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Runaway Pain

runnerRunning a marathon is not for the faint of heart, with 26.2 miles of hell on earth that can include chapped nipples, lost toenails, and some embarrassing personal bathroom moments.

So why do 400,000 people sign up for these grueling feats of endurance every year, and why do some think that this form of running can be more dangerous than parking at McDonald’s once a week?

Well, because it’s fun . . . and because there are serious risks to a marathon. Risks that should not be ignored, for certain. In fact, officials for today’s Boston marathon even advised novice runners against participating this year due to the predicted heat.

So, if the people who are in charge of the race tell you it’s not such a good idea, it has to give you pause . . . right?

But Isn’t Exercising GOOD for You?

When you think of exercise and sports training, it’s hard to think of something that could hurt your body. We all know that there can be the cosmetic and short-term troubles from distance running, like sprained ankles and skinned knees; but what about more serious issues that can arise?

Already, a 2006 study published in the journal Circulation has pointed to minor injury to your heart because of the constant stress of the race. Heart disease and cardiac arrest are a constant concern, with multiple deaths occurring during the illustrious history of the 26-mile jaunt. Researchers have also identified changes in the immune system and kidney function, but muscles are still the biggest problem area. And one of those muscles is the heart.

During a race, your body doesn’t know if you have just run a few dozen miles or if you’ve been hit by a garbage truck, so it begins to go into damage-control mode. This can lead to injury-signaling enzymes leaking into the blood, creating a response that can be anything from the tightening of your calf to a change in the way blood pumps to your heart. During the race, and for several hours afterward, the systemic inflammation significantly increases your risk of a cardiac event, especially in those that are over 40.

Should You Pass on Running a Marathon?

Here’s the good news: there is very little data to suggest that there were any connected long-term effects. In fact, if you properly train you can even lower the amount of risk you’re taking during the run. So in the battle of risk versus reward, you might not be so crazy to lace up those running sneakers.

Setting a goal and realizing it can be massively helpful for your mental health, bringing on a great sense of accomplishment that many of us need. Mastering a new challenge is a crucial skill, and there are studies that show problems with self-mastery can lead to depression and other problems. Also, getting into shape and making exercise a habit can lead to great dividends down the road. It seems that many people who decide to train for even one marathon will take those lessons of dedication and physical work with them the rest of their lives.

So if you’re a thrill-seeker that is looking for another great challenge, and you don’t mind the occasional Vaseline rub on your nipples, a marathon might be the next step. Just make sure you realize the potential danger that can lurk on that asphalt, and listen to your body.

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