Marathon fever will hit Long Island May 1, when thousands participate in Long Island Marathon Weekend, but the roots of the 26.2-mile test can actually be traced back to an old Greek legend that is one of the earliest examples of how running too much may be harmful to the human heart. Accounts vary, but in 490 B.C., it is said that a courier named Pheidippides ran between 22-137 miles to deliver a message that the Greeks had defeated the Perisians in the Battle of Marathon. Legend has it he ran the entire way, but when he arrived in Athens, he suddenly collapsed and died of sudden cardiac death.
A few studies show that doctors believe light and moderate joggers have lower mortality than people who are not physically active, whereas running too much may actually be adverse to your health. A recent large scale and comprehensive study that had followed 55,000 adults over about fifteen years compared the amount of weekly jogging that was strongly correlated to a healthier lifestyle and a poorer lifestyle. Overall, findings showed that the maximum benefits of running occur at lower doses and the mortality rate of heavy runners is similar to those who are not physically active at all. In order to increase life longevity and decrease risk of death, the optimal amount of jogging is 1-2.4 hours a week at a slow-average pace (about five miles per hour), not exceeding more than three total days of running. What did this study qualify as excessive running that could potentially pose a significant risk to your heart? Strenuous jogging was categorized as greater than four hours of jogging a week at a high pace (more than seven miles an hour) for at least three times of running a week. Generally speaking, cardiologists believe that the strain from heavy running physically poses a risk to the heart by increasing muscle size, calcifying major arteries and increasing risk of arrhythmias.
This does not necessarily mean that pushing yourself to run a marathon is a bad idea. There are many healthy individuals who train for marathons quite often, and even though there are few studies that show the actual life expectancies of those marathon runners this could be a great idea for future trials. An important distinction in above study is that people usually don’t train for marathons year round. The actual training process gets vigorous closer to the date of the marathon, so I would recommend marathon runners to carefully sanction their ‘free’ time throughout the year so as to not overwork their hearts. This could include replacing some scheduled running time with activities that are shorter in duration but equally efficacious such as weight training.
Share some of your experiences. What do you feel after running a marathon? The results of this one specific study may or may not alter your workout regimen in the future, but it is crucial to be informed about potential adverse events others have encountered in the past.
Long Island is home to one of the nation’s longest-running marathons. Learn about the history of the Long Island Marathon in our May issue.