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Out There: Armchair Diagnosis

How do you reply to those who assert running will kill you?

How do you reply to those who assert running will kill you?

A few weeks ago, I got an alert on Facebook that I had been tagged in a comment by a friend of mine:

“Did you see this article, Susan? DID YOU? This is what I’ve been telling you all along! Running will kill you!”

I didn’t need to click on the corresponding article to know the topic. Since I took up endurance sports years ago, this friend has made it a point to notify me of every story of a person dying in a running or triathlon event.

I acknowledge and appreciate her concern. After all, it’s nice to know someone cares about my health and safety, even if her fear is a bit misguided.

On the other hand, it would have been nice if she had shown that same concern in college…you know, when I was overweight and smoking cigarettes.

There’s a weird paradigm shift when a person takes up running – though most people around the new runner will likely be supportive, there’s usually a small platoon of friends or family convinced running does more harm than good. These people become physiology experts almost immediately, usually on the basis of “that doctor on TV last week.”

“Running will kill you!” They cry, neglecting to acknowledge that anything can kill you. People die driving cars. They die changing lightbulbs. They choke on pizza and meet their maker. They kick the bucket on horseback and in airplanes. Yet no one swats the stuffed-crust pepperoni out of my hand or expresses concern when I mention I’m flying out to San Francisco for the weekend. They certainly didn’t say anything when I had a Marlboro dangling out of my mouth.

So why running? What is it about the sport that suddenly turns these friends and family into instant PhDs on the topic? More importantly, how are we runners supposed to respond?

After all, it’s true there are people who die while racing. Though the numbers presented by “that doctor on TV” changes frequently, a study puts the death rate of marathon runners at 1 in 150,000, usually occurring in those racing with a pre-existing heart condition.

When I compare that number to, say, obesity, which contributes to as many as one in five deaths, I feel okay taking my chances with running. My doctor (a real one, not of the daytime-television variety) has checked my heart out and given me the go-ahead to run as many races as my legs will carry me. I plan on following those orders.

Exercise-related deaths are publicized precisely because they’re a rare occurrence – if my friend were to stage a campaign alerting me to every single death attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, she’d find it a Sisyphean task.

But if (on the off chance) one day she’s right, and I drop dead of a heart attack while running, that’s okay, too. I’d rather have a life filled with satisfaction knowing I used my body to its full capacity.

Somehow, I don’t think I’d feel the same about years spent on the couch watching “that doctor on TV.”

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke