Marathon: is it worth the risk?

“Running a marathon brings a great sense of accomplishment,” says the Ohio University psychologist Benjamin Ogles.

“Running a marathon brings a great sense of accomplishment,” says the Ohio University psychologist Benjamin Ogles.

Every day at 14:00h the alarm of Alvaro´s iPhone rings/goes off. Without losing a minute, he closes his laptop, gets his bag and goes to the gym. In the car, he explains me why he sacrifices his lunchtime every day and tells me about his “addiction”: running.

In recent years, the interest for running and popular racing has suffered  dramatically worldwide. According to Runners World more than 550,000 finished marathons in the United States in 2011, up from 300,000 in 2000 and slightly more than 25,000 in 1976.

But why? For what purpose?

“Once you finish any race you want to go for the extra mile,” Álvaro says.

“Once you finish any race you want to go for the extra mile,” Álvaro says.

The reasons to run long distance races as marathons are varied and often different depending on the person, age or sex, but in the end the human being seems to have an innate need to do things simply for the sake of see if we can do them. According to the Ohio University psychologist Benjamin Ogles, one of the authors of a study of motivation published in the Journal of Sport Behavior of the University of South Alabama, women run marathons in order to control weight and socialize, while men run to compete and achieve goals, either with others or by themselves.

“This need for us to have success at things can be a strong motivational force,” says the Ohio University psychologist Benjamin Ogles.

Injuries, addiction to self-improvement, the high price to compete and, of course, the necessity of training everyday are some consequences that runners have to assume when they start running for a race.

According to Dr. María Jesús Núñez Martín, M.D., responsible for the Area of Sports Medicine at Reebok Sports Club Spain, an amateur runner needs from three to six months of physical preparation including at least three or four days of running a week, dedicating at least one of them to perform a long training.

“The number of accumulated kilometres in workouts will condition the behaviour in the race. Therefore, it is necessary to run in different race modes, as continuous or with intervals, and at least in the first months of preparation leg strength trainings”, says Dr. Núñez.

During Álvaro’s training I ask him about this particular aspect and he totally agrees with Dr. Núñez. “It is not the period of time that you train but the kilometres that you run during that period,” he says.

Running and nice weather perform an irresistible combination. By Carlota de Andrés, Bonn

Running and nice weather perform an irresistible combination. By Carlota de Andrés, Bonn

Also crucial is the mental preparation. Most of the times the mental stress is caused by the need to realize a good preparation prior to the competition. “It is almost impossible to simulate the distance and the psychic stress of a marathon on a daily training basis,” says the German Physiotherapist Sebastian Sohns.

“If the training is too hard and the body has not enough time to fully recover, micro traumata may accumulate and affect the muscular-skeletal system on the long and short terms. Overtraining may even compromise your psyche and your immune system,” Sohns says, who sceptically admits that such a long and demanding discipline is not the healthiest exercise for the human body.

The fact is that, apparently, distances do not only affect the physical and mental preparation of the runners, but they also represent a determining factor when it comes to reducing cardiac damages. In 2006, the assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Malissa J. Wood, M.D., led a study called Circulation, that people who run an average of at least 72km a week run a significantly smaller risk of suffering heart injuries than those who run 56 km a week or less.

“Pre competitive stress can alter the heart rate and blood pressure in a physiological manner and normally does not determine cardiac risk. But there are special cases in which they come together along with the stress, the factors of cardiovascular risk or certain cardiac arrhythmias that can provoke a high risk of presenting a coronary isqchemic event”, says Dr. Núñez. For that reason, and here is where all the experts agree, it is highly recommended that all running enthusiasts make a visit to the doctor to confirm their good state of health or, in case a problem is detected, thereby can find adequate ways to solve it effectively.

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