Sudden cardiac arrest and death in United States marathons

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Oct;44(10):1843-5. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318258b59a.


Purpose: There is no reporting system for marathon-associated sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or sudden cardiac death in the United States. The purpose of this study was to estimate and characterize the risk of marathon-related SCA to assist with emergency planning.

Methods: A retrospective Web-based survey was sent out to all US marathon medical directors (n = 400) to gather details of SCA including demographics, resuscitation efforts, mortality, and autopsy results, if available.

Results: A total of 88 surveys (22%) were returned from marathons run from 1976 to 2009 for a total of 1,710,052 participants. Risks of SCA and sudden cardiac death were 1 in 57,002 and 1 in 171,005, respectively. Men made up the vast majority of SCA victims (93%, mean age = 49.7 yr, range = 19-82 yr). Arrest site distributions were 0-5, 6-14, 15-22, and 23-26.2 miles. CAD was reported as the cause of death at autopsy in 7 of the 10 fatalities. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was used in 20/30 cases and associated with a higher survival (17/20 survivors vs 3/10 deaths, P = 0.0026).

Conclusions: SCA occurs in approximately 1 in 57,000 marathon runners, is more common in older males, and usually occurs in the last 4 miles of the racecourse. Prompt resuscitation including early use of an AED improves survival. Emergency planning to include trained medical staff and sufficient AEDs throughout the racecourse is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation / statistics & numerical data
  • Cause of Death
  • Coronary Artery Disease / epidemiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Defibrillators / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Medical Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / epidemiology
  • Heart Arrest / therapy
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Running / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult