Pheidippides, the Greek Soldier who is named after the marathon was the first recorded death of marathon. In the story, it is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the senate with the words “Masters! Victory is ours!” before collapsing and dying due to exhaustion.
What are the chances of you falling down with an heart attack? A study published in 1996, found that the risk of having a fatal heart attack during, or in the period 24 hours after, a marathon, was approximately 1 in 50,000 over an athlete’s racing career – which the authors characterised as an “extremely small” risk.
The paper went on to say that since the risk was so small, cardiac screening programs for marathons were not warranted.
In another study of 60 non elite runners in 2006, they tested the runners’ blood for proteins that signal heart muscle damage and heart dysfunction. It revealed that runners who had done less than 35 miles per week training before the race were most likely to show some heart damage or dysfunction, while runners who had done more than 45 miles per week training beforehand showed little or no heart problems.
Marathon running is a test of endurance, lets assume it stresses the heart more than shorter running activities, and this may be the reason why marathon runners who are at risk seem to drop down with heart attack.
Ryan Shay tragedy
Its important to note that majority of runners who have died of heart attack were people who had undiagnosed heart anomalies. Other casualties are runners who knew they were at risk but decided to ignore the threat of heart attack. I remember when Ryan Shay died at 2007 US Olympic Trials it was reported his Doctor had warned Shay to cut down on his running because his heart rate was too low and sooner or later he would need to use a pacemaker. If you look at it realistically, Ryan Shay was in the wrong career.
Sign of Risk of Heart Attack
The best way to avoid coming down with heart attack during running is take a heart check and see whether you are at risk. One sign of risk is a big heart. But endurance athletes have big hearts than normal so don’t get scared if the Doctor tells you, “you have a big heart.” The Doctor should consider all factors before making a final conclusion.