The reason the organisers of the Hong Kong Marathon put on a half marathon and a 10-kilometre run is to make it a more inclusive community event. It is also to make participation safer for people with less staying power and lower levels of fitness and training. So it is disturbing to learn, just days away from the weekend's Standard Chartered Marathon, the results of a university study of more than 1,100 entrants last year that revealed lack of preparation for all three distances.
A third of the 10-kilometre runners had not even done a day's training in the previous year. A third more had trained just once a week, the Baptist University study revealed. Researchers said this showed little awareness of the health risks. Study leader Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak said that although most in the 10-kilometre race were not running competitively, three days' training a week - for 40 to 48 kilometres - were recommended to reduce the risk of injury. Generally, half and full marathon runners should train five or six days a week from 48 to 64 and 48 to 80 kilometres respectively. About a third of runners in both events last year fell well short of these benchmarks.
Given that marathons are billed as the ultimate test of mental and physical fitness, it is not surprising that a range of ailments can affect runners, with exhaustion and dehydration the most common, and deaths not unheard of.
That said, studies of the health effects of long-distance races do not point to them being riskier than other forms of strenuous exercise. A frequently heard explanation why amateurs run marathons, among a host of reasons, is for better health. To achieve that, anyone considering taking part has to be properly prepared, a time-consuming task most office workers would find difficult. While that puts the onus on the organisers to convey the paramount importance of proper preparation, it also creates an opportunity to educate fun runners in year-round fitness topped by diligent training months before the race. The concept of all-comers taking part calls for such preparation and awareness of personal limits.