It's more than endorphins.
December 26, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Legend has it that Phidippedes ran 26 miles to Athens from Marathon to announce the success of the Athenian army's surprise suicide attack against the far larger Persian army, starting a grand tradition: Dying during marathons.

Less publicized but more noteworthy are those episodes where a marathon has led someone to come to life.

Previously on MeFi.
posted by minimii (21 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
that which now called a marathon is a bit longer than when the Greek dude ran it. He died not during but at the completion of his run, so legend has it.

What may be of slight interest about distance running races: with the exception of, say, the Olympic marathon, and college racing, the sluggards (people like me) can enter the same race at the same time as the world's elite runners. Now contrast that with baseball, football, swimming, etc.

One longtime-myth that has fortunately died: if you run a lot of miles often you will not have a heart attack. Bill Rodgers, famous marathoner, discovered that piling in junk food for energy and hunger after twenty miles runs, gave him artery clogging and had to turn to better eating and nourishment habits.
posted by Postroad at 8:52 AM on December 26, 2009

...the sluggards (people like me) can enter the same race at the same time as the world's elite runners. Now contrast that with baseball, football, swimming, etc.

Not only that, but I believe the mental and physical feat you accomplish is greater.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:04 AM on December 26, 2009

the sluggards (people like me) can enter the same race at the same time as the world's elite runners

I went in the city to surf for the first time this year, and the front runners had crossed the finish line before us plebs were able to cross the start line. So yeah, sort of.
posted by onya at 9:17 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

The 1904 St. Louis Olympic marathon was the worst in history.
The marathon had proved too much for more than half the men who started the race. Most were defeated by the terrible heat and clouds of choking dust. But Hicks had to contend with something the others didn't: his trainer's belief in the benefits of strychnine and brandy.
posted by jonesor at 9:40 AM on December 26, 2009

The battle of marathon happened, and then this bloke, he ran 26 miles, the length of Marathon, and then he said, "We won the battle of Marathon!" And then he dropped down dead. Now if you'd lost you could understand that, 'cause the conquering army'd be after you, and they're going to take out that next city, yeah? So you run, run, run, "They're coming… oh fucking hell!" You know. But if you've won, surely you just saunter down, you don't run. You get in the car, you get some naked people with you, you take a lot of drugs, "Hey! We fucking won! Three nil!" And you live forever. Surely!
And that from a guy who would go on to run 43 marathons in 7 weeks with no army whatsoever going after him.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 9:42 AM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]

I believe the mental and physical feat you accomplish is greater.

At the risk of a derail: Not. even. close.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for people out there on their on their feet for five or six hours, but the elite runners have worked hard for years. That's one of my favorite things about distance running: no matter how crazy the talent, NOBODY skates by with a minimum of effort. Anyone at the front has put in loads of hard work.
posted by letitrain at 9:43 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I plan to continue the grand tradition of dying before my first marathon.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:31 AM on December 26, 2009 [10 favorites]

Actually, Pheidipides is supposed to have run quite a bit more than 26.5 miles:
The traditional story relates that Pheidippides (530 BC–490 BC), an Athenian herald, was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon, Greece.

He ran 240 km (150 miles) in two days. He then ran the 40 km (25 miles) from the battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) with the word "Νενικήκαμεν" (Nenikékamen, 'We have won') and collapsed and died on the spot because of exhaustion.
Plus, he was doing all that running in Greece, which has mountains like "Whoa!"

I'm in training for my first 1/2 marathon. Working on not dropping dead from it. Doin' okay so far.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:47 AM on December 26, 2009

Again, from the sluggard: I ran NY Marathon a number of years ago. Finished it still standing. Decided not to do any marathon again cause I might not beat my time and would feel bad.
Was greeted at the finish in Central Park by my ex wife and my ex children. They were nice to me. First time. Ever. So the race was worth it.
posted by Postroad at 10:59 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

According to the "Running Doc" at Runner's World, Dr. Lewis G. Maharam (Chairman of the Board of Governors, International Marathon Medical Directors Association), recent research has been narrowing in on the connection between marathon running and heart attacks:
there is evidence of platelet activation in asymptomatic marathon runners during races, documenting an enhanced risk for intravascular thrombosis. (In plain English: heart attack, or dysrhythmia.)
Follow-up column here, and in this subsequent post he discusses some evidence for the theory that
muscle breakdown from exertion (rhabdomyolysis) interacts with a plaque (even a small one), which activates platelets to form a small clot that causes enough of an ischemic area in the heart to result in an abnormal cardiac rhythm or arrest. This would not be seen on autopsy.
He strongly (STRONGLY) recommends that (with doctor's approval) all runners take a daily baby aspirin.

They're also asking for assistance:
You can help us make this research project "smarter." If you happen to visit your doctor within 24 hours after finishing a full or half-marathon, please bring a copy of this post with you, record the information below, then e-mail the results to us at It will give us greater insight to develop the best research protocol we can.

Please record the following info:

* Your sex and age
* Date and time of last run
* Marathon or half-marathon
* Date and time of blood draw
* Height and weight
* Serum sodium level
* Serum myoglobin
* C-reactive protein level
* CK and tropinin levels
* How much you drank during the run and after the run
* What you drank during and after the run
* Your typical mileage you run per week
* Your typical pace
And remember, Phidippides had also fought in the battle that morning in full armor, so it was run 280 miles over mountains + fight full battle + run 26 miles = death. If you skip the "run 280 miles over mountains" and "fight full battle" steps, the risk is much lower, I'm sure.
posted by Lexica at 11:08 AM on December 26, 2009 [8 favorites]

Why is this post framed in such a shitty and inflammatory manner? The NYTimes post linked in it documents that the chance of dying during running a marathon is very very low, especially when compared to other commonly engaged in activities:
the risk of sudden death during a marathon is 0.8 per 100,000 people. The risk is greater during triathlon events, which include running, swimming and cycling. In the triathlon, the risk of sudden death is 1.5 in 100,000, according to the report. The incidence of sudden cardiac death in young adults has been estimated at 0.9 and 2.3 per 100,000 for non-athletes and athletes, respectively.

By comparison, the risk of dying in childbirth is 13 per 100,000 births. The risk of dying from diabetes is 23 per 100,000 population. The risk of dying in a car accident is 1 in 6,700.
The only reason to frame the post this way is to misrepresent the research. A post about dying while driving in a car would be more germane to the lives of most people, and less like a lie than is this post.
posted by OmieWise at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

[Take it to email or something, you two.]
posted by cortex at 2:44 PM on December 26, 2009

Also: Marathon. Master Chief, know your secret history. KNOW IT
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:47 PM on December 26, 2009

I know someone who died running a marathon. Shitty luck. He was working as an aid worker in Chechnya, and ran the Moscow marathon and died of a heart attack, in his twenties.

His brother had died in the first Gulf War. Their family had been living in Kuwait and were captured. The two brothers were eventually released and sent with an Iraqi army driver to the airport. But he crashed, and the older brother, still a teenager, died.

The parents were fairly devout Christians. After losing two sons, I don't know whether they are still. If God is watching over their family, he's doing a pretty half-assed job of it.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:26 PM on December 26, 2009

In "Born to Run" Christopher McDougall sites some data from (I think) the Boston Marathon: on average people who have competed over many years tend to run their fastest time at the age of 27. What is unusual, however, is that if look at the typical time of a 19 year old it is possible to trace the equivalent upper age at which people run the same time. The graph has a shallow down-slope after its peak and it turns out that those of 19 share the same average time as those aged 64.

So if you happen to be an elderly sluggard the Marathon is an event where you can not just compete alongside champions - but also one where you may be able to sneak ahead of your grand children.
posted by rongorongo at 6:37 AM on December 27, 2009

OmieWise said: Why is this post framed in such a shitty and inflammatory manner?...A post about dying while driving in a car would be more germane to the lives of most people, and less like a lie than is this post.

Dying in a car is very common -- everyone knows that. Not everyone is aware of deaths during marathons. Their rarity makes them noteworthy, which makes them Meta-worthy.

Your fake outrage is misplaced.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:52 AM on December 27, 2009

This link was worth its own FPP, and I hope it doesn't get lost in the back and forth here about killer marathons.
posted by availablelight at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2009

I agree, availablelight. There's no branch in Seattle, but I want to start running again and the Back On My Feet website has guides for fundraising for them in races - maybe I can do one next year.
posted by jacalata at 1:36 PM on December 27, 2009

Some good reading about marathon deaths here:
posted by jedro at 10:28 PM on December 27, 2009

When they teach you to plan marathons (as part of an events planning course), they tell you straight up to expect someone to die during it, and to plan appropriately (in terms of providing defibrillators, EMTs, etc.)
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 11:38 AM on December 28, 2009

Lexica: several doctors take very persuasive exception to Dr. Maharam's baby aspirin recommendation in the comments:
In conclusion, I believe the concept of healthy runners (i.e. no cardiac risk factors or history) taking a baby aspirin prior to endurance events (e.g. 10 K or more) in order to prevent cardiac deaths deserves further study, and cannot be recommended at this time. While baby aspirin is pretty safe, it is not risk-free. If taking it reduces the chance of having one rare event (e.g. cardiac death from whatever specific cause), but increases the risk of a different rare event (e.g. intracranial hemorrhage, GI bleed, electrolyte abnormality), then the usefulness of this approach is in question. It is premature to recommend an intervention when the relative benefits and risks are unknown. More study is needed, and should precede any recommendation. Assuming aspirin has no downside is ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.
There are several other doctors that think it's at minimum premature and at worst flat dangerous advice.
posted by letitrain at 2:49 PM on December 28, 2009

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