Marathons: Run Till You Die?

I had two good runs over the weekend. Five miles in a cold drizzle early Saturday morning. Another five miles on a crisp, clear Sunday morning. This morning I hit the elliptical trainer, a concession to a nagging foot and leg injury. But hey. I’m still moving. Even if it is just in a circle. Still, I wonder how dangerous it is to engage in any vigorous exercise?

I was thinking about that Sunday night after hearing reports about three men who died while running a half marathon in Detroit yesterday morning. (Early reports indicated that two of the runners may have been attempting the full marathon.) And no one — at least at this point — knows what caused the deaths.

And stating the obvious, the deaths are tragic — for the runners, their families and friends. It’s also scary — for all us who get up every morning (afternoon or evening) and hit the pavement, grind away on one of the trainers, bike, swim, whatever.

For those of you who know me or read this blog, you know I am an avid advocate for the benefits of exercise, physical and mental. During the past 30 years or so, I’ve run more than 30,000 miles, completed three marathons and a half dozen or so half marathons. And I believe most “experts”  would opine that the value of exercise trumps the risk of sudden death or even serious injury.

Yet I know there are no guarantees. There is some risk involved in everything. But if you look at the statistics, the chance of dying while running in a road race — at almost any distance — is almost nonexistent. For perspective, here is an article from Runner’s World and another from the Detroit Free Press online.

And one of the best articles I have read on this subject is by Amby Burfoot, a world-class runner and longtime writer and editor on these subjects, in Runner’s World, “Special Report: Are Marathons Dangerous?

So my take on all this?

Given a choice, I’ll continue to run as often and as far as I can — and take my chances.

I expect that most will do likewise — despite the stories about an occasional tragic death during a road race.

Running — and participating in road races as a weekend warrior — is a celebration of life. Don’t believe me? Go to the finish line and watch the reaction of those completing their first race, walking or running.  And from that time on, no matter how many you’ve done you don’t take the accomplishment for granted.

And my friend Walter used to tell me when we were complaining about something during our long runs together — “run or die.”

Good advice.


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