Ready to run? Is your heart?

by Dr. Justin Trivax

The 2012 Detroit Free Press Talmer Bank Marathon is this Sunday, Oct. 21 and as the popularity of marathon running increases, it’s important to understand what you need to do to ensure both your body and heart are prepared for the challenge. Safely participating in endurance exercise takes extreme physical and mental dedication and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In a recent Web chat, I answered questions from real runners looking for ways to improve their training. The information below might help get you up-to-speed if you are considering a long distance run.

If you have any other questions or concerns about the safety of running, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or ask your regular doctor.

There have been stories in the past about runners dying during or after running a marathon. Is the number of cases like this on the rise?
The statement is true, but you must understand why. In 1976, approximately 25,000 runners crossed a marathon finish line in the U.S. In 2012, an incredible 518,000 runners finished a marathon. As participation in the sport has increased, deaths associated with running have also increased. However, the risk of suffering from a fatal heart attack during a marathon is approximately 1 out of 200,000 and is unchanged. These data suggest that the risk associated with long-distance running events is equivalent to or lower than the risk associated with other vigorous physical activity.

I’ve never trained for a marathon before, but I’m thinking about doing so. Should I discuss this with my doctor before I get started?
Prior to embarking in any rigorous exercise program, it is recommended to ask your internal medicine or family doctor if he or she thinks that it is safe for you. I always recommend that before even considering marathon training, runners should log 15 to 20 miles per week to allow the musculoskeletal system to adapt to major changes and strain to the body.

I’ve been looking at training schedules, but I can’t devote three days a week to running. Is it unsafe to go run a marathon training just one day a week?
While there is no clinical evidence that inexperienced runners have more cardiac complications during marathon running, it would be nearly impossible for your body to adapt to the necessary changes required to endure up to four or five hours of exercise if only one day is devoted to training. At a bare minimum, you should train three days per week for at least 20 to 30 weeks. Additionally, one day should be set aside for strength training.

I am running my first half marathon in a few weeks and have been training rigorously. I am wondering how I should alter my food and hydration in the weeks to come in order to be prepared.
That is a very common question and one that most runners get very concerned about, especially in the few days prior to their event. People who usually run into problems with dehydration or malnourishment are those who don’t think about it at all before a race. I recommend maintaining the same diet that you have been using during the training period. Major changes through carbohydrate or protein loading can cause significant gastrointestinal distress. Having a sick stomach during your race will be far worse than running “low on energy.” So in summary, stick with what you have been doing.

My husband and I are training for the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon. I run three to four days per week and really struggle to add miles. My husband runs maybe two days a week and can go out and add miles with no problems. I get pretty annoyed because he will joke around while we are running as I’m trying to breathe through the pain. Any idea why some people can just run and others have to work really hard?
I know how you feel; during the Chicago Marathon, my wife left me at mile 18 because I was “running too slowly” for her. Some people are simply more “fit” than others. There is a marker of cardio-respiratory fitness called VO2 max. It can be altered with training, but some people have higher VO2 max than others. It’s just the way you were born. Again, this can be modified or improved with more training, so keep it up!

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