Triathlons: an extreme danger?

id_856_2006itucorporateteamtriathlonworldchampionships2006110420061104_8331For many weekend warriors or casual athletes (or non-athletes, of course) the triathlon is an extreme and perhaps inconceivable feat of physical strength and stamina. The three-part events, consisting of a swim, bike ride and run (lengths vary depending on the “level” of competition, but some are full-day affairs), seem like the ultimate test of fitness.

Maybe so, but the first ever study of triathletes warns that they also pose significant risk of death. In fact, the risk is at least twice that associated with marathon races. Researchers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital used records on 922,810 triathletes competing in 2,846 USA Triathlon-sanctioned events between January 2006 and September 2008.

They found that about 15 out of a million participants died, all from heart failure. The risk sounds small, but researchers warn that it’s not inconsequential, and represents the highest rate of any sport-related death.

The problem stems from the soaring popularity of triathlons, drawing people not accustomed to such intense activity. Each year, over 1,000 triathlons are held and several hundred thousand Americans partake in the events. If you want to be one of them, doctors recommend the following precautions:

Doctors offer these tips to anyone considering a triathlon:

-Get a checkup for hidden heart problems.

-Train adequately before the event, including open-water swims – not just in pools.

-Acclimate yourself to the water temperature shortly before a race, and wear a wetsuit if it’s too cold.

-Make sure the race has medical staff and defibrillators on site.

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