Saturday, May 16, 2009

Run A Marathon, Save 1.8 Lives

That's right, folks. The media tends to concentrate on the deaths that occur in marathons, focused on the danger of running 26.2 miles rather than the celebration of so many of the finishers' accomplishments. It's rather ironic when the same media touts the results of the opposite end of the spectrum, which is America's obesity epidemic and the adverse effects of being sedentary has on individuals. But having examined a particular study in the British Medical Journal, it is now safe to say I'd much rather be running a marathon than driving a car.

This experiment showed that, out of 26 marathons totaling more than 3 million participants over the course of 30 years, more deaths could be attributed to vehicle crashes than marathon running. Researchers recorded the number of sudden cardiac deaths after each marathon and compared them with the numbers of motor vehicle deaths along the route during the same hours one week before and one week after these 26.2-mile races. They also looked at routes outside the marathon to account for any spill-over traffic (traffic that was forced to navigate around the blocked-off roads).

The results? Across the 30-year duration, 26 cardiac deaths occurred in the marathons. Put another way, this statistic is equal to a rate of 0.8 deaths per million hours of exercise. In contrast, approximately 46 lives were saved in motor vehicle accidents that would have otherwise taken place had the marathon not closed these roads. The re-routing of traffic could not account for this lower death toll.

Thus, researchers Donald A Redelmeier and J Ari Greenwald found that running marathons has a 35% less relative death risk than that of driving, which "amounted to a ratio of about 1.8 crash deaths saved for each case of sudden cardiac death observed."

Of course, as with every study, there are critics who search for flaws in the methods used by researchers. One such critic, Graeme D. Ruxton, proposed, "...if [Redelmeier and Greenwald] are correct that marathons lead to a reduction rather than a redistribution of road traffic accidents, perhaps the reason is because marathon runners are intrinsically dangerous drivers and the key function to society of marathons is to keep these people off our roads for a few hours!" As a runner, such a statement cannot help but slightly offend. However, it is merely a different (and less direct) interpretation of the results, which are rarely definitive matters.

Despite critics, the main purpose of the experiment was fulfilled with Redelmeier and Greenwald's conclusion that, "Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media."

Therefore, I encourage all of my readers to run marathons! It saves lives! And it most likely won't be at the expense of your own.


  1. Very nice post with a clear message! Run Marathons...It Saves Lives!!!

    Thanks for sharing that informative study.

  2. Very nice article. I just signed up for a marathon in November! Time to save some lives!

  3. grr i left a message of a comment yesterday and it didn't work :(
    i'll try to recreate it soon...