Those who run know the risks — but without risk there is no reward to savor at the finish line. When the London Marathon started in 1981, there were only 6500 runners. Now there are an average of 32,000 who finish the race each year. Because it is the largest “normal sized” marathon in the world, it’s a good source of information through which we can sift to find our answers. How often are runners subject to injury or even death when they try to finish a marathon?
First, it’s important to note that not all marathons are conducted the same way. The London Marathon provides would-be runners with medical advice prior to the race, asking them to agree to only participate should their general healthcare provider agree that they are fit enough to do so.
On the day of the race there are 40 first aid stations at regular intervals from start to finish — at which point runners will find themselves next to two fully functional field hospitals, one of which has its own intensive care unit for runners who have incurred serious injuries. At least 1000 medical staff are on standby to provide assistance to anyone who gets into trouble.
In other words, the London Marathon is conducted only with the greatest care in mind.
We’ll start with deaths, the rate of which is fairly low. Over the entire twenty years during which the race has been conducted, there have only been seven deaths — which equates to about one in 67,414. Alternatively, you might consider that one person died for each two million miles run in total during the marathon.
Casualties or “contacts” are recorded whenever someone stops for medical assistance, even minor, during or after the race. If someone has a bad blister in urgent need of draining, that counts as a contact. In 2000 there were 4,633 contacts out of 32,600 runners. 38 visited the intensive care hospital.
What does this all mean?
Well, you can take it to mean that learned runners are well aware of the risks and often take their own precautions before signing up for a long race, which is why the numbers stay so low. Because most of these contacts are for smaller injuries that don’t necessarily threaten to remove someone from the rest of the race, many runners are also smart enough to have any injury, however small, cared for.