I’m not a big fan of long cardio, especially extreme bouts of cardio, i.e. running marathons.
Last weekend, a 41-year-old man died running one of the Toronto marathons. Last year, the same. These are not the first, nor will they be the last men to die running a marathon.
And for what?
Running an irrelevant distance for no reason. I don’t see any logical reason for most people to run a marathon. Particularly when you’re a young 40-year-old family man. You can be fit and healthy with much less exercise time, as long as you train with much better exercise options.
Sure, you can say you’re pushing the limits of your human performance… but I doubt that’s any consolation to the two men’s families.
No matter how “type A” someone is, or how motivated they are to run a marathon, just being able to run a marathon proves nothing. And it can have disastrous consequences. Not to mention the many smaller negative consequences of:
a) A waste of hours of your life away from your loved ones while hitting the pavement
b) Knee pain, chronic back pain and foot blisters
c) Money and time lost in the physiotherapist’s office
d) An undertrained body (i.e. weak rear, no upper body strength, overuse injuries)
e) A fitness level that has limited transfer to real-world needs (carrying groceries and other items, outrunning an attacker, manual labor, etc.)
So please, if you insist on running marathons, do yourself and your family a favor and:
1) Get a complete physical from your doctor. This goes without saying for anyone over 30 on an exercise program, but running marathons is another reason not to neglect your physicals.
2) Pay close attention to your body during the race. Wear a heart rate monitor and exercise conservatively, drink the right amount of fluids (but not too much, as it can be the killer on long runs), and just be careful. A marathon is hardly a reason to risk your life.
Now, here’s more bad news.
Cardio has been killing fat loss programs for decades.
Because almost all of the exercise science studies done in the 1970s through the early 1990s were done on distance running.
From there we receive the messages that:
i) To lose fat, you had to do long, slow resistance training. Clearly, we know this is false. Nutrition is the most important aspect of fat loss.
ii) That we should have a high carbohydrate diet. This message, while generally true for endurance athletes, was widely applied to fat loss. So we were put through that horrible low-fat, high-carb phase in the ’90s where we were urged to eat Snackwell low-fat cookies without regard for sugar and calorie content.
iii) Beginners should participate in high volume walk and run programs. Now, while it’s important for people to get out and exercise, high-volume activities for unprepared beginner muscles are going to cause injury quickly. And that’s what happened to most people who tried to start running.
iv) Too many cardio enthusiasts had the wrong mindset of “If I go out for a 5 mile run, I can have some juice and cookies as a reward”. Needless to say, that didn’t help anyone lose fat.
Did the ending work?
This high-cardio, high-carb approach to exercise and fat loss left many men and women with thunderous thighs, saddlebags, and chronic running injuries.
Fast-forward to this decade, and the mainstream media is finally beginning to see the benefits of strength training and interval training for both fat loss and the cardiovascular system.
Not to mention that people are finally getting their nutrition right. And it’s so simple:
– lots of fruits and vegetables (rarely does anyone eat enough)
– lean protein
– healthy fats
– low glycemic index carbohydrates rich in fiber
So eat right, train right and stay safe.
To be honest,
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Author, Turbulence Training