By now I’m sure you’ve read the article by Katherine Harmon in Scientific American titled “Ultra Marathons Might Be Ultra Bad for Your Heart“. My first reaction is “who cares”? That’s not my bravado talking, it’s a serious question.
The author refers to some studies and medical experts as sources for her article. Today what I’m reading is mostly bashing the author for her vague statements and questionable experts and their studies. The author is also getting chastised for her reference to the recent death off Micah True and her insinuation that his tragic death is proof ultra marathons are indeed bad for your heart. But my thoughts are completely different. For arguments sake let’s say it’s true, let’s all pretend that “excessive endurance exercise” does in fact put us at risk for permanent heart damage, would you stop?
Ultra running is not about fitness for most of us. Yes, I know several ultra runners who have over come addictions or lost over 100 lbs with the help of ultra running, but you don’t have to run ultra distances to accomplish these things. Some runners start out with the goal of overcoming their addiction or weight but something happens in the process they don’t expect. What keeps people running ultra distances is not fear of bad things but the joy and self satisfaction they get from looking forward to the challenge and completion of an ultra run. Ultra runners know they’re going to experience pain, sometimes broken bones, lots of times skinned knees and blood, blisters, black toenails, torn muscles, on and on. But does it stop you? Of course not! It only adds to the challenge and satisfaction when you finish. Adding one more thing to the list like “possible” heart damage only makes it that much more challenging for runners with this mentality. The easiest way to get me to do something is tell me I can’t.
For me, and most people I talk to, the harder the challenge is the more satisfaction I get out of it, especially running. I enjoy running in the mountains but give me a day when I climb a gnarly new trail to the peak, I fall and take a chunk out of my knee or I jump over a rattle snake I didn’t see until it was too late to stop and the satisfaction level just went up tenfold. Without the challenge of ultra distance racing I’d feel like a part of me was missing, there would be a hole in my life that would be hard if not impossible to fill. So would it be worse to stop and not have this in my life or keep pushing forward and take the chance of possible heart damage?
There are a lot of “what ifs” in this topic. No one has said what your chances are for getting heart damage, 2%, 10%, 25%? The story refers to “excessive” as more than 30 to 60 minutes per day. Really? Do you believe that? But let’s all just pretend there are concrete numbers to say who, what and when this possible heart damage becomes a reality…would you stop running ultra distances?
Please put your comments below and let me know if you care.