Marathons: A Sports Trend With a Silent Enemy

Healthy lifestyles and physical activity involving athletics continue to grow, but inadequate preparation processes put the health of the participants at risk.

Athlete reaching the finish line of a marathon

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LatinAmerican Post | Juan Felipe Rengifo

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Leer en español: Maratones: un deporte con un enemigo silencioso

The running culture has been taking over the different streets of the world, both amateur and professional athletes seek to improve their marks and cover the kilometers in the shortest possible time. The benefits that practicing a sport has on both physical and mental health are undeniable, and after the period of isolation that was experienced due to the pandemic, the number of amateur athletes has increased considerably thanks to the well-being produced by crossing the finish line.

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Despite the multiple benefits, like any sports discipline, the race requires progressive preparation and professional accompaniment to reduce the risks involved. Due to the increase in marathons, half-marathons and similar competitions that have taken place on the five continents, the number of affectations in the participants has also increased, especially heart failure that has even turned into episodes of sudden deaths.

Steve Shanks, the marathon runner who passed away suddenly

On April 23, 45-year-old Shanks ran the 42 kilometers of the London Marathon with a time of 2 hours and 53 minutes, after finishing the competition he died suddenly on the way to the train station that would take him home. The native of Nottingham was an experienced marathon runner and due to the surprise of his death, the debate is opened about the check-ups or medical studies that are required of the participants who compete in this kind of competition.

Due to its media impact, the prestige of the competition and the competitor's sports career, the lack of prevention to avoid sports tragedies is once again evident. Although it is a low-impact activity, factors such as age, sedentary lifestyle and genetic predispositions of the participants increase the risks. According to experts, studies as simple as blood tests, family medical history, electrocardiogram and stress tests, prior to a competition would minimize risk factors, however, and despite the fact that they are low-complexity medical studies, they are not required in most competitions for the amateur category.

Shanks case, isolated but recurring

The sudden death of Steve Shanks once again recalled tragic events in other competitions that have taken place in the last year, such as the death of a 21-year-old young man at the end of the Elche Half Marathon on March 12; the sudden death of 32-year-old Peruvian Jorge Lezama who was competing in the Lima Marathon on September 11; or the unexpected departure of Jorge Andrei Valencia, a 34-year-old Colombian athlete who lost his life in the Medellín Marathon on the previous September 4. All the deaths with a common denominator, ignorance of the real state of health of the competitors due to the little control that the races carry out despite their large profits.

The races: a round business

The races have become a very lucrative business because the cost of registration can average from 50 dollars in Latin America and can reach up to 255 in marathons as prestigious as the one in New York. Tens of thousands of competitors pay said registration to run the 5, 10, 21 and 42 kilometers depending on their level of preparation, so the profits are more than attractive due to their low logistical complexity.

The competition kits are also simple, since they mostly consist of a jersey, number, hydrating drinks, medal, insurance, and a tracking chip that measures time and distance. A high percentage of the prizes are provided directly by the sponsors, which makes the business even more lucrative because it does not directly affect profits.

Medical strictness. Counterproductive for business?

According to experts in sports medicine, the inclusion of compulsory medical check-ups would decrease the number of participants because a high percentage would not be willing to carry out this type of study, understanding the low health risk of the sporting activity they carry out. However, a few participants could have underlying problems that, if left undetected, could have serious health consequences, including death.

PAR-Q questionnaire, a practical solution.

This simple questionnaire consists of nine questions and helps to detect any contraindication to perform any physical activity. If at least one question is answered positively, the athlete will require a more exhaustive medical evaluation to be able to participate in any sporting activity. In this way, the risk of runners can be reduced from the registration process.

You want to be a better athlete, go to the doctor.

A doctor not only has the function of preventing or curing diseases, he is also able to provide you with recommendations to improve your performance. The physical tests help to know your potential, the exercises that will allow you to increase it, the metabolic levels that your body reaches and the average heart rate. If you take these factors into account, your training will be more personalized according to your performance and ability, which allows you to be more competitive.

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