate data is hard. I still have more stones to look under. And marathon organisers don’t want to hear about deaths or advertise them (odd that…). If you have access to any data please let me know. But one thing is certain: deaths running a marathon are mercifully rare. It’s about the same risk as spending an hour on a plane (http://www.besthealthdegrees.com/health-risks/).

I’ll book a return ticket back from Dublin. The flight is quite short.

 

Written by mjd

A 40something cardiologist from the UK

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