A runner dies during the L.A. Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon; such deaths are rare

Sad news from the Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles half-marathon that took place downtown Sunday: Thirty-seven-year-old Charles Whitmore Riske of Costa Mesa died just short of the finish line. While Riske’s cause of death has not yet been determined, deaths during marathons are rare, studies show.

A 1996 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that deaths were low in two marathons held over a combined 30-year period. During the Marine Corps Marathon from 1976 to 1994 and the Twin Cities marathon from 1982 to 1994, 215,413 runners competed. During those years four exercise-related sudden deaths due to cardiovascular disease took place, making the overall occurrence of sudden cardiac death during the race 0.002%, or one in 50,000. That, the study authors noted, is much lower than other risks for premature death in the general population.

During those marathons three people died during the race and one just after crossing the finish line. Ages of the runners ranged from 19 to 58, and none had evidence of prior heart disease. Two of the runners had finished three other marathons each.


Another study took an interesting look at the risk of sudden cardiac death during a marathon, comparing it with the risk of dying in a car crash that would have taken place had local roads not been closed.

In the 2007 British Medical Journal study, researchers analyzed results of marathons that took place on public roads and included 3,292,268 runners on 750 separate days from 1975 to 2004. In that time 26 people died of sudden cardiac death, or 0.8 per 100,000 runners.

But due to road closures, an estimated 46 fatal car wrecks were prevented, resulting in about 1.8 crash deaths saved for every case of sudden cardiac death during a marathon.

While exercise-related deaths during marathons tend to attract loads of media attention, we’re sure health and fitness experts hope this doesn’t deter people from doing any kind of exercise, be it a marathon or a 5K run. After all, there are benefits to running.

A 2009 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that among more than 100,000 male and female runners, as marathon frequency went up, the prevalence of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and diabetes went down. Men who averaged 0.2 to 0.8 marathons per year had 13% lower odds of taking medication to lower blood pressure, 22% lower odds of taking cholesterol-lowering medication, and 67% lower odds of taking diabetes drugs, compared with non-marathoners.