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Warning: Triathlons can be fatal

SWIM-BIKE-RUN triathlons pose at least twice the risk of sudden death as marathons do, the first study of these competitions has found.

The risk is mostly from heart problems during the swimming leg. The risk is low - about 15 out of a million participants - but it's not inconsequential, the study's author says.

Triathlons are soaring in popularity, especially as charity fundraisers. They are drawing many people who are not used to such demanding exercise. Each year, about 1,000 of these events are held and several hundred thousand Americans try one.

"It's something someone just signs up to do," often without a medical checkup to rule out heart problems, said Dr Kevin Harris, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute in the United States who led the study. He presented the results on Saturday at an American College of Cardiology conference.

Marathon-related deaths made headlines in November 2007 when 28-year-old Ryan Shay died while competing in the US men's marathon Olympic trials in New York. Statistics show that for every million participants in these 42.2 kilometer running races, there will be four to eight deaths.

The rate for triathletes is 15 out of a million, the study shows, with almost all in the swim leg, usually the first event.

"Anyone that jumps into freezing cold water knows the stress on the heart," said American Heart Association spokeswoman Dr Lori Mosca.


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