Endurance athletes defend their sports
On a day when runners should be celebrating National Running Day, the long-distance running community is instead defending itself over the claims of an article published in the June issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The journal sent a dumbed down press release to the media, and media outlets around the globe published articles with headlines such as “Too Much Exercise Harms Heart”; “Marathon Running Damages the Heart”; and my favorite one: “Exercise Kills … But Only Super-Fit Need Worry as Extreme Sports Damage the Heart.”
Needless to say, endurance athletes aren’t pleased with what they view as an attack on their sports and their lifestyles. Everyone from independent bloggers to Runner’s World writers to Today’s Parent contributors has criticized the published report and more specifically the media’s handling of it.
They appear to have good reason to be upset. That’s because the media headlines aren’t exactly a correct representation of the published journal article, whose authors admit that their claim that long-term, sustained activity in extreme endurance events “may” damage your heart “is still hypothetical and there is some inconsistency in the reported findings. Furthermore, lifelong vigorous exercisers generally have low mortality rates and excellent functional capacity.”
The essence of the published journal article is that a couple of small, preliminary studies have shown that some potentially damaging changes to certain parts of the heart may occur within some individuals (mostly the older population) after sustained efforts of extreme endurance events. The article states that typically those changes “return to normal within a week” of the endurance activity. It is when recovery times aren’t sufficient between these bouts of sustained, intense exercise that a cumulative buildup of these changes may lead to cardiac problems, according to the published article.
Needless to say, ultra-distance athletes are upset that their sports are being labeled as unsafe, but they’re also disappointed that the public may take the wrong message away from the published report.
“Articles like these contribute to a larger epidemic,” writes one particularly up-in-arms blogger. “They are not targeted to ultra runners at all. They are targeted to the tell-me-it’s-OK-to-sit-on-my-ass-all-weekend crowd. Even though the article SAYS it encourages moderate physical activity, that’s not what people take from it. Instead, this will be used as argument against long distance running. An excuse for staying home.
“We know the life change that can come from completing an ultra. The boost of self-confidence, the physical benefits, the stress-relief, and the love of nature. But articles like these present us as insane maniacs who will die early.
“Ultra running is bad for my heart? That’s fine. You die your way, and I’ll die mine.”