Is Marathon Running Bad For You?

This is definitely the time of year for marathon running, with the Manchester Marathon having just passed, the Liverpool Marathon next month and the London Marathon in between. But is running 26.2 miles bad for you?

Historically, it was thought so. Women weren't allowed to run a Marathon at all until the late 1960s, they were considered too delicate to cope with the stresses involved. And culturally, even though hundred mile ultra-marathons are now common, a Marathon is still considered the ultimate test of physical endurance.

The question on most peoples' lips is, surely it can’t be any good for your joints? All of that impact through your knees?

Marathon Running

Well, like most things, officially speaking the jury is still out on whether Marathon running is bad for your joints.

Research on the topic does not bear out that runners experience more wear and tear. This study from 2017 shows that the incidence of knee osteoarthritis is the same amongst runners and non-runners.

The authors reference work that shows that loading on the knee joint during running is not much higher than during walking.

And why shouldn't it be? Our bodies are beautifully adapted for running and, more specifically, long distance running.

The bipedal form is not terrifically useful for top end speed, but it is the most efficient way of moving reasonably quickly for a long period of time.

Your foot contains an arch that is placed under tension by a thick sheet of tissue called the plantar fascia. This tissue combines with your Achilles tendon to store elastic energy and spring you forward as you run. This has a shock absorbing effect, minimising the impact of running on your joints.

Your knees and hips have rings of cartilage in between them that help provide a larger contact area spreading the load of impact across more tissue.

And your body is held together by thick sheets of tissue called fascia that maintain posture and store elastic energy.

All of these things add up to make the human body exceptional at distance running, and more than resilient enough to cope with a Marathon and the requisite training with no problems.

But there are some caveats. From wearing shoes to sitting down for hour after hour, there are many things we do every day that do not help our bodies to function as well as they should. This needs to be taken into account when considering any exercise, but is more important for high intensity or long duration sports.

Some preparatory work should be done to ensure that any potential idiosyncrasies in terms of how your body moves are ironed out before they cause injuries. This is surprisingly simple and, if done before injuries take hold, can keep you fighting fit and bouncing along for a very long time!

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