Are Marathons Dangerous?

Are marathons dangerous?

Without the correct training, hydration, and nutrition, running a marathon can be dangerous. You and your body will need to be well prepared before running a full marathon. The average marathon involves 4 to 5 hours of constant non-stop running!

Marathons are not easy. Running 26 miles and 385 yards will take a toll on anyone’s body, even the fittest athletes the world has to offer. Despite this, marathon running is a great way to stay in shape and is something many people strive to complete at least once in their life.

Marathons became an Olympic event in the modern Olympics in the 1896 games held in Athens. The sport was included because it was practiced in the ancient Greek Olympics.

The event is based on the tale of Philippides, a Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Sparta to tell the news of the victory of the Battle of Marathon over the Persians. The story goes that Pillipides died after giving the message.

If you want to finish the marathon healthy, unlike Philippides, here is an outline of why it is so dangerous, as well as some crucial tips and ideas of how to train properly for a marathon. Lastly, we will look at what to do on the day of your marathon.

How Unhealthy Are Marathons?

 Any exercise performed when the body isn’t ready can be dangerous. Our bodies adapt to certain tasks over time, but this process can take a while. If you go headfirst into something very taxing on the body, you may risk hurting yourself, or worse.


Your heart, like your muscles, can be trained to work more efficiently. Distance runners have a resting heart rate of around 45 beats per minute—the average person’s heart beats at 60.

This is because the athlete’s heart can provide the same pumping force and circulation power at a lower rate of beats per minute.

A healthy heart is essential for exercise. When you breathe in, oxygen is absorbed by the lungs. Arteries, powered by the heart, carry blood around the lungs. Oxygen makes its way into the arteries, turning the blood cells red. This is why you have blue arteries and red veins.

Veins then carry oxygen to the muscles where it is used to help move the muscles.

When a heart is working efficiently, it provides muscles with enough oxygen in order for them to turn stored energy called glycogen into kinetic energy—which moves the muscle. A weaker heart won’t be as efficient at keeping the muscles topped up with oxygen.

This is why when you are less fit, you cannot exercise as comfortably, and why your heart rate climbs so fast. Because your muscles need oxygen your heart will beat faster, rather than more efficiently.

By exercising regularly, the heart will naturally become more efficient and stronger. You will notice the difference after regularly exercising for a few weeks.


Your legs will no doubt take a beating from running a marathon. The average marathon involves 55,374 steps. With each contact your foot makes with the floor, all the joints from your toes to your neck will feel some effect. This is why it is important to get used to running.

Running generates huge impact forces on your legs. If you have an imbalance or a weak muscle group, you will get injured easily. This will impact other areas of your life and may mean you have to put your marathon on hold.

Stretching and warming up is essential to any exercise. Perform dynamic stretches before running rather than static ones, as movement is important to limber up the ligaments and tendons as well as your muscles. Save static stretches for post-race and post-running.

Here are the best post-run static stretches to perform after a run.

Stand next to a wall facing parallel to it. Put one hand against the wall and swing your leg forward and backward. This opens up the hips and gets your body ready to run. Turn around and do the other leg, facing the other way. Then start running slowly.

Did you know that there is a good of people known as the Tarahumara in remote Mexico that practice extreme distance running without wearing any form of footwear? From a young age, the Tarahumara run barefoot in the wild, building up almost indestructible legs.


This is potentially where marathons become so dangerous. Running for that long means that you will sweat a lot. Sweat is filled with salts known as electrolytes. Electrolytes are essential to the body for allowing nerves to fire. Without electrolytes, everything goes haywire.

Replacing these electrolytes is really important. Many sports drinks contain electrolytes that hydrate you far better than water. Try incorporating these drinks into your marathon training if you feel very thirsty after running. Sometimes water just isn’t enough, and you need salts too.

If you become severely dehydrated during a marathon you can become delirious. Feelings of light-headedness are followed by confusion and an inability to control your muscles efficiently. Medical teams attend marathons for this reason.

They often offer sachets of electrolytes to struggling runners. Another way to make sure you have enough electrolytes is to have a salty breakfast, along with bananas during the race. Bananas contain a lot of potassium, one of the most important electrolytes.

Severe dehydration can cause seizures, cardiac arrest, and even coma.

Blood Sugar

We need sugar in our blood to fuel our muscles. Oxygen and sugar are burnt together in our muscles to make them contract. A nerve signal ignites this reaction. When blood sugar is low, this function is missing an element, meaning your muscle fibers might not all move.

Low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia, is very dangerous. If your blood sugar drops low enough it can cause severe confusion, seizures, and can even prove fatal. It is common for people to forget to eat during the excitement of race day.

Make sure before any long run that you have eaten enough carbohydrates. Failure to do so will mean you won’t perform as well, and the training will be less effective. A practice known as carb-loading the night before will help you have enough residual sugar in your system come race day.

For a detailed post about the ins and outs of carb-loading check out:

What is carb-loading and why do long-distance runners do this?

Eating a dinner heavy in carbohydrates, such as a rice or pasta-based dish, will help you to have enough sugar in your system the next day. Athletes eat this way before big events.

Organized marathons may have feeding stations on the way around, with a selection of easily digestible sugar-based foods. Even candy can be useful to keep sugar levels up during a marathon. If you start to feel sluggish and tired, sugar might be the answer

Are Marathons Dangerous

Things To Know If You Are Thinking Of Running A Marathon

To safely train for a marathon you will need a good amount of time. If you are going from doing no exercise to running a marathon, realistically you made need up to a year to get used to running and exercising to such a degree.

Start Easy

Your first few runs should be no longer than a few miles, with rest days in between runs. Shocking your body in a long run will mean it takes too long to repair and you won’t be able to train as efficiently. A slow jog of 3 miles, with walking when you get tired, is a great way to start.

Try running three or four times a week, with yoga and stretching on days off.

After a few weeks of regular 3-mile runs, including a longer run once a week. This will slowly build up your endurance so that you can tackle the marathon. Consistently increasing your mileage and listening to your body when it is too tired is important to training the best way.

Related: Why Do I Feel Tired After I Run (besides exerting energy)?

Fuel up

As stated earlier, making sure you have enough food, water, and electrolytes on board is crucial to running a marathon healthily. Try having a solid breakfast before running. However, make sure you give yourself enough time to digest the food first.

Taking a water bottle with you on your run is always a good idea. Any run longer than 30 minutes will have you thirsty and wishing you had brought some water. Likewise, bringing a small and easily eaten sugar source will give you an added kick to train properly.

Everyone’s stomach will react differently to different foods. Make sure you establish what works for you so you can recreate it on race day. Do not try a new combination of food on the day of your marathon. Find out what works and stick to it.

Are Half Marathons Better For You Than Full Marathons?

Half marathons—you guessed it—are half the length of a full marathon. At 13.1 miles they are still something to take seriously. Half marathons are often run at faster speeds because the body can exert more energy over a shorter distance.

The same rules apply, regarding training. Make sure you are ready and that you are healthy. Half marathons still take about 2 to 3 hours to run for the average hobby runner. You will still get thirsty and your legs will still ache the next day.

Are half marathons bad for you?

Benefits Of Running A Marathon

Now, let’s look at some benefits of running a marathon. As an extreme form of exercise, it will get your heart working efficiently and will see you shedding pounds of excess weight. As well as being good for the body, training can be done in groups as a great social event.

Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, training and running a marathon might be the answer. On average, a marathon will see you burning around 2,500 calories. That’s a whole day’s worth of calories for the average man.

Eating more calories than you burn will see you gaining weight. 1lb of gained fat equates to 3,500 surplus calories being eaten. By running just a few times a week you will be burning into that surplus, as well as any fat stored in your body.

The weight loss effect can be twofold. As you gain muscle from exercise, your body then requires more calories to keep the muscle.

Therefore, by gaining muscle your body will naturally require more food and will store less as fat. So, by exercising, you are burning the candle at both ends. Tackling the excess fat, whilst making your body more efficient at using food.

Mental Gains

Because marathon running is such a challenge, setting it as a goal and then completing it is a great way to boost your self-esteem. It can be a life-changing experience to set your mind to something then go about taking steps to complete it.

Even making the smallest efforts can build up. By running and walking for just a few minutes a week, then building it up slowly, you will see how positive efforts are rewarded. Taking control of your situation could start with just going out for that first run.

Of course, running should not be used as a cure for mental health issues, but can be used in combination with other methods for general wellness. The body and the brain are interconnected, and having a healthy body will make you feel far less stressed day today.

Social Gains

Running is often practiced in groups. Websites such as Parkrun show you where the next run is taking place. Going to these events will see you meeting people who, like you, want to run. You might even meet a good friend who will motivate you to train better.

Final Thoughts

Marathon running can be dangerous. There’s no getting away from that, remember Philippides died after running from Marathon to Sparta. Hopefully, if you train and fuel up well, you will survive the race and live to tell the tale.

Marathon running is a great way to use your body to its full potential. Anyone can train to do it if they listen to their body and consistently increase their running mileage over a long period.


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Coach Scott's Credentials:
  • Published Author
  • RRCA Certified Running Coach (Level 2)
  • RRCA Certified Youth Running Coach
  • NASM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer).
  • NASM CNC (Certified Nutrition Coach)
  • NASM WLS (Weight Loss Specialist)
  • ACE SFC (Stretching and Flexibility Coach)
  • ACE GFI (Group Fitness Instructor)
He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 22nd half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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Are Marathons Dangerous?

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