Running a marathon has been viewed, and still is by many, as to be healthy, but running marathon can actually be bad for you. Normally, the body only needs slow twitch muscle fibers to drive it forward. But for the marathon distance, the body recruits every single type of muscle fiber, including the fast twitch fibers normally only used for sprinting, he said. That uses up a lot of blood and almost all of the carbohydrate energy supplies stored in the muscles and blood. When you exhaust glycogen stores, the body’s preferred source of sugar, you start breaking down body fat and muscle protein that can lead to psychological symptoms like confusion and disorientation.
You can easily over-Hydrate during & after a marathon, which can lead to hyponatremia or a lack of sodium in the blood & cause brain swelling. “No one knows why, but hyponatremic runners lose their ability to remember numbers,” he said. “When you ask them where they live they can tell you the street but not the house number.”
Then there is under-Hydrating which makes your blood thicker & can put your kidneys & liver under serious stress. High humidity and dehydration can make heat loss more difficult. High humidity levels reduce evaporation, while dehydration impairs the ability to transfer heat from the muscles to the skin. But perhaps the hardest working muscle during a marathon is the heart, If you’re really pushing the pace, you can get into “cardiac drift,” where there is a sharp spike in heart rate without any change in effort, breathing or calorie burn.
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 lowers 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.
Some of the factors that increase the risk for injury while running a marathon are running a first marathon, participation in other sports, illness during the two weeks prior, current use of medication, and training mileage . Runners who train less than 60 kilometers per week were more likely to become injured while running a marathon (Kretsch et al. 1984). Higher levels of training have been shown to decrease the risk for knee injuries but increase the risk of injury to the quadriceps and hamstrings during a marathon (Satterthwaite et al. 1999). With the large number of training miles required to prepare for running a marathon, it is not surprising that 29 to 43 percent of runners develop injuries during training. In fact, the number of injuries from running a marathon is five to 10 times less than while training for a marathon.
Follow the guidelines presented by Nieman (2000):
- Keep other life stresses to a minimum.
- Eat a well-balanced diet.
- Obtain adequate sleep.
- Avoid putting hands to eyes and nose.
- Avoid sick people and large crowds.
- Avoid overtraining and rapid weight loss.
- Use carbohydrate beverages before, during, and after marathon races and long training runs.
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. Will you be running a marathon?