Here's What Running Marathons Does to Your Body
It seems anymore that our Instagram and Facebook feeds are flooded with people who are either training for or who have just finished running a marathon. But we've got to hand it to these people, especially since running 26.2 miles straight is definitely no easy feat. Running also seems like a positive "trend" to continue, since it gets your heart pounding, your muscles moving, and your blood flowing. However, running so many miles for such a consistent period of time has us wondering if there are any serious dangers with taking part in marathons. We turned to John Rowley, best-selling author of The Positive Power of Fitness ($12), certified trainer, and ISSA director of wellness.
To find out his take on marathon running, keep scrolling!
"While lots of running is a great way to build endurance, it does slow down your metabolism since you’re technically losing muscle," Rowley explains. In other words, running consistently depletes the calories needed for sustained muscle mass. Interesting—we always assumed that running would give us Carrie Underwood legs. He also notes that running truly does cause a significant amount of wear and tear on joints because of the frequent and heavy impact. Noted.
While you don't need to quit running cold turkey, there are several steps you should take to avoid injury. The first is to warm up: "Make sure you’re moving around, loosening up your hips especially, and warming up your muscles and joints," Rowley says. He also suggests one of the most important steps that you can't skip: stretching. "You’re less likely to encounter injury while running if you’ve prepped your muscles with a good stretch," says Rowley.
Next, Rowley says it's important to be mindful of how you actually run the race. While you may be tempted to start off strong, Rowley says to work your way up gradually: "Instead of starting in a full-out sprint right on the starting line, give yourself some time to gain better range of motion and momentum—once you feel your body is acclimated to a comfortable speed, you can then start to push yourself a little more to avoid injury."
Lastly, Rowley recommends eating a diet full of lean protein and fresh greens, as well as plenty of water. As for the day before the race, he suggests eating a healthy serving of carbs, like a modest portion of pasta to give you energy for the big day.
Laura Vollmer, five-time marathon runner, says that the worst that's ever happened to her injury-wise has been black toenails (yikes!) and chaffing. However, she says that the reason she doesn't experience serious injury is because she trains "properly": "Generally training for a marathon is three to four days of running (one of which is a longer run) and then two to three days of cross and strength training. Most often, the people I see get injured are those that don't keep up with workouts during the week and just do their long runs. From that, you see tons of injuries," Vollmer explains.
Evan Roth, a four-time marathon runner, adds that after one-and-a-half- to two-hour runs, there's definitely a lot of soreness and stiffness in his joints, but that they subside in a day or so. He also stresses the importance of taking a day off, suggesting that many people get injuries when forgetting to take a break every so often.
To avoid those scary black toenails and to make your runs as comfortable as possible, Rowley suggests changing out your sneakers every 300-450 miles. You can also try out some inserts, like RunPro Insoles ($50), which come in low, medium, and high arch profiles.
What are your tips for low-injury running? Have you found any tricks that work? Please share in the comments!