Sep 15, 2011

The Effects of Running a Marathon

First off, The Running Man.

"He's playing for a prize. The prize - is his life. The Running Man."

I’m about to run four marathons in eight days. Nothing can go wrong, right? Please allow me to level-set you on where my mind is at currently. The feeling I have at the moment is a mixture of:

1) Waiting for Christmas, and

2) The anxiety attack that immediately follows the final bite of a last meal before serving up a deep dish of capital punishment via a) plopping down on an electric chair, b) getting gas chambered, c) taking a ride on the Drawn & Quartered Express, and/or d) insert your favorite clip from Faces of Death here __________________.

It is the kind of thing that makes my eyes bulge out of my skull a little bit when I think about it. My heart beats a little faster. I feel a pit of uncertainty in my stomach. Excitement. Hopelessness. Time is ticking. Holy crap. What did I sign up for? Too late now. ‘Quitting’ is not in my vocabulary. Bring it the fuck on!

Way back on March 27, 2011, I signed up for The Quadzilla. I declared my crazy ass intentions of running 4 marathons in 8 days to the world via my post titled, QUADZILLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! on the same historical day. As always, I told everyone I came in contact with about my marathon plans. I told friends. I told family. I promised Mr. Bojangles plenty of good times ahead licking my blistered feet. I told random strangers. I told everyone at work. I made a Quadzilla Theatrical Trailer and posted it for the world to see.

Long story short, I told lots of people. So there’s no backing out of it, even though the thought never really crossed my mind. I just didn’t want it to, and I’m glad that it hasn’t popped up. As time flew by, I trained for the races as much as I could. It has been a busy past couple of months, but I feel pretty good about everything. Not as good as I should feel at this point, but good enough. I mean, I did run 10 miles through mud, ice, fire, and electric shocks while conquering the Tough Mudder. So that's got to count for something, I suppose.

Over the past couple of days, I have talked to a lot of the people that heard about my marathons. The conversation went something like this:

“So when are your races?”

“This Saturday is the Air Force marathon. Then I go to Lake Tahoe and run one on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”

Out of a sample size of… let’s say 50 people… their reaction was 100% of the time something like this:


Curiosity got the best of me over these past few days in anticipation of the 104.8 miles Greg Terry and I will be running within the fortnight. Keep in mind that the only running injuries I have experienced [knock on wood] to date is shin splints, minor blisters, a dead toe nail, minor chafing, sun burn, and dehydration. And that was even after running 2 marathons in 2 days. The worst from that was a blister and sunburn. So what else could happen? I ran through a list in my head of potential devastating injuries that would be show-stoppers. Roll an ankle. Break a bone in my foot. Massive migraine. Severe cramps. Explosive diarrhea?

Yes! Explosive diarrhea.

But are there any more significant things out there that I should watch out for? I mean, I know that running is good for you, and running 26.2 miles is hard on the body, and shit – even the Greek dude that ran the first marathon, Pheidippides, dropped dead when he crossed the "finish line."

But could the Quadzilla actually screw me up big time, or worse… kill me?

I turned to the Internet for insight. Most of the things I came across were tales of pussies that tried to complete an item on their bucket list and had a hell of a day trying to do it. Wha wha wha. But I did find a couple of interesting tidbits. Here’s one:

Running a marathon is no small task. Even walking once would almost seem harder. There are many aspects involved in participating in one, and like any other sport, it seems to come with its associated risks and benefits. The effects on mental well-being seem very positive, while having varying degrees of beneficial effects on the heart and bones. The most stress due to running seems to be taken up, not surprisingly, by the immune system and the muscles. However, hopefully paying attention to the energetic, nutritional, and mineral requirements, as well as paying attention to environmental effects of such a race would alleviate the negative effects of running 26.2 miles in a day.

Oh really? Well that’s nothing new to me. But it does bring up a valid point. The whole immune system thing. I guess beating the shit out of my body could send my immune system on strike and I might get a cold as a result. God knows there is enough disease at any given marathon that The Black Plague part 2 could outbreak at any moment. So I’ll roll the dice on that one. So what else? How about this one:

The problem? Lately, evidence has begun to mount that running the race is, as I've feared, anything but good for your health. Not only did two high-profile marathon deaths occur in fall 2007 (one in Chicago, the other at the Olympic trials in New York), but recent studies have shown that pushing your body to run 26.2 miles can cause at least minor injury to your heart.

"We didn't find any gross injuries, such as blocked arteries or blood leakage. But we did find some enzymes leaking through the heart membrane, which is consistent with significant stress on the heart," says Malissa Wood, M.D., the lead author of a 2006 study in the journal Circulation.

Now, hardly anyone is suggesting it's time to pull the plug on America's marathon obsession. A handful of deaths versus hundreds of thousands of happy survivors every year aren't horrible odds. (And a new study found that closing roads for marathons prevents more traffic deaths than the running causes.) Even Dr. Wood remains an active marathoner. But if you're one of those men with "run a marathon" on a current to-do list (or, like me, on a "maybe-do-again" list), the latest news should definitely give you pause. Could the race you're running as a demonstration of your health and fitness actually make you unhealthy? Or, to put a finer point on it: Could this stunt you're attempting in order to give meaning to your life end your life?

Hmmmm. “Enzymes leaking through the heart membrane” doesn’t sound very good. By this point I stopped reading crazy shit about enzymes and turned to Google Images for some “marathon injuries” and “effects of running marathons.”

Okay, enough with the pics. Back to the research!

Then came the 2006 Circulation study, led by Dr. Wood, which upped the ante. Using ultrasounds and blood tests of 60 marathon finishers, the researchers found that after the race, some runners' hearts experienced difficulty refilling chambers. The researchers also noticed abnormalities in how blood was pumped from the right side of the heart to the lungs.

Before you go into full freak-out mode, there is some good news. First, proper training seems to go a long way toward protecting you from heart injury during the race. The Circulation study found that people who'd averaged at least 45 miles a week in training were significantly less likely to suffer heart damage than those who ran 35 miles a week or less. That makes sense to Dr. Siegel, who notes that training is an injury-and-repair process: Your body suffers damage when you exert yourself during training but then repairs itself and becomes stronger. So runners who log lots of training miles are able to withstand more punishment during the race than those who train less.

So, uhhh, what if I have been running 35 miles per MONTH, rather than 35 miles per WEEK? Hi there, Heart, it’s me, Kyle. I’m going to be a little rough on you during the next week and then some, but I’m going to need you to keep doing what you’ve been doing, okay? Promise? Promise me that you will never die.