A marathon runner is a special breed of athlete. In order to complete the 26.2-mile trek, a marathon runner usually puts him or herself through a rigorous exercise and diet regime in the months preceding the race, which requires an impressive show of discipline.
But can that discipline backfire? We spoke to James Cohen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Vanguard Chicago Center for Orthopedics and a marathon runner himself, who said that some runners’ attitudes lead them to train in ways that may be detrimental to their overall health. Read on to see if your running attitude needs adjusting!
1.It’s okay to run when sick. Rest is the best medicine if you feel “sick.” Don’t run if symptoms include a cough, fever, and body aches. If you have mild nasal or cold symptoms, you can run, but cut back on distance and intensity.
2.Runners are invulnerable. Running is excellent for your health but your health may not be excellent. Runners get cancer and have heart problems just like other mortals. So get age-appropriate checkups for cholesterol and screenings for colon, prostate and cervical cancers.
3.Thinner = faster and healthier. Running is an excellent way to lose weight and running lighter is easier than running heavier. However, runners must have a well-balanced diet, or serious health problems can develop. Many runners get plenty of carbohydrates and protein, but some runners cut out fats almost entirely. Healthy fats are good for your cardiovascular system and essential for Vitamin D absorption. Vitamin D deficiency results in a condition known as osteomalacia, which produces soft bones. One example of it is a man in his 60s who had 35 marathons under his belt and had extremely soft bone at the time of his hip replacement. This surprising finding was the result of not having any appreciable fat, including no avocados, olive oil and believe it or not, no chocolate in his diet for many years
4.More is better. “Excess” is OK for marathoners but not “excessively.” This oxymoron of marathon running in moderation is a difficult concept to grasp, and at this point, there are not any clear guidelines. Recent studies have suggested excessive endurance exercise might lead to heart problems, especially in those over 50. It should be remembered that everyone is different regarding what an easy, comfortable run is. It may be an easy 7:30 pace for 20 miles or a 10:00 pace for 8 miles. Also, regarding the short-term effects of long distance running, it should be noted that marathon training “guides” are just that – guides. They do not need to be followed exactly. When feeling good, it is OK to push it a little more. However, when it’s a struggle, cut back. Rest for a marathoner cannot be stressed enough.
5.Running is good for your sense of well being/mental health. True, but with a caveat. Here’s some research as a case in point: Three groups of patients with depression were compared. One group was treated with anti-depressant medication; a second group took anti-depressant medication and engaged in a running program; and then the third group was treated with only running. Not surprising to many runners, the group treated with running alone faired the best. However, the converse is also true: when injured runners can’t run, they frequently feel depressed. The problem is that so many runners love running too much and dislike other forms of exercise. When injured and unable to run, don’t fall off the wagon. Do your rehab, but also force yourself to get on the dreaded stationary bike or elliptical machine, or force yourself to do a lap or two in the pool.