OUTRAGE! Only 99.9992% of Marathon Participants Live to Run Another Day!
Winston Smith, gangly father of three, staggered across the finish line, his breath coming in wisps of labored wheezing. Streaked with grotesque rivulets of dried salt, he struck an image of one who had endured terrible hardship and emerged decidedly worse for the wear. Smith had just miraculously survived the 2009 New York City Marathon.
He was one of the lucky ones.
Death by Marathon
The marathon is a relentless killer, extinguishing the lives of spirited weekend warriors at an ever-alarming rate. Runners expect to achieve glory. Instead, legions meet their sudden demise on the course.
The numbers are sobering. With the savage appetite of a celestial black hole, the marathon devours nearly eight millionths of all participants, a figure containing plenty of zeros. Specifically, .000008 of all marathoners die during this grisly race.
Such exceptionally high numbers give mathematicians pause. According to one concerned set theorist, â€œIt doesnâ€™t take Pythagoras to see that average deaths have reached the 6th significant figure to the right of the decimal. Iâ€™m no alarmist, but I calculate the chances of death during the marathon as dangerously far above zero, infinitesimally speaking.â€
As shocking as these numbers are, they merely reflect races held in the United States. Worldwide fatalities are surely much higher. Details are sketchy. We literally have no idea how many marathoners have joined the choir invisible under Moldovaâ€™s Vladimir Voronin or Sri Lankaâ€™s Mahinda Rajapaksa. We may never know.
One thing is certain, ever more naÃ¯ve, casual athletes attempt the marathon each year. In 2008, an estimated 425,000 runners (in the U.S. alone) made the fateful decision to entrust their lives to the cold embrace of statistics. In 2009, 465,000 people tempted the grim reaper. If these stunning numbers continue to spiral, the marathon may become one of the deadliest activities known to man, rivaling only encounters with a cow, falling down, and daring to exist during the month of January for sheer morbid lethality.
Fortunately, most runners fall prey to debilitating injuries that prevent them from running the marathon in the first place.
Smithâ€™s Feat Warrants Investigation
The extraordinary Winston Smith somehow avoided injuries, survived training and astonishingly escaped the 2009 New York City Marathon with his life. Were other runners as mysteriously fortunate? How many died in their quest to scratch an item off of the definitive bourgeoisie bucket list?
Available records indicate that, inexplicably, of the 43,741 people who ran the five-borough death trap, precisely none died.
This improbable wellspring of life can only be attributed to gross error, statistical oddity or, more ominously, sinister cover-up. For the sake of all involved, the startling lack of fatality in New York must be investigated immediately.
Given the overwhelming odds against living through the marathon, how could Smith have possibly lived to tell his tale? Does he even exist? What did race officials know, and when did they know it?
The public demand answers.
A WORD ON THE NUMBERS
Running USA provides and excellent look at marathon participation statistics.
The most often quoted study for marathon fatalities (Redelmeier and Greenwald â€“ BMJ 2007) concluded that on average, .8 marathoners per 100,000 die during the race. This is apparently the most recent, detailed and oft-quoted study related to marathon mortality. It forms the basis for the figures in this post.
Some feel that 1 of every 50,000 participants die during the marathon. Even if this lower figure is entirely correct, just .00002 of all runners die during the marathon. This is a very low number.
However, neither figure is so low that it escapes the eyes of sensationalists.
Thanks to The Bigger Design for the lovely Pie Chart, and to Mr. Davidson for mathematical fact-checking.
December 7th, 2009 at 3:35 pm
Does that also mean if I run a million marathons, I will die eight times over? Or am I using Al Gore’s fuzzy math?
December 7th, 2009 at 5:53 pm
Maybe it means that .00002% will have some body part die, I lost a toenail so maybe that is part of the overall count.
December 7th, 2009 at 6:06 pm
I’m afraid you are only talking about immediate deaths which actually occur during the race itself.
The after effects of marathoning claim still more lives. I can say with complete certainty that *every finisher* of the first Boston Marathon in 1897 has now perished. Not a single one still lives.
Some of these poor souls carried their suffering for years before succumbing, some in distant Flanders Fields fighting the Kaiser, other quietly in their beds some 50 years later, but every last one of them dead none-the-less.
And I don’t want to even begin talking about all the other marathon ‘related’ deaths. Car crashes and such that need never have occurred were it not for marathons.
December 7th, 2009 at 6:30 pm
Does anyone remember the famous Jim Fixx who authored the 2 “Running” books a few decades ago? His books inspired me to run 8 marathons over a 6 year span. He died in 1984 while running and he was not doing a marathon. He died doing what he LOVED!
December 7th, 2009 at 9:50 pm
And I feel fine
December 7th, 2009 at 10:51 pm
I had a boss, Joe, who had to give up running marathons at age 50 or so after his knees finally gave out. So he decided to take up a new sport: Rugby.
His partner told him he was nuts to start playing Rugby at such an ‘advanced’ age. He came back from a worldwide over-40 rugby tournament in Ireland that had some 40,000 participants, some even in their 70’s. The event spanned 10 days or so.
When he reported that 2 guys died of heart attacks over the course of the event (one on the pitch and another in a bar, I think), his partner gave him the inevitable “I told you so” speech.
Joe’s response: “If you took that many men of that age and had them sit in a large gymnasium for 10 days, chances are that at least 2 would keel over with heart attacks for no apparent reason. At least those guys went out in style.”
I wonder what the actuary tables would say on the mortality rate of 465,00 random people with same age profile as marathon runners. It might even be higher than 0.000008.
December 8th, 2009 at 8:10 am
just the item i needed to read the week before running my first. i’m now merely hoping to emerge from it alive, albeit completely maimed.
December 8th, 2009 at 10:31 am
On the bright side, nobody has ever died more than once from running a marathon.
December 9th, 2009 at 12:45 am
Very sobering read, Dean. Thanks for the warning. It’s folks like you that help to save so many lives by spreading the word about this death-wish sport.
December 9th, 2009 at 8:25 am
My life is but to serve.
January 28th, 2010 at 11:23 am
Hey I just wanted to let you know, I really like the written material on your site. But I am utilising Flock on a machine running version 8.x of Xubuntu and the design aren’t quite correct. Not a big deal, I can still fundamentally read the articles and look for for information, but just wanted to inform you about that. The navigation bar is kind of hard to use with the config I’m running. Keep up the good work!
January 30th, 2010 at 5:40 pm
When your time comes… it comes… and goes…
I share one of my favorite poems…
To An Athlete Dying Young
THE time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come, 5
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay, 10
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers 15
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man. 20
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head 25
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
A. E. Housman. 1859â€“
March 24th, 2010 at 7:31 pm
This post made me laugh so hard.
I found your site because I was trying to explain to my husband why I wanted to fly all the way to Arkansas in order to try to cheat death. Clearly he didn’t understand the value of being able to eat a meal off of the reward for a hero’s quest.
June 18th, 2010 at 1:27 pm
Hey! Why aren’t you posting?
June 18th, 2010 at 1:32 pm
Sorry Ray! Have been dying to write more… promise to add more as soon as I can.
Thanks so much for asking. Keep up with my via twitter and I’ll try to get more things going!