Just a bit more than a week before my 4th marathon and at a time when I am increasing my training volume after the summer I came across this interesting yet scary TEDx video:
Dr. James O’Keefe Jr. is a cardiology researcher and (was) an exercise junkie until he followed some previous studies and also conducted his own research that show no positive correlation between exercise junkies (as in long endurance races) and overall cardiac health. To be even more clear he comes to the conclusion (and I guess it doesn’t take a genious for this insight) that just like in every other thing, overdoing something is never good.
If you take the time to watch the video you will find some hard evidence showing that while there are cardiac health benefits from exercising regularly like 3/5 times a week with moderate effort and duration (ie, less than 1 hour per session) but when you go above that threshold you get on other end of the curve meaning that no only the marginal increase in terms of health benefits become smaller but you can go all the way to seriously hurt your health.
His video and presentation is supported by several different studies and they all point to the same not so so good conclusion, at least for people that like me think that running 42km might be fun. Because when you are training to run a marathon you will most likely be logging more then 50km per week. Even if this distance would mean something like 5 hours spread on 5 different sessions you will also need to go out on the long runs for 20/30/35km, meaning that if you are an average runner you will be out there running for more than 3 hours, way above the “recommended” threshold considering cardiac health benefits. And I will not even go to describe the long bike sessions for Ironman triathlon training…
But Dr. James O’Keefe Jr. brings even more terrifying evidence showing that not only will your heart present muscular tissue damage after such a long effort (which will self heal within some days just like all the other muscles on your legs) but it seems that permanent damage is also done with the heart tissue becoming rigid and leading to severe conditions after years of abuse.
Most people would think that runners and other athletes should be very healthy people but when you are on the inside you know that that is not always the case. For instance I don’t seem to be able to find any runner that takes it seriously and runs a couple of races every season that can claim that he or she has never had any trouble (yes, I’m looking at you knee, feet and ankle).
So just like my better half is always joking, we runners are all healthy until we are not. Most likely we have all had some pain here and there and that has probably lead us to some time off (weeks or even months) to recover; meaning that the “healthy” athletes after all might not be so true. And this is only the most visible part of it, because these are the kind of injuries you can just go through and heal within a short time frame, even if we don’t know what consequences they will bring later in life. Adding to these we now have this proved concern about heart health, which at least for me is much more of a concern than some joint pain (at least for now!).
All this makes me wonder, with all this knowledge, why do I and lots of other conscientious (?) people still keep going all in on endurance events that last 3 to 10+ hours and imply heavy weekly training plans that will (very) frequently put you over the 1 hour daily exercise threshold?
Well, I don’t know about other people, but for me it is all about making the most out of our finite time on the face of the planet. But there is a lot more to it… I will leave that for a future post.