Study: Road closings for marathons increase risk of death

New research says marathons can kill you and it’s not talking about people who run in them.

Days before the Boston Marathon, WBUR reports that when authorities close roads to accommodate runners, it increases the likelihood that people suffering heart attacks will die.

Dr. Anupam Jena, of Harvard Medical School, looked at 11 major U.S. marathons — the Twin Cities Marathon included — and a decade’s worth of heart attacks for Medicare patients. He found that on marathon days, the mortality rate increased by about 15 percent.

This is not about runners collapsing on the course. The average heart patient in this study was 77 and had numerous chronic ailments. And it wasn’t that hospitals were 15 percent busier or understaffed. What study authors did find was an increase in the time it took a patient to get to the hospital. An average ambulance trip before noon on race day was more than 16 minutes — 32 percent longer than on non-race days.

“This is almost a diagnosis of exclusion,” Jena said. “We concluded from those findings that the most likely explanation is that there are road closings and delays in care that affect people on marathon days.”

Jena suspects even longer delays for someone who tries to get a loved one to an emergency room on marathon day in their own car. And he says similar life-threatening delays in care probably occur during other events when major roads are closed — such as July 4th, parades and championship sporting events.

Jena found that on race days, ambulances needed an average of four minutes more to get their patients to the emergency room.

“If you’re going to have a big street fair, you don’t just need to plan for the people at the fair,” Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, advised.

  • Will

    I’ll make a crazy leap of logic, wouldn’t protests that block the streets be just as bad if not worse since the local authorities didn’t plan alternate routes. Something to think about, we should get this study into the hands of Nick Zerwas… I’ll send this story to him on Twitter. Thanks for the info!

    • “Just as bad”? Probably not since a marathon route is usually 26 miles.

      And, no, we’re not going to have a thread hijacking today about the Black Lives Matter and the Minnesota Legislature.

    • Rob

      //A crazy leap of logic: sounds about right.

      • X.A. Smith

        Leapt over it and left it behind.

  • Gary F

    Living in Highland Park I would have thought the deaths increase was because Ayd Mill Road is the only way out going north out of Highland/Mac Groveland. The blood pressure spikes while the newbies to the neighborhood try every main artery with no avail, and the experienced people dart straight to Ayd Mill Road only to be frustrated by the stream of cars all trying to use the one only road thru the marathons.

    • Mike Stevens

      Don’t forget about all the potholes on Ayd Mill. 🙂

      • Jack Ungerleider

        I drive Ayd Mill every day so one of two things have happened, I’ve either gotten so used to the pothole pattern that it doesn’t bother me or the road condition is actually better.

  • wjc

    I live smack-dab on the marathon route. If I had a severe heart attack in that 3-4 hour period, I’d be a goner.

    • MikeB

      Another reason why running is bad for public health

  • Noelle

    Perhaps this could be alleviated by Ambulances being able to have right of way to cross the route during the race? Trains occasionally interrupt races when they cross the tracks, and an ambulance would take far less time to cross the path of runners than a freight train. Police are usually on hand at certain intersections anyways.

  • Jay Sieling

    Race days are usually Saturdays or Sundays. Is there a similar issue with the time of ambulance trips during weekday rush hours? Or the infamous summer Friday afternoon gridlocks in St Paul? I would suspect there is. Which makes the race day target a bit of a red herring, doesn’t it?

    • Seems like a reading of the research paper would be required to answer your rhetorical question.