Almost every weekend throughout the year, somewhere in the United States, a marathon is taking place. The same holds true in many other countries of the world. One might think that organized marathons would cause a lot of traffic tie-ups and car crashes because of road closures, but it seems just the opposite is true. In fact, marathons lower the risk of fatal motor vehicle crashes that might otherwise have taken place if the roads had not been closed.
The real risk
The data show that the final 1.6 km (about one mile) of the marathon accounts for almost half of the sudden cardiac deaths, so the authors of the study suggest the last half of the length of the marathon (and especially the last 1.6 km in particular) should contain the highest number of paramedic staffing and ambulance preparedness. The researchers concluded that the real risk, which is more dangerous than generally realized, was the final sprint followed by suddenly stopping.
BMJ-British Medical Journal released the results of a study of 26 established, randomly selected marathons examined over a 30-year period. Each marathon had at least 1,000 participants and took place on United States. Sudden cardiac deaths following each marathon were recorded and compared to motor vehicle deaths during the same hours one week before and one week after each marathon. The same comparisons were then replicated for counties that were outside the marathon route to check for spillover in traffic flow.
During the period of time studied, there were 26 sudden cardiac deaths, equivalent to a rate of 0.8 per 100,000 participants or about two deaths per million hours of exercise. But because of road closure, 46 motor vehicle fatalities were prevented that otherwise would have occurred, equivalent to almost two lives saved. The reduced risk couldn’t be explained by re-routing traffic to other regions or days and was consistent across different parts of the country, decade of the century, seasons of the year, days of the week, and race characteristics.
Millions of people take part in organized sporting events on a regular basis, and the outcome for a few participants is sudden death. These deaths attract widespread media attention, such as the high publicity given to deaths that occur in marathon runners. In contrast, sudden deaths from motor vehicle crashes occur more than a hundred times each day in the United States alone and tend to be under-reported in the media.
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