I once trained for nine months to beat my running mileage record and succeeded; I breached the three-mile mark at the end of my training, panting for breath.
Unlike me, marathoners keep an average of 50 miles a week when preparing for their big 26.2-mile race, which puts my measly three miles to shame. These marathoners are often in it for the weight loss, crossing it off their bucket list, or for the social aspect.
But it was when one of my close friends told me that he wanted to run marathons “for the heck of it” that I raised my eyebrow.
Marathoners put their bodies through horrible conditioning and preparation in order to be able to finish the race. Besides running nearly every day in the months leading up to the marathon, they expect physical injury, restrain themselves with a strict diet, and set aside huge chunks of time to devote solely to running, meaning less time for other activities they enjoy.
One too many
And then there is another category of runner: the ultramarathoner. The ultramarathon is a marathon that is longer than the traditional 26.2 miles, which has been known to stretch for 100 miles and even longer.
Unusual heart conditions like arrhythmia and scarring are more prevalent with marathoners who run extreme distances and some have even tragically succumbed to sudden cardiac arrest at the finish line.
Gastrointestinal problems abound even with normal marathon runners, with an estimated 30 to 50 percent reporting exercise-related intestinal problems and 83 percent admitting that they suffered bowel problems during or after their exercise.
With all these negative side effects, why would someone continue to run ultra-long races? The answer is more intuitive than you may think: because ultramarathoners push their bodies to the limit of human ability daily, they very often display symptoms of addiction.
Just like a smoking addict plans his or her day around smoking opportunities, a running addict will plan his or her week around exercise opportunities, forgoing sleep, sex and eating, braving less-than-optimal terrain and adverse weather conditions.
When the race day approaches, runners may feel obligated to push ahead of their training schedule and literally take an extra mile, just for the boost of confidence, and in the process, ruin their bodies for the race.
In some cases it comes down to the very simple endorphin release of working out. Once an exercise high is achieved, the runner slowly builds up a tolerance in order to feel that same euphoria and needs to work harder in order to achieve it again. Writer and marathoner James McWilliams said, “I’ve known runners who, stuck in a hotel with no treadmill or safe place to run, will, in a mild panic, jog around the parking lot for 90 minutes.”
The running generation
Millennials are especially at risk for submitting to a marathoning lifestyle. Marked by its “YOLO,” “live life to the fullest and take new challenges” mindset, the millennial generation is composed of young people who care about how they look and are willing to work hard for a goal. 60 percent of millennials said that they work out on a regular basis, and because running is cheaper than buying a gym membership, many turn to the road for their daily exercise. Advertisers recognize the millennial obsession with marathoning and have thus aimed their brands to attract the young, fit generation.
It may be hard to convince an avid runner that their exercise has morphed into an addictive practice, especially when the side effects are not outwardly noticeable and the health benefits are so obvious. The best advice offered by experts is to limit activity so that your life isn’t centered around your running schedule and to keep conscious of how running activities are affecting the other aspects of your life.
Photo credits to Flickr