24 February 2019
Running long distances can be safe and enjoyable if there is proper preparation and adequate safeguards. Photo:
Running long distances can be safe and enjoyable if there is proper preparation and adequate safeguards. Photo:

Knowing your limits is the key to running safely

Marathon running has become a popular activity in Hong Kong in recent years. If you are one of those participants, it is important to know your body’s limits and the risks involved if you want to reach the finishing line safely.

There is a legend which tells the story of a Greek soldier who ran continuously from Marathon to Athens to announce the country’s victory over the Persians in 490 BC. He collapsed on finishing the task and died in what would be the first marathon-related sudden death ever recorded in history.

Unfortunately, he was not the last to die in such circumstances. Reports of cardiovascular problems or even sudden death during marathons have become not too uncommon in recent years.

Marathon running has become a popular event in Hong Kong with social networking sites buzzing with people sharing their daily running routines, training situations and selfies with other runners.

But the danger is many of those who take part in marathon events are “seasonal” runners or marathon beginners. Running safely is the prerequisite for running healthy. The secret is to know the needs of your body and the risks involved in marathon running.

Is running good for you?

Regular moderate exercise for at least 20 minutes every day can help us maintain ideal body weight and reduce the risks of diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. For moderate-intensity exercises, a person’s heart rate should reach 60 to 80 per cent of his/her maximum heart rate which can be achieved by jogging and brisk walking.

For cardiovascular disease, overseas studies have found that regular moderate exercise can reduce the risk by 20 percent while regular vigorous exercise can reduce it even further by 30 to 40 percent. In addition, taking regular vigorous exercise over a period of eight years can reduce the mortality rate in men and women by 70 percent and 80 percent respectively.

The risks of long-distance running

It should be noted that the above benefits are for people doing regular exercise only. For people without regular training or even regular exercise, sudden vigorous exercise can, on the contrary, trigger cardiovascular diseases.

According to a survey in Hong Kong, there were nine incidences of cardiovascular disease during marathon races between 2002 and 2012. Of these two died.

Looking at these statistics, one may worry that running is dangerous. But that is not really the case. Running long distances can be both safe and enjoyable as long as you pay attention to the following three points:

1. Arrange a medical examination to assess your physical needs and discuss the frequency of regular check-ups with your doctor if you have the following risk factors:

• Hypertension, diabetes or family history of early heart disease
• High cholesterol
• Smoking
• Body mass index (BMI) of 24 or above
• Pain in chest, upper back or shoulders

2. Make regular exercise a habit and avoid seasonal or even one-off workouts. If you decide to run a long-distance race, practice and train adequately in advance. Do not run without sufficient preparation.

3. If you are unwell ahead of the big run (for example suffering from a cold, abdominal pain, diarrhea, etc) or if you feel any discomfort during the race (such as chest discomfort, cold sweat, dizziness, etc), it is recommended you pull out of the event or stop running, to avoid unnecessary incidents.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Specialist in Cardiology from Hong Kong Adventist Hospital - Stubbs Road

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