Is it healthy to run a marathon?
The alarm and the debate on whether it is healthy to run a marathon have been turned on when less than a week ago the Catalan cardiologist Josep Burgada gave the following headline: “Every weekend we buried a runner, we have to stop this”. To the two days of this holder, in the World Health Day, the best marathons of joined to claim the slogan of: Marathon is Health.
As you can see, the controversy is well served and the debate is hard. In my opinion it is not easy to say yes or no to the question of whether running a marathon is healthy. It depends on the runner and its characteristics, circumstances, sports history, medical history and, possibly, so many factors that even in each case it is difficult to determine if that distance is health or not for the runner.
The first thing would be to define what is a healthy physical activity. Taking into account WHO and its recommendations for healthy physical activity, moderate aerobic activity should be done between 150-300 minutes a week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity.
Although the WHO recommendations are somewhat ambiguous and some information is missing, we can say that preparing a marathon or doing it would not be healthy, as it would far exceed the recommendations considered healthy for WHO.
What happens in our body when running a marathon?
It is clear that running a marathon is a very stressful situation for our body, it will suppose an exceptional effort for most runners. This causes significant wear in our musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, immune and renal systems.
Doing a marathon means being (for a middle runner), between 3-6 hours at a high heart rate. Many cardiac pathologies can give face in these situations of prolonged effort, so it is important that before running a marathon we do the relevant tests: stress test with electro included.
Up to 90% of runners are injured preparing a marathon.
There is also a situation of dehydration, which will be greater or lesser depending on how well or badly the corridor is hydrated. This dehydration is an extra effort for the heart and, above all, for the kidney, which can be affected in most cases (according to a study, 40% of the “finishers” end with acute kidney damage).
Running for 42 kilometers is about 28,000-30,000 strides. This is an important wear on our muscles, joints and tendons. Repeating a gesture for 30,000 times can cause many musculoskeletal injuries to appear or be more likely to suffer. According to one study, up to 90% of runners are injured training for a marathon and most injuries are related to their musculoskeletal system.
In general, the physiological side effects of a marathon last between 2-5 hours until we fully recover. Then, in a totally healthy individual, the physiological parameters return to normal. But of course, a popular runner who has prepared the test for several weeks is not the same as a more professional runner who has been running all his life.
Training planning and medical tests are fundamental
Although as we said at the beginning, saying yes or no to the question of whether it is healthy to run a marathon is something very complicated, yes we can say that a good planning and doing the relevant medical tests as an electro or a test of effort are going to be fundamental in making a marathon “healthier”
Although the test itself of the marathon is, as we said, something very stressful for the body, training and preparation, provided they are done well, not so much (except for exceptions of very long runs).
In some countries it is obligatory to present a medical certificate indicating that there are no abnormalities, especially cardiac, as a requirement for the registration of the marathon. In, for now, the only requirement to participate in a marathon is to pay the registration.
Nor would it be wrong to have to prove as a requirement for enrollment in a marathon, having participated and finished successfully in a half marathon . At least to prevent people who have never run long distances from getting into the mud by doing the marathon as an initial challenge.
The intensity at which we do a marathon also influences
Although the amount of time we spend running influences the beating we give to the body, the factor intensity or pace of the race will greatly mark the healthy level of the test. For a runner who is accustomed to long distances, it is not the same to do a marathon in 3 hours than in 4. It is clear that doing it at a medium-low rhythm does not punish the body as much (although it does to our joints).
But when a poorly prepared popular runner does a marathon, the simple act of crossing the finish line already becomes a superhuman effort for him, whatever the pace of the race. That also must be taken into account.
A marathon is a sporting challenge, not a healthy goal
I think I’m not wrong when I say that for almost everyone running a marathon is a sporting challenge : finish it, improve times, win the neighbor … but nobody plans to run a marathon because it will improve their health. In fact, I doubt that any professional in the field recommends running marathons to gain health.
Such a long test is a stimulus that is too great for the organism to be considered healthy, especially if what is sought is performance and time. However, as we said at the beginning, this test is “more or less healthy”, it will depend on many factors and we would have to see case by case to what extent running the marathon would be a more or less healthy activity.
Understanding here that “running a marathon is not harmful” does not necessarily imply that it is healthy. And, between white and black there is a wide range of grays.
Conclusions and my personal opinion
If someone told me that they want to run a marathon to play sports and improve their health, I would categorically say that they are wrong. Now, if someone tells me that in the future he wants to prepare a marathon, with a good long-term planning, that path to the marathon I think would undoubtedly be a healthy option. But the test itself, running 42 kilometers on the same day, that would be questionable.
As you can see, throughout the article I have not wet myself very much in whether running a marathon is healthy or not. But it is difficult to lean to one side or another without knowing the characteristics and circumstances of each person. But if I have to give an answer in general, for most runners of a marathon I am left with the option of: no, running a marathon is not healthy. There are many more options and activities that we can do to improve our health with less risk of injury and less traumatic for the body.