What a marathon does to your body

Recently, I ran two half marathons and found them to be some of the most fulfilling and satisfying experiences I have ever done. After completing two half marathons, a full marathon no longer seemed as daunting. However, the horrors I have heard that 26.2 miles does to your body lowered my confidence. Is it possible that exercise, extreme exercise, can unexpectedly do more harm than good to one’s body?

While conquering 26.2 miles may seem glorious, the side-effects are alarming. Throughout the race, the body is thrown out of equilibrium in attempt to cope with the excessive stress it is put under. Intense metabolic and physiological demands such as heart and breathing rate, volume of blood pumped by the heart, and blood circulation away from internal organs and towards muscle tissue are forced to be met.

Essential electrolytes consisting of potassium and magnesium are diminished to dangerous, even life-threatening, levels. Hormones and chemicals released from vital organs such as the heart and liver closely resemble those from nonfunctioning ones.

Disorientation post-race is largely linked back to abnormal sodium concentrations in the body. In order to compensate for the rapid reduction of sodium levels, massive amounts of water are consumed. However, excessive quantities of water further imbalances the sodium equilibrium and may cause shrinking or swelling of the brain.

A study conducted at the 2002 Boston Marathon concluded that 2,000 out of 15,000 runners were expected to finish with hyponatremia, abnormally low levels of sodium. 100 of them would suffer from extreme conditions of hyponatremia.

Myoglobinuria, peeing blood, is another concern that arises from muscle deterioration onset by overuse. When damaged, muscle tissue releases myoglobin that is sent to the kidneys and eventually shows up in urine. Approximately 10% of the runners will experience myoglobinuria.

While dropping dead from sudden cardiac failure in the middle of the race is extremely rare and only occurs approximately once in 50,000 runners, it is still a terrifying possibility. Abnormally high levels of troponin in these runner’s bloodstreams are indications of heart trauma. Usually, full days of recovery are capable of restoring normal conditions but may not be for very few, even young and fit, individuals.

Ironically, some of the negative effects may not actually come from the race itself but rather the mentality after it. Believing that after completing 26.2 miles they are healthy and physically fit, many turn to gorging excessive amounts of food. Even 26.2 miles do not unclog the arteries from the consumption of fried chicken and ice cream.

Ultimately, 26.2 miles throws the body into a chaos that may or may not have lasting implications. However, while physical damages could be permanent, the memories and moments of this accomplishment are everlasting.

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