I have stated previously in these pages that I while I respect and admire the exercise of running, I have even considered taking it up to get more weight-bearing exercise, I think that on-balance marathons damage the body and should be avoided. Since October is the beginning of marathon season, I wanted to put this out.
Dr. Mercola says, “Several recent studies have indicated that conventional cardio, especially endurance exercises such as marathon running can pose significant risks to your heart. It can result in acute volume overload, inflammation, thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle and arteries, arterial calcification, arrhythmias, and potentially sudden cardiac arrest and stroke—the very things you’re trying to avoid by exercising. ”
Here’s what Dr. Jake Emmett, Ph.D. had to say on the Marathon and Beyond website, “As if hitting The Wall wasn’t worry enough, running a marathon can be a musculoskeletal nightmare as well. It takes between 30,000 and 50,000 steps to run a marathon. Every time the foot hits the ground, a stress three to four times body weight is absorbed by the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. Also, with each stride, some muscles contract to propel the body forward while others control the degree of movement by being lengthened. The lengthening or eccentric contractions are notorious for damaging the muscle’s infrastructure. As a result, muscle damage and inflammation can remain for seven days after having run a marathon, while repair of muscle fibers can take three to 12 weeks. It’s not surprising then that post-marathon data have found “stiffness or pain” in 65 to 92 percent of marathon runners.”
Dr. Sapna Parikh of WABC Eyewitness News in New York reports that for the next three days after a marathon runners are more at risk for getting sick. Some call it the post marathon sniffles.
“Part of it is the body reacting to the inflammation. But research has shown that 72 hours after the race, marathon runners are also more likely to get a cold.
“The high intensity exercise increases production of a hormone called Cortisol which weakens the immune system.
“Cortisol is a stress response hormone and when it’s elevated it works directly on certain cells that help fight bacteria or viral illness.
But a moderate amount of exercise has the opposite affect it’s been found to boost the immune system and increase the number of macrophages the immune cells that kill the bacteria.
How much is too much exercise? Dr. Christopher Ahmad who’s a marathon runner himself and also a sports medicine specialist and head physician for the Yankees says less than an hour is ideal for most people.
“Things that go beyond 60-90 minutes of endurance exercise that’s been shown to be near the threshold of overexertion …. So for example, if you’re a female getting into an exercise program you do a brisk walk several times a week your chances of getting the common cold are less then let’s say someone who doesn’t exercise,” he says.
Dr. Parikh concluded, “For those who insist on intense, Jeff Dengate from Runners World Magazine says he starts his recovery right after the race.
“Get off your feet take the next 72 hours easy. Kick your feet up, take time off work if you can rest up and recharge,” he said.
Dr. Emmett offered the following physiological benefits, “It could very well be that no other sport is so popular yet as potentially harmful as marathon running. Studies on marathon runners indicate that the physiological stresses of running a marathon far outweigh the physiological benefits. At best, a successful marathon runner will have a few thousand fewer calories to carry around and, once the recovery process is complete, stronger bones, heart, and muscles. The other benefits either come from the miles of pre-marathon training or are more psychological or emotional in nature. Despite the fact that running a marathon is hard on the body, even deadly, from an exercise physiologist’s standpoint, every runner who crosses the finish has personally validated the miracle that is the human body.”
I remain unconvinced about the benefits of running a marathon. I don’t believe the game is worth the candle. Remember what happened to Pheidippides, the first marathon runner.