“Wow. Have you read this?! Scary stuff! Please be careful,” read an email I received from a friend last week linking to an article titled, “Study Is Cautionary News on Excessive Exercise For Runners.” Ever since I started running ultra marathons a few years ago, I’ve occasionally been given grief about how bad it is for my knees, hips, feet, etc. in addition to consistent looks of pity from non-runners, as if they just found out I’m a leper.
I rolled my eyes, let out a “humph” through my smirk, and clicked on the link, assuming it was a lame joke. It wasn’t. This was a real study with surprising results. By the end of the weekend, many more friends had sent the article my way, and the different running communities I’m a part of were buzzing with reactions to it.
The study, conducted by Robert Schwartz and colleagues at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, focused on ‘excessive runners’, which was defined as someone who runs at least one marathon a year for 25 years. The average age of the test’s subjects was 50–59, and the runners in the tests all had a lower resting heart rate and body mass index than the non-runners. The men in the study were found to have 62% more plaque (including calcified plaque and soft, fatty plaque) buildup in their coronary arteries than non-runners.
As I read on, my eyebrows knitted together and my shoulders dropped. I felt like I was being told my husband cheated on me. It was that surprising and awful. What the hell? Running—the longest love of my life—can be bad for me?
Yup. Looks like it.
Well, to be fair, it’s apparently only bad for you if you do it a lot. The study suggests capping your weekly mileage off around 15–20 miles. This is less than usually required to adequately train for a marathon and would be considered taking a week off to most people in the ultra running community. Reading the suggested mileage felt like a slap in the face, and I couldn’t help but think, “Why even run then?”
In no way do I mean to be derogatory against those who are quite happy running 15–20 miles a week. That is something to be proud of and, apparently, that is a much smarter and healthier way to go about being a runner than the path I’ve chosen.
But I don’t run for the mileage, to be better than anyone else, or even for my heart health if I’m really being honest. I run because it gives me a soul. Running is the only reason I even believe I may have a soul. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all, but running has brought me closest to understanding the idea of being in the hands of something larger. To say I love it is an understatement. I love what running allows me to learn about myself and—sorry science—I can’t learn it all in 15–20 miles a week.
So yeah, I’ve read the study. Yeah, I understand and believe the outcome. Yeah, it’s a bit disappointing—and scary. But no, I’m not going to run less. (Sorry Mom.) Perhaps I am an addict and this is my drug, and it will eventually kill me some day, but I will be happier person while living and have some damn good stories from trails and races that pushed and pulled me through amazing experiences.
I replied to my concerned friend’s email with, “Thanks for the head’s up. I’ve also read that one study showed that individuals who ate multiple times a day, slept at night, and bathed regularly for 80+ years died—no matter how much exercise they did. Scary, eh? …Seriously though, I love you too.”
By: Audra Rundle