Recently I read an article in the Wall Street Journal claiming that running a lot and keeping a good pace while you’re at it, can be detrimental to your health. (1) It actually compares to not doing any exercise at all. Up until now, we extreme athletes (marathoners,triathaletes, etc.) always thought we were ahead of the game and prepping ourselves for long, healthy lives, but according to new research we may be wrong.
As you know by now, I love to go fast and far. I enjoy running and there’s nothing better than when I improve. Doesn’t everyone love improving? I enjoy living with the mantra that we humans continue to push all physical limits put up against us. It’s races like The Canadian Death Race, Marathon Des Sables, or the Boston Marathon and inspirations like Ray Zahab (I2P founder) and Geoffrey Mutai (Marathon 2:03:02) that make me feel as if we runners have so much more to live and reach for. We rise above and conquer what is thought to be impossible. It is when I read articles like this that I feel disheartened.
After reviewing the main research study used for the Wall Street Journal article, I have given my thoughts and some quotes from the study that stood out to me.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of material to dig through. The article claims: “extreme endurance exercise may exact a toll on cardiovascular health…[and] chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive ‘wear-and-tear’ on the heart.”(2) Basically, it explains that when the heart works too hard for too long it can damage the muscle fibres and cause tears and scar tissue. The study mentions Micah True (Caballo Blanco). Micah True was the legendary runner from the book “Born To Run” and ran marathon to ultramarathon distances daily. The autopsy report showed his heart to be enlarged and damaged. This study concludes that you should “limit vigourous exercise to 30-50 minutes/day” and stick with “light or moderate intensity exercise” to live a longer life.
My conclusion: it’s hard to argue with this study. This is of course just my interpretation and there’s a lot more information available. This article is from 2012, and it’s based on 14,000 runners over a period of 30 years (including their mileage). Since reading this, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. How does this affect me and how I feel about training?
Despite the research I’m sure I am with a lot of runners in saying this…I’m not about to stop running fast or far!
-I feel healthier and stronger than I ever did as a couch potato.
-Only 0.5 to 1 in 100,000 marathon participants clock-out while running.(3)
– I’m not always going to be extreme and fast. My body will tell me to relax one day and I’ll settle down.
-Research is ongoing and I’ll always hope for another study that challenges this one.
-There’s nothing better than achieving your goal. It feels better than not running, that’s for sure.
-Running could shorten my life, but so could driving to work.
-Maybe running pushed to extreme limits isn’t good for the body; but not everyone is always training to extreme limits 52 weeks/year.
-Our bodies are very smart and if we listen we can surely read the signs of when we’ve gone too far. For instance, after I ran Boston, my body knew to take it easy and rest up. I listened to it.
-Endurance running has proven to help prevent most diseases. So if there are a few negatives, that’s okay with me!
What’s your opinion?
Here’s to you and running free!
(1) Helliker K. One running shoe in the grave. 2012. Wall Street Journal [online], 28 Nov. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323330604578145462264024472.html [Accessed 11 Dec 2012].
(2) O’Keefe JH & Lavie CJ. Run for your life… at a comfortable speed and not too far. Heart, 2012; DOI:10.1136/heartjnl-2012-302886
(3) Kim JH, Malhotra R, Chiampas G, et al. Cardiac arrest during long-distance running races. New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 366: 130-40.