Is Marathon Running Safe for our Hearts?

On preparing for a marathon:

As the year begins, I have just registered for my second marathon. The Avenue of the Giants also referred to as “ The Ave” will take place in northern California May 5th. There were many discussions between my husband and I as to whether running another marathon is in my best interest. My first attempt required several hours of training each week, and on race day though I finished in a moderate time of 4:30, I was sore and fatigued for several weeks following.

Beyond the time commitment and the annoyance of watching me limp for a few days, my husband, the invasive cardiovascular specialist that he is, has some concerns about the effects of marathon training on the heart, and possible long term ramifications of running prolonged periods over decades of years (as I very much plan on doing).

He cites a study by cardiologist James O’Keefe that suggests that endurance athletes are harming their hearts by exercising vigorously for more than one hour per day, and greater than 20 miles at a time. To put this in perspective, weekend long runs when preparing for a marathon often take at least three hours, and the marathon itself is of course 26.2. The study suggests that overtime scarring to the heart occurs with excessive exercise and that this accelerates the aging process and lead to deadly cardiac arrhythmias.

To my husband’s benevolent concerns I present this:  a study by Keith George of Liverpool John Moores University in England. His research examined 165 runners at the Western States 100 ultramarathon, which shows that while endurance athletes do have larger hearts than the non-aerobic athletic population, this is a normal product of training, and that the changes are mild and are not necessarily  linked to cardiac related death.

Ultimately my friends, I believe that it comes down to moderation. With proper preparation, and allowance for true rest of at least one whole day following a long run, it seems that evidence supports safely running a marathon-once in awhile. Of course I caution those of you that have any history of personal or familial heart disease to seek the guidance of a physician before attempting any endurance training. Unfortunately sometimes we cannot outrun our genes. Furthermore, if you have ever blacked out on a run or experience significant fatigue following a long run (more than to be expected), I urge you to see your doctor.

Above all, work hard, and keep yourself safe, running is about the joy it brings to you, and if you take care of your body, it can afford you more years of joy to come!

Make your day great!



About runningyourbody

I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Certified Pilates instructor, and runner with celiac disease. I am passionate about educating people on running, pilates, and women’s health topics. I am trained in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, as well as pre and post partum impairments. In my free time I can be found anywhere outside. I enjoy training for races with friends, cooking gluten free meals, and traveling with my husband. My goal is to share information with you in a lighthearted and enjoyable forum. I am always contributing fun and interesting posts on my blog. Feel free to check it out @
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