Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Endurance Events = Death?

Of course I kid, but…

Several deaths at endurance events this year have many people puzzled and worried. The most recent I’m aware of was a 35-year old firefighter at the Chicago Marathon Sunday, with autopsies inconclusive for the cause of death. This followed a heart attack death at the September Montreal Half Marathon, and a June death at the Chicago Half Marathon (heat stroke?). Two (two!) people died during the New York City Triathlon, both apparent heart attacks. I’m sure there are more out there, but in each case, seemingly fit and trained participants never finished their events.

Now these isolated incidents are scary, but statistically, we’re all still better off training and aiming for fitness. Even though any one of us could become the next fatality, the odds are slim and, our day to day life is improved through training. Stay safe.


  1. The media and couch potatoes love to grab onto these events. Our odds are greatly in our favor, as you said. Especially if you are a woman, b/c it seems that the vast majority are males. So maybe just you males should worry. ; )

  2. Thanks for the reassurance, Amanda! :)

  3. I wonder if I know have a better chance of dying while training/racing or by plane crash now that I fly to Oakland and back at least once a week now.

    I can tell you this - I don't worry about the training but I do worry about the flying.

  4. I hope an endurance event kills me at a ripe old age. I would rather go out doing something I love than decaying in a hospital bed. Unfortunate that some have died before their time.

  5. And how many obese couch potatoes died as a result of their medical complications during those races?

  6. As much as I don't want to have a heart attack during a race, I think that the training and running I do make a heart attack much less likely than if I didn't participate in endurance sports. And while I'm in no hurry to die, I'd much rather go doing something I enjoy than sitting on the couch.

  7. I'm with Steady Pursuit - I'd rather die on the race course at age 80-85 than to die any other way.

  8. hmm... i agree with some of the others, there are worse ways to die, might as well be having an adventure!

  9. I've thought about this a few times myself. While this is not a scientific study (and really doesn't compare apples to apples), I dug up a few numbers to put this in perspective. Email me if you want the links.

    Chance of dying during or after a marathon or other endurance event 3 hours or longer 2 per 100,000 (0.002%). Death rate during triathlons 1.5 per 100,000. Death rate during marathons 0.8 per 100,000 participants.

    1,208,000 people participated in at least one tri in 2009 and 1,978,000 million people did a triathlon last year. So at 1.5 deaths per 100,000 there would have been about 30 deaths. I heard of maybe 5 but I'm sure there were more at smaller races.

    In 2009 the fatality rate due to car accidents was 110 per hundred thousand people. So if you can avoid driving to your race, you would increase your odds of survival :-).

    Overall heart attack death rate in the U.S is ~260 per 100,000. In 2007 309,821 men and 306,246 died from heart attacks out of 233,720,372 adults (taken from 2010 census). This number is high because it includes all ages so we should probably adjust by our age. I didn't find a heart attack death rate by age chart.

  10. It is only a matter of time before the politicians get involved and try to save us from ourselves.

  11. One of the podcasts I listen to talked about this very issue a few weeks ago. The content was totally unrelated to the deaths but it was talking about chronic training and elite endurance athletes. The doctor being interviewed conducted a study of cardiac condition in marathoners/elites/etc and runners/joggers/weight lifters/etc and found that most of the long distance endurance athletes had hearts that were overly stressed. This included weakened and strained hearts along with heart tissue that was more susceptible to failure due to stress, which would definitely explain why some runners have strokes or cardiac arrest after an event. It sounds like their hearts are literally just giving out due to prolonged stress.


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