Death from marathon running low

The stories of marathon runners collapsing and dying at the finish line are enough to scare anybody thinking of participating in one of the 26.2 mile races popular around this time of year.

But a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers has found the risk of deaths at marathon races is pretty low. Not impossible, but not all that likely either.

A runner's risk of dying during or soon after the race is about .75 per 100,000 the research found. Men were twice as likely to die as women.

"It's very dramatic when someone dies on the course, but it's not common,"  Julius Cuong Pham, the study's lead author an an associate professor of emergency medicine and anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. 

The study was published online in The American Journal of Sports Medicine.

"There are clearly many health benefits associated with running," Pham said. "It doesn't make you immune, but your risk of dying from running a marathon is very, very low."

 Pham and his colleagues found that between 2000 and 2009, 28 people died during or in the 24 hours following a marathon.

Half of those who died were over age 45, and all but one in that age group died of heart disease.

Younger runners died from a variety of reasons that included  cardiac arrhythmia and hyponatremia, or drinking excessive amounts of water.

Marathon running has become more popular as people exercise more for the health benefits. The Hopkins research looked at statistics from about 300 marathons per year and found that the number of finishers increased dramatically between 2000 and 2009, from 299,018 to 473,354.

Pham said the benefits of marathon running include decreased risks of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. People who run regularly have been found to have lower rates of all-cause mortality and disability.

But marathon running is not risk-free, Pham said. Studies have shown the yearly incidence of injury in people training for marathons is as high as 90 percent.

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