serious running: trail running, races, shoe reviews

Is marathon running too dangerous?

posted by admin


A columnist for Newsday in New York wrote a controversial column last week decrying the apparent lack of outrage over 2 runner deaths during this year’s New York marathon. Anthony Rieber seems to imply that because marathon runners and spectators are wealthy individuals and races are often sponsored by big companies and media organizations like the New York Times, deaths like these are often overlooked or ignored altogther. Rieber argues that if a competitor had died during say, a boxing event, the public outcry would have been enormous. Instead there was only a casual mention of the fatalities amid otherwise positive coverage of the marathon.

It turns out the last time a competitor died during the New York Marathon was in 1994, although there were plenty of situations where marathon runners passed away during training or shortly after completing the race. Admittedly running any distance can be a dangerous activity and most competitors understand that a marathon heightens that risk to an extreme level. To many runners the risk is well worth the potential reward – increased physical fitness – and to denounce a race like the New York Marathon as being “too dangerous” is pure heresy to this group. So as you can imagine Rieber got a few pieces of hate mail ;)

All this reminds me of something I learned recently: In the early 20th century it was determined that women simply didn’t have the physical constitution for running long distance events after a few female competitors collapsed during Olympic competition. Sound familiar? Clearly today we know women can run as far as they like but the knee-jerk reaction to say running is too dangerous is eerily similar.

Look even further back to the “legend” of the marathon origin itself. The distance – 26 miles or so – from Athens to Marathon was seemingly an impossible distance for a man to run without stopping and the original marathon runner, Pheidippides, is said to have died almost immediately after finishing. So clearly part of the lure of the marathon is that it’s dangerous – and most, if not all, of those involved know the risks of participating. Just like sky diving wouldn’t be any fun if it weren’t dangerous, so marathon running gets some of its excitement from the risks involved.

Nope, I think I’ll skip boxing and keep running. At least when I’m running I don’t have to worry about being punched in the head – how can that be any fun or even good for you?