June 27, 2011

CANADA: Nausea. dizziness, bleeding nipples: Why would anyone run a marathon?

TORONTO, Ontario / The Globe And Mail /  Fitness / June 27, 2011

Positive Life in Old Age
Despite the constant risk of injury, more and more people are running marathons - and they’re not stopping at one


Nausea. Dizziness. Dehydration. Cardiac arrest. Torn Achilles tendons. Shin splints. Stress fractures. Groin strains. Calf strains. Dislocated kneecaps. Plantar fasciitis. Plica syndrome. Pulled hamstrings. The possibility of losing control of your bodily functions and experiencing what the running community euphemistically refers to as a G.I. incident. Bleeding nipples. The chance, however, slight, that the exertionmay literally kill you.

Considering the physical toll, and the damage running 42.2 kilometres can do to the body both in the short and long term, it’s fair to ask, why would anyone in their right mind want to run a marathon?

Yet more and more people are putting themselves through such agony. Races have proliferated to the degree that they now clog the calendar. In Canada’s biggest city, for instance, the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon agreed to move from the fall to the spring since it was too close to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon; its new date now overlaps with the Mississauga Marathon.

South of the border, more than half a million people finished a marathon last year, an 8.6-per-cent increase over 2009, which saw a nearly 10-per-cent increase over the previous year, according to Running USA. While no organization tracks such figures in Canada, most large events have seen steady gains over the past decade, and the growing number of races held each year is proof that more people are increasingly going the distance.

“The growth curve is very steady,” says Alex Coffin, founder of MarathonCanada.com, a site devoted to promoting marathon running in Canada. “If you’re [organizing] an event, trying to create a niche for yourself, basically the only time left is in the dead of the winter or the middle of the summer.”

The clich√© may be that marathon runners are goal-oriented, Type-A personalities, but all the people participating in events can’t all fit that profile. While plenty are still driven by competing, many more simply want to complete the race.

“Especially now that you have the walk-run type training program, where that’s very acceptable, it’s opened itself up to the full spectrum. You still have the A type who’s concerned with what his or her time is and how that relates to their age group and all that, but you get a lot of people [for whom] it’s all about the medal,” you receive upon completion, Mr. Coffin says.

Injury, however, remains a possibility for any runner.

Running is so hard on the body that Chris Woollam, the medical director of the Mississauga Marathon, thinks people should run only one marathon – just to say they’ve done it. After that, they should keep to 10K or half-marathon races in order to put less stress on the body.

“You’ve got that ambition, you’ve wanted to run a marathon to say you’ve did it. I understand that,” he says. And, yes, running marathons have many benefits – losing weight, improved blood pressure and positive self-image among them, Dr. Woollam says. The downside is injuries from overuse, such as shin splints, iliotibial band injuries and patellofemoral syndrome.

Dr. Woollam also points out that a handful of people have died at Canadian marathons in recent years from heart attacks.

“There’s always that risk of dying, and the longer you go, the more likely that’s going to happen,” he says. In fairness, people are probably at a higher risk of heart attack sitting at home on the couch eating chips than if they were out running, Dr. Woollam adds.

Brian Webb, a 32-year-old who ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon for the first time this spring. It wasn’t a smooth trip to the finish line. Five weeks before the race, Mr. Webb suffered a pinched nerve in his knee, pulled his hamstring and threw out his hip. “I could hardly move.” But having finished the event, Mr. Webb is now eager to run more marathons. “It’s something I would be very interested in doing again.”

Of course, despite the pain, running feels good, whether it’s the elusive runner’s high or just the flood of endorphins that course through the body after exercise.

Completing a marathon is often seen as the ultimate goal for many runners, says Brian Torrance, the elite athlete co-ordinator for the BMO Vancouver Marathon.

“It seems like it’s always that logical step. It doesn’t matter if you can run a 29-minute world class 10K. Usually the question is, ‘Well, have you run a marathon?’ ” he says.

And once you’ve done it, chances are you’ll want to do it again. Matt Radford, a 28-year-old in Toronto, took his first running clinic in 2009. He completed his first marathon, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, last year.

“Primarily I was drawn to it because I thought I couldn’t do it,” he says. Mr. Radford is hoping to run another marathon this fall (although he currently is off the road with a stress fracture).

Lowell Greib, founder of the Sport Lab, an injury prevention, therapy and nutrition clinic in Huntsville, Ont., says that while there is a vast range of possible injuries, runners who train properly can likely avoid many if not most of them.

“If there’s a training schedule and a nutrition schedule and all this kind of great stuff, [if you] allow for physiological change, allow for neurological development, you don’t run into problems,” he says.

Every runner knows injury is possible, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching the finish line or logging a personal best and winning bragging rights is too tantalizing to stop many from ascending running’s Mount Everest.

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