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Most runners have experienced sprains, strains and other minor injuries. But marathon running is a step on from regular running – not many people run 26.2 miles in one go. It sounds tough and obviously intensely tiring- but can running marathons be dangerous? Read on to find out just how dangerous running a marathon is – and how to protect yourself during training and in the big race.

The biggest problem for marathon runners is dehydration. This is especially true if the weather is hot and humid. You can lose 4 litres of fluid through sweat and exhalation, so it is crucial that marathon runners keep hydrated.

Well before race day, it’s important for runners to start preparing. Many injuries can be avoided by properly preparing, ensuring high levels of fitness, warming up before the race and doing the right preparation stretches.

A huge 4,923 runners and members of the public needed medical help during the 2012 London Marathon. These were mostly only for minor issues but in 2011, around people 6,000 needed assistance for heat exhaustion.

Deaths in Marathons Runners

Fatalities in marathons are rare. Only 11 people have died in the London Marathon since its beginnings in 1981 (ten men and one woman – all over 40 years old).  Seven of these deaths were linked to existing hidden heart conditions, such as blocked blood vessels and congenital structural problems.

One death was due to drinking too much water (hyponatremia) and two people died from a brain haemorrhage.

US researchers analysed 11 million marathon runners who took part in races between 2000 and 2010. Over the decade, 59 of the runners had a cardiac arrest and 42 of these people died. This works out to be one death in every 259,000 runners with most suffering from heart conditions.

How to Avoid Problems When Running a Marathon

Once you begin marathon training, you should only increase your training mileage gradually by around 10% each week and no more. This is to avoid exhaustion and to help your body become accustomed to the exercise intensity.

Separate your days of high distances with a couple of days of lighter training and have regular rest days to give your body time to recover. Make sure you get enough sleep during training too, as this is vital for recovery.

Unless the marathon route is very hilly, don’t worry about lots of hill training as, although hill running builds leg strength, you should concentrate on building up your mileage over flatter ground.

By following a slow and steady marathon training plan, you should build stamina in a healthy way. If you get an injury or become ill during your training period, always take a break don’t start running again until you are fully recovered.

Trying to get back into training too soon could make you ill again and set you back further in the long term. This is where runners need to be disciplined and recognise that rest is hugely important when preparing for such a challenging race as a marathon.

How Fit Do You Need to Be to Run a Marathon?

Experts suggest that when preparing to run a marathon, you should be able to comfortably run 15 miles in one continuous session with a month to go before the big race.

This ensures you can handle this type of distance. When they say ‘comfortably’  be able to run 15 miles, it means you should still feel there is some gas left in the tank after this distance.

Running a marathon is a big physical challenge and it’s important that you prepare well in advance, ensuring that you build up your stamina and strength steadily and safely, so that you can deal with the longer distance.

On the Day of the Race

On the day of the big race, make sure you eat a balanced and carb-rich meal a few hours before running. You should also be eating energy-rich foods for a few days before in preparation.

You should wear comfortable clothing for the weather, a baseball cap or visor if it’s sunny and choose trainers you’ve run in many times before and know are comfortable. The last thing you need in a marathon is a blister.

Make sure you warm up properly, don’t set off too fast as you’ll need to pace yourself for the distance. During the race, if you feel any pain or discomfort, you should stop and walk for a while. If pain persists, withdraw from the race. There is no point risking your health and there’s always next year!

Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?

Experiencing a serious medical issue during a marathon is very rare and if this happens it is usually in connect with a pre-existing health condition.

For the vast majority of people, the health benefits of running far outweigh the risks.

If you have any concerns about your fitness levels and marathon training, it’s always a good idea to talk to your GP who can discuss your health and safe fitness training with you.


Share your thoughts on marathons, risks of marathon running and health benefits

Have you ever run a marathon? How did you find it?

What was the biggest challenge in preparation and on race day?

What are your tips for preparing for a marathon?

Do you have any tips on warm ups, stretching, cool downs and recovery sessions?

What are the best foods to eat before the race? And for recovery?

Share your thoughts on marathons in the comments.

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