Distance running, without training, is asking for trouble
Death of 10km competitor in Sunday’s Hong Kong marathon is a reminder that preparedness is crucial in an otherwise safe sport
The thousands-strong contingent of overseas runners taking part in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon showed how successful the event and its associated races have become. The Ethiopian winners were full of praise for the race, the organisers and our city; it has taken its rightful place on the international running circuit. But the death of a female competitor who took part in the 10km event has overshadowed the record-breaking times and the compliments, highlighting a little-mentioned aspect of the sport. For all the excitement, challenge, fun and rewards, there are also risks.
Distance running is not to be taken lightly, as the organisers point out when competitors sign up for the races. A handbook and internet information highlight the need for intensive training and private health checks. Whether the 52-year-old woman followed this advice is not known; an investigation into the cause of her death may make matters clearer. But a Baptist University study in 2014 found that one-third of runners in that year’s 10km event did not do a single day of training in the 12 months leading up to race day.
Surprisingly, the number of people whose health is affected by the distance and sometimes high humidity and air pollution is low. Four people have died since the first marathon in 1997 and only one in the marathon itself; the others were in the shorter races. That is perhaps telling: only well- prepared runners would consider the 42km event, while amateurs, perhaps not realising the training needed for running even 10km, are more likely to be attracted to the shorter distances.
With US research of nearly 11 million marathon and half-marathon runners between 2000 and 2010 showing that just one in 259,000 died, fatalities are rare. Of the 42 victims, most had underlying heart conditions. Health risks are not for organisers to find out, nor is their role to ensure participants do adequate training. The thrill, contribution to charity, the drive for fitness and even prize money are good reasons to participate. But equally important is preparedness.