All About Marathon Running and Your Body

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH



Is marathon running good for your health? We have seen and heard a lot about how running and exercising is healthy for your body and your heart. In some cases it is really good to exercise. However, let’s take a closer look at some research findings about marathon running and see if it is truly healthy for your body overall.

Facts About Marathon Running

Facts about marathon runningDuring the 26.2 mile course:

a. The knees get about 20,000 poundings.

b. Your internal organs are being suspended and bounced 20,000 times, resulting often in hematuria – blood in the urine – from kidney damage.

Now, researchers also have found surprisingly high — and potentially dangerous — inflammation and clotting factors in the blood of middle-aged male runners shortly after completion of Boston Marathon. While none of the runners in the Boston Marathon studies showed symptoms of actual cardiac distress, the high levels of creatine kinase-MB and C-reactive protein — the first, a marker for muscle injury and the second, a risk factor for clotting and heart attack — showed they were temporarily at increased risk.

C-reactive protein goes up whenever there is muscle damage, and the increase seen in blood clotting probably came from the skeletal muscle injury that occurs in all marathoners who run hard enough to “hit the wall” (become physically exhausted) between mile 18-20 .

Muscle inflammation from overuse causes overproduction of blood clotting factors such as the von Willebrand factor, which was found in higher concentrations in the runners’ post-race samples than in their pre-race samples.

The human body is not designed to run 26.2 miles non-stop. In fact, the marathon distance came about as a tribute to the runner who collapsed and died after completing that journey.

Excessive oxidative stress from over-exercising should be avoided.

If you can help it, don’t enter a marathon. Do a 5k, 10k, or half marathon at most.

To Protect Yourself if you decided to run a marathon:

Take at least six to nine months to train and build endurance prior to a marathon.

Take your personal medical history into account. Runners with known heart risks should think twice about a marathon. Do not push yourself beyond your body’s ability to handle.

Take extra anti-oxidants to protect your body from oxidative stress during the run.

About Marathon Running with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

If you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) I would think twice before deciding to enter in a marathon. Oxidative stress effects and damages your body at a cellular level. Often times this will lead to symptoms including glucose intolerance, hypertension and even digestive imbalances. Glucose intolerance and hypoglycemia play a significant role in Adrenal Fatigue syndrome. So, it is scary to think that running a marathon can cause more oxidative stress and further put your blood glucose levels out of whack. Blood pressure also plays a role in adrenal fatigue. In the earlier stages of AFS blood pressure is typically between normal blood pressure to high blood pressure. As you get to deeper stages of AFS low blood pressure is common. You really need to think about your heart and circulatory system if you suffer from AFS and want to run in a marathon. There are too many risk factors that can come into play. In addition, adrenal crashes may be triggered , leading to extreme fatigue that can housebound a person.

The Stress Response System and Its Impact on Running in a Marathon

Read all about marathon running and its long-term impact on your bodyThe NeuroEndo Metabolic Stress Response model is a forecast model that will show you how systems are correlated and affect each other in various ways when they are under stress. This marathon study shows how running a marathon can affect your urinary system, your circulatory system, and muscular systems. When one of the bodies systems is under stress it will affect other systems too. The kidneys play a big role in your blood sugar levels and circulatory system. If your kidneys are affected in can cause changes in your glucose levels. These changes won’t be helpful if you suffer from AFS. It’s important to know the health risks and fully understand them before getting into any type of sport. If you have any concerns about running a marathon you should address them with your doctor or therapist before entering a race.

A Final Word About Marathon Running

Our bodies are not up to handling as much damage as repetitive marathon races will cause. If you decide you love to run, trying a smaller 5K or 10K race until your adrenals are well healed. Your body will thank you for it.


About marathon running




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2 Comments

  • Lark Pruhkin says:

    Wow, I had no idea running can have such an impact on our body. I was under the impression that running was the best type of work out for your over all body. As a daily runner I can put in about 5-8 miles per day. Should I start alternating riding my bike, every other day ?

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Our body is never designed physically to have excessive exercise. 5-8 miles is not excessive if your body can handle it. As you get older, modulating between aerobics and core strength is a good compromise to keep both compartments optimum. The key is to make sure you pay attention to your body and listen closely to whether you have any fatigue for 6 continuous hours after finishing the exercise, because during the exercise and immediately there after, the body may feel good due to residual adrenaline and once that burns off in a few hours, the true picture as to your vitality will emerge.

      Dr Lam