Endurance Racing: Harmful or Just Good Clean Fun?

Is endurance racing harmful to the heart?  Obviously, endurance racing burns excessive calories.  So, if one were attempting to adhere to the principles of calorie restriction, endurance racing would not be part of the program.

Here are some articles on this subject that I found interesting.

Runner’s World Q and A: Potential Adverse Effects of Endurance Exercise

Increased average longevity among the “Tour de France” cyclists

Marathon runners don’t face major heart risks, study shows

Study shows that marathon running is unlikely to cause long-term heart damage

Stockholm, Sweden, 30 August: A study of 167 amateur runners at the 2006 and 2007 Berlin marathons is lowering concerns that this type of activity leads to sustained heart damage, particularly among older competitors. Marathons are becoming an increasingly popular challenge for amateur runners wanting to test their endurance over the classic 26-mile distance. The medical community, however, has long been concerned about how marathons impact the heart – and it has not yet been shown if the effects vary among different age groups or genders.


In an effort to increase understanding of this subject, the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin conducted a study into the effects of marathon running on older amateur runners. The study took place around both the 2006 and 2007 Berlin marathons. In total, 167 older runners with an average age of 50 were monitored. All of whom had previously completed at least one full marathon. They underwent echocardiography tests using the latest equipment, and gave blood samples immediately prior to and after the race. They were monitored again after two weeks. Specifically, measurements were taken of the left ventricular diastolic and systolic functions, the right ventricular systolic function and cardiac biomarkers.


Analysis of the results showed that while there were some notable effects immediately after the race, these had returned to normal after two weeks.  Study lead, Doctor Fabian Knebel, concluded, “The concerns people have about marathon running causing sustained damage to the heart appear to be unfounded.  Our study looked at amateur runners with an average age of 50 – not elite athletes – and it showed that two weeks after a marathon, the key parameters were all back to normal levels.”


Immediately after finishing the marathon, there were some significant changes of the parameters of diastolic and right heart function. However, even though these changes were statistically significant, they were all within the normal levels and therefore do not seem to be clinically relevant. All parameters had returned to normal two weeks later, and the most likely cause of the changes were tachycardia and dehydration during the race. Also, for some runners, there was an increase in certain myocardial biomarkers but no correlation could be drawn between this increase and any myocardial dysfunction. It is believed that the temporary increase was probably caused by functional changes of the cardiomyocytes while running and not by myocardial damage.


As a result of this study, it would appear that elderly amateur runners can continue to compete in marathon races without increasing their risk of sustained heart damage.

Will Training Like A Pro-Athlete Help You Live Longer

Mortality and Longevity of Elite Athletes

What to make of all of this?


Conversation with Hal Higdon

I enjoyed reading Hal Higdon’s book “Marathon” back in the spring and hardly a week goes by without me looking at his half marathon and full marathon training plans.  So, I opened up a free account at Training Peaks a few days ago and I immediately went to the ask Hal forum and posed a question to him.  

I mentioned that I prefer to avoid speed work and pace runs (running at the pace one expects to race at) and that I thought that I viewed the 3 mile mid-week runs in the half marathon training plans as too short for my enjoyment.  I wanted to run a lot of miles.  So, I decided to follow Hal’s intermediate 2 training plan for the full marathon, even though I was only training for a half marathon.  I made some adjustments, though, to the intermediate 2 full marathon plan.  

  1. If the long Sunday run called for more than 15 miles, I would just run 15 miles.  
  2. If the Saturday run called for a pace run, I would still run at a relaxed, conversational pace.  

Then I asked Mr. Hidgon if he could speak of the advantages and/or disadvantages of the way I trained, having told him that following this training program did allow me to reach my goal of finishing a half marathon in under two hours.  I also asked if there could be a point at which I would no longer improve my time at the half marathon if I continued to train at high mileage (in a relative sense) at the expense of “quality” runs like speed work at pace runs.  

His response was basically that what I was doing could result in better results if I continued doing what I was doing and perhaps increasing my mileage, as long as the aging process didn’t counteract the impact of my training.  I took this to mean that since he did not know how old I am (I’m 46), he wanted to mention the “aging curve” and its impact on performance.  But then he did encourage me to do some tempo runs and perhaps 3 to 6 miles of pace runs most weeks.  

It is interesting how different coaches have different views on the value of “quality” runs such as speed work and pace runs.  As for me, I might throw in a “quality” run every so often.  I don’t think it will have an impact in my next half marathon, coming up in four weeks.  But perhaps I will notice the difference in April of next year, when I run the Carmel half marathon for the 2nd year in a row.