Ultra-marathoning: incredible exercise or incredibly dangerous?

Recently, ultra-marathonersrunners who travel distances greater than 26.2 miles—have gotten more media attention as more hard-core athletes make the decision to tackle this challenging sport. The intense sport has gotten popular enough that a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California decided to study ultra-marathoners to see if their pastime was putting themUltra-marathons put you at risk of stress fractures in danger of injury.

We all know that a certain amount of exercise is necessary to stay healthy, but according to Dr. Marty Hoffman, the lead study author, the purpose of his research was to figure out if “There’s an upper limit for the valuable effects from exercise. We know that moderate exercise has considerable health benefits, so then the question is, what happens if you go beyond that?”

That question is a crucial one in a sport where some runners clock as many as 100 miles in a single workout; are these ultra-athletes becoming super fit or just hurting their bodies? According to the study, which observed 1200 ultra-runners, these athletes are generally quite healthy but do report several types of injury more frequently than those of us who engage in more typical forms of exercise. Most notably, ultra-runners experience knee pain, stress fractures and breathing problems at a fairly high rate.

In addition to these short term concerns, the study authors are planning to follow their ultra-runners for the next 20 years to see if there are long term negative health impacts from getting so much exercise. Because the sport has only recently become popular, no one really knows just what this kind of distance running really does to your body.

In the humble opinion of this Houston podiatrist, moderation is the key to preventing sports injuries, especially when it comes to running. If you want to keep your body healthy and injury free, follow a doctor-approved training program and see your podiatrist at the first sign of foot or ankle pain.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.