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The Lethal Sport Of Triathlons

Lynnette Thomas

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A forty year-old woman competitor died in the Nautical New York City Triathlon after experiencing difficulty breathing during the swimming section of the marathon.

This came just a day after a 64 year old man died during the race. He had been pulled unconscious from the Hudson River. The authorities believe the man had had a heart attack.

The police report revealed that 26 other race competitors also needed assistance for minor injuries during the swimming section of the once a year mile swim, 25 mile bike ride and 6 mile run.

Overall, eight deaths occurred in triathlons in the early part of 2011. Twenty of the total 25 deaths connected with triathlons, as recorded by USA Triathlon, happened while competitors were completing the swimming section of the events.

Generally people do not think of triathlons and marathons as being a lethal sport, yet there were two high-profile deaths of marathon competitors in 2007, one in Chicago and one in the Olympic trials in New York. Other deaths include the Little Rock Marathon in March 2008, the London Marathon in 2007, the Marine Corps, the Tucson and Twin Cities Marathons in 2006 and the Chicago Marathon in 2007. In the 2006 Los Angeles Marathon two competitors died. Three men died of heart attacks in the 2009 Detroit Marathon and two in a San Jose, California marathon. In the 2010 Dallas Rock N Roll Half-marathon a male participant also died.

Many studies have revealed that pushing the body to run 26.2 miles can cause at least minor injury to the heart. The lead author of a 2006 study published in the journal Circulation, Malissa Wood, M. D. , says “We didn't find any gross injuries, such as blocked arteries or blood leakage. But we did find some enzymes leaking through the heart membrane, which is consistent with significant stress on the heart".

Pheidippides, the original marathoner and Greek courier, died after having run 25 miles to deliver the news of victory at the Battle of Marathon.

"Fortunately, deaths are pretty rare" says a 72-year-old retired exercise physiologist from Old Dominion University who has run 123 marathons and countless shorter races. The danger of dying from competing in triathlons, which link swimming, running and biking, remains at 1.5 per 100,000 competitors.


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