Has Anyone Ever Died Running a Marathon?

Consider the sort of people that take part in athletic events. You would probably consider the vast majority of them to be in rather excellent physical condition compared to the stereotypical sedentary lifestyle that others tend to lead. This is generally a requirement in many sporting events since they have a particularly high demand on the human body. And we are all aware of injuries that can take place in many of these arenas. Contact sports in general have a long history of taking a toll on athletes. But, there are other sports and athletic competitions that you may not consider to be so dangerous for people. Yes, these sports require a lot of physical exertion, but the risk of injury or long-term damage to the human body is not nearly as severe, right? Unfortunately, this is not at all the case, especially in instances involving endurance running such as marathons. In fact, without proper conditioning (and possibly even with such conditioning), participants in marathons are still at risk for physical consequences up to and even including death.

In fact, the odds of a participant dying in the midst of a marathon is surprisingly common compared to the likes of athletes suffering from life-altering injuries. Although competing in marathons is often thought of as the zenith of physical health, the risks associated with running a marathon are much greater than many might seem to account for. Several deaths are recorded every year due to various reasons, many of them surprising considering the peak health that most marathon runners find themselves to be in.

There are actually a number of reasons that someone might succumb during a marathon. For one, it’s a stretch of 26.2 miles. Many of us probably don’t even drive that far for our daily commute to work. During this stretch, there are several factors that can come into play, a common factor among them being heat stroke. Considering the strain put upon the body for that stretch of running, even in ideal weather conditions, the body can only sustain so much in the way of heat exhaustion before giving out. And in order to combat the effects of heat stroke, staying consistently hydrated plays a great part in a runner’s plan to cover those miles. However, this can work against the body as well in large doses. Hyponatremia, also commonly known as “water intoxication,” is a condition involving an imbalance of sodium levels within the body potentially caused by over-hydrating. This often results in fluid imbalance within the body, and can cause a person to have headaches, seizures, succumb to nausea and vomiting, and even result in comatose states or death.

However, the most common cause of death during marathons is heart attacks. The extraordinary stress put upon the body during a 26.2 mile run translates to that stress applied to the heart. And while exercising the heart is often seen as a good thing, exercising it so rigorously and over a long period of time can actually have adverse effects. In fact, researchers have determined that the strain of running a marathon can increase the risk of a cardiac episode by seven times the normal risk factor. And even if you don’t happen to suffer a heart attack in the midst of a marathon, the long-term effects can still be devastating. Studies have shown scarring on heart muscle in some of the most dedicated marathon runners in their later stages of life. Other studies have determined that extended strain can result in abnormalities in how blood is pumped through the heart, and the inflammation suffered on the heart as well as decreased blood flow during a marathon can cause many segments to lose functionality, further contributing to the risk of a heart attack.

Although sheer numbers obscure the statistic of mortality rate among marathon runners (28 reported deaths among over 3.7 million participants during or up to 24 hours after finishing a marathon in the United States between 2000 and 2009), the strain on the body is undeniable. Even if the odds don’t necessarily portray a high mortality rate, the long-term side effects on your physical health may not, in fact, be worth it.