There are health risks in just about anything we do. Some things are more riskier than others, but non the less there is risk. I thought I would write a blog post on the health risks of running ultra marathons. The inspiration for this post comes from the many people who question if running long distances is healthy, such as ultra marathons.
The first thing I should mention is why can’t the human body run further than 26.2 miles? Why does this have to be the limit and anything further than this is unhealthy? I believe the answer to this is in the way we think about long distance running. For the longest time the marathon distance (26.2 miles) has been the apex distance for a runner to run. But in recent years the sport of ultra marathoning has come onto the running scene which now challenges our belief of the marathon being the ultimate distance. I believe the human body can run further than 26.2 miles and it can be done in a healthy way.
In any activity we take up there are health risks. If we choose to take up hunting, then the chance of getting shot goes up. When we drive to the grocery store our chance of getting in a car accident goes up. If we choose to run the chances of having some kind of health related running issues increases. There is risk in anything we do.
In the case of running, I believe there are risks, but if a runner listens to his/her body and runs correctly the wear and tear can be kept to a minimum. I also believe that the rewards of running out weigh the wear and tear that comes from running. The grand sum total of when all is said and done is that a person who runs will be healthier. There may be individuals who have chronic health struggles and if that is the case perhaps choosing another form of exercise would be wise. But I believe most people, if they really want to, can run distances longer than 26.2 miles and have healthy results at the same time.
Sometimes people wonder if my knees will hold up later in life because of all the running I do. I feel that ultra running in some ways is less stressful on my knees than marathon running which is normally run on paved roads. Most ultra marathons are run on dirt trails and dirt trails are much softer and have less of an impact on a runners knees. Most ultra marathons are also run on courses that have a lot of hills even mountains. Because of this, the pace of a race is quite a bit slower than the pace of a marathon. Because of this, I believe this is less stressful on knees and joints in general. But again my chances of having knee problems does increase just because I run. To date I have been running ultras for almost 10 years and I have not had any knee problems except for some minor tendonitis I had when I first started to run.
Because I run on trails in the mountains, the chance of an accident increases such as taking a bad fall on the trails or something like that. I have had some bad falls, but have come out okay with only skinned hands and knees. Nothing more than that. Probably the worst injury I have had is a sprained ankle. I’ve had this happen more times than I would have liked, but ankle sprains are one of the risks when running on trails. In the end my ankle sprains have healed and to date I don’t have any problems with my ankles that inhibit me from running.
In conclusion I believe the human body is capable of running ultra marathons and it is possible to do it in a healthy way. Since I took up running almost 10 years ago I feel that I am healthier than if I would not have taken it up. Sure I’ve had some wear and tear on my body, but the rewards out weigh the risks and the end result is better health and the satisfaction of participating in difficult long distance races.