Behavioral risk profile of marathon runners

Jean Alida Hoepfel, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Although long distance running clearly has benefits--as witnessed by its popularity--it also has risks of injury and death. Little is known, however, about the prevalence of potentially dangerous training habits in long distance runners, although anecdotal information suggests that many runners have erroneous beliefs about risks and benefits of marathon running. We conducted a cross-sectional survey to estimate the prevalence of 19 potentially dangerous training habits (risky behaviors) among marathon runners. A 66-item self-administered questionnaire was mailed to a stratified random sample of runners who finished of the 1992 Houston-Tenneco Marathon and were 21-71 years of age. Responses were obtained from 508 runners (83%) with approximately equal representation in four age-gender groups: men $<$40 years, men $\ge$40 years, women $<$40 years, and women $\ge$40 years.

Prevalences of risky behaviors were high. 50% or more ran in dangerously hot and humid conditions, did not cool down or stretch after running, did not wear proper running gear, or ran when injured or ill; 25-49% did not warm up, ran on dangerous surfaces, did not drink sufficient water during training, increased weekly mileage too quickly, and ran during lightning storms; 10-24% ran daily, ran in areas with high pollution, ran in the same direction as traffic, did hard runs frequently, ran more than 60 miles per week, or ran against the advice of a physician. Positive associations were found between the practice of risky behaviors and self-reported prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries, heat-related injuries, noncompliance with recommendations for preventive health examinations, and noncompliance with positive health habits. These results indicate that many marathon runners engage in training habits that may increase risk of substantial injury or illness. Further studies are needed to explore the association of risky training behaviors on the incidence of injuries, and to determine reasons for noncompliance with recommendations from sports medicine specialists.

Subject Area

Public health|Behaviorial sciences|Physical education|Sports medicine

Recommended Citation

Hoepfel, Jean Alida, "Behavioral risk profile of marathon runners" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9528248.