Marathon athletes 'running on empty', university study finds

University study finds that competitors are risking injury and even death by failing to train adequately for showpiece endurance events

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 4:40am

A third of the runners who took part in last year's Hong Kong Marathon 10-kilometre race risked their health by doing not even a day's training in the 12 months leading up to it, a university study has found.

A third more trained just once a week, the Baptist University study revealed. Researchers said their findings showed how little awareness there was of the health risks of insufficient training.

Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak, who led the study, said that although most of those who ran in the 10k race were not doing so competitively, three days of training per week - 40 to 48 kilometres of running - were recommended to reduce the risk of injury.

But 10k participants ran an average of just 9.7 kilometres per week throughout the preceding year, the study found.

The university questioned 1,146 runners who took part in last year's Standard Chartered Marathon events. About 1/4 of those questioned ran the 10k, half were in the half-marathon and the rest joined the 42-kilometre marathon.

There was an alarming lack of preparation for all events. Some 32 per cent of half-marathon runners trained just twice a week and 1/3 of marathon runners trained on fewer than three days a week.

"Generally speaking, half and full-marathon runners should train about five to six days a week, with at least one day of rest," said Louie, adding that training should be "tapered" down 10 days or so before the race.

The average half-marathon runner ran 20 kilometres per week and marathon runners averaged 43 kilometres. The recommended training levels are 48 to 64 kilometres and 48 to 80 kilometres per week respectively.

Louie said insufficient training could lead to injury and even death. Runners could suffer cramp or push themselves too hard after "hitting the wall" - the condition when a runner's body is depleted of glycogen and stalls due to an energy shortage.

"It's like a car that's being pushed to keep going even when the fuel tank is at empty," said Louie. "In some serious cases, runners can collapse, be in a state of shock, start hallucinating or fall into a coma."

Between 2006 to 2012, one half-marathon runner and one full-marathon runner died of sudden heart attacks. Last year, 37 runners ended up in hospital injured, compared to 38 in 2012.

Chan King-yin, a double Asian Games champion in windsurfing and a regular marathon participant, urged runners to "know their limits" and hydrate regularly, but in moderation, at water stations.

About 73,000 runners are expected to turn out for this year's races on February 16.