Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Marathon risks

A friend of mine just posted a blog entry linked to a news article about how endurance sporting events can be risky.  What most people don't realize is that if you run marathons, you have two disciplines to manage, or if you do triathlon, you have four disciplines to manage.  That extra discipline is called nutrition by many; I just call it health.

Most sane people don't just go out and decide "I'm going to run a marathon today."  For many, it takes years to get that point, with a marathon being the culmination of years of hard work.  But gone are the days where only the elite men ran marathons.  Gone are the times where only the best runners of both genders were the only ones who attempted 26.2 miles.  With the emergence of "bucket listers" in the endurance sports arena, the time from beginning runner to marathon finisher has shortened.  And anyone can find a good training plan to tell them how many miles to run evey day and when to rest for the eighteen weeks leading up to a marathon.  You could conceivably go from couch potato to marathon finisher in less than a year with little more than a pair of running shoes and internet access. Let me just say that this is a bad idea.  You wouldn't have a chance to learn running in a healthy way.

The most crucial discipline often goes ignored.  Health.  And while the discipline of marathon or triathlon may not be a team sport, entire families and communities are affected by the health discipline when a race goes wrong.

Sick or hurt
How many runners ignore pain because they want to make that race next Saturday, or make sure they get in enough miles for their training?  How many of us push through when we know without a doubt that we should take a break for some other reason that truly isn't worth sacrificing all the hard work, just to get in that last mile?  So we aren't taking care of ourselves when we're sick or hurt.

What percentage of people in the sport truly know how handle nutrition in training and racing?   I ran my first marathon in 2009, but my nutrition for endurance really didn't get dialed in until 2011.  There were several endurance events that my stomach reminded me that I needed to figure out a better plan before I finally figured it out.  I will say this, though:  if not for my transition to triathlon, I may not have figured it out.

General Health
How many people get a full physical, including a full cardio checkup?  Before they start running, and every year thereafter?  I remember watching the news last year and hearing about so many deaths in running and triathlon.  Many of those deaths were later attributed to underlying heart disease.

It can be heart breaking when an athlete doesn't take care of themself.  But the risks can be managed.  Athletes, take care of yourselves! Don't push yourself to keep going when you are sick or injured, learn proper race nutrition and practice it in training, and go get a complete physical!


  1. Some great points, Rachel. I know I'm completely guilty of trying to push through when I'm sick or hurting instead of letting my body recover. I also suffered through my first (and only to this date) marathon because I didn't let my body rest the week before the race. And getting a full check up has been on the to do list for waaaay too long and is quite overdue.

    1. If there were commandments for runners, I'd be hard pressed to find one that I haven't broken yet. Tapering is killing me because I feel like I'm supposed to be doing more, so I know how you must have felt. Thanks, Megan. And stay safe out there!

  2. Hey - Just a though... Emotional health. When running has become all you are and you are missing the rest of your mind. Things like reading and other hobbies. If running is all you are, you are likely to get burned out emotionally at some point. You don't have to post your little sister...

    1. Thanks for bringing up a good point, Jess. While not necessarily the point of the article I was referencing, it is a crucial part of athlete health ~ balancing sports and the rest of your life. Some of us begin a running career as a method of healing, others as a way to lose weight, and still others for various reasons too countless to name. It's easy to get caught up, and lost. Most of us have checks and balances in life that keep us from losing ourself to the thrill of the sport.