Stories abound that undermine the notion that elite athletes are healthy. From the running world, marathoner Alberto Salazar, at the age of 48, suffered a heart attack and lay dead for 14 minutes before a cardiologist placed a stent in a blocked artery, saving his life. Micah True, the ultra-marathoner and protagonist of the bestselling book Born to Run, went for a 12-mile run in the New Mexico wilderness and was later found dead.
Of course, these tragic tales are preceded by the origin story of an endurance athlete running himself, literally, to death. An enlarged, thickened heart with patchy scar tissue is common in long-term endurance athletes and is dubbed “Pheidippides cardiomyopathy” after the 40-year-old running messenger (and prototypical masters endurance athlete) who died after bringing the news of Greek victory at the battle of Marathon to Athens. Pheidippides was a hemerodrome, (an all-day running courier in Ancient Greece), and he had run 240km over two days to request help from Sparta against the Persians at Marathon, before expiring after running the additional 42km (26.2 miles) back from the battlefield. We celebrate his death by running marathons.
These deaths are even more alarming when you consider the subjects — highly trained athletes in what many would consider peak physical condition. Isn’t exercise supposed to prevent us from falling to a heart attack? [read the whole article]
If you’re an endurance athlete, does this give you pause for thought?
James Webber took up barefoot running 12 years ago. He needed to find a new passion after deciding his planned career in computer-aided drafting wasn’t a good fit. Eventually, his shoeless feet led him to the University of Arizona, where he enrolled as a doctoral student in the School of Anthropology.
Webber was interested in studying the mechanics of running, but as the saying goes, one must learn to walk before they can run, and that—so to speak—is what Webber has been doing in his research.
His most recent study on walking, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, specifically explores why humans walk with a heel-to-toe stride, while many other animals—such as dogs and cats—get around on the balls of their feet.
It was an especially interesting question from Webber’s perspective, because those who do barefoot running, or “natural running,” land on the middle or balls of their feet instead of the heels when they run—a stride that would feel unnatural when walking.
Indeed, humans are pretty set in our ways with how we walk, but our heel-first style could be considered somewhat curious. [continue]
If you’ve been a Mirabilis.ca reader for years, you might remember this post from 2008: You walk wrong. The article quoted there was part of what convinced me that the “expert” advice we generally receive about footwear is all wrong. (Article summary “It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take.”)
There’s a good article on Over-Training Syndrome (OTS) at Outside Online: Running on Empty.
OTS is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in my 30 plus years of working with athletes,” says David Nieman, former vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “To watch someone go from that degree of proficiency to a shell of their former self is unbelievably painful and frustrating.”
Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, has spent his career studying the effects of training on the immune system. In 1992, he received the first of a dozen distressingly similar letters from endurance athletes, each of them describing a sudden loss of ability as they struggled with everything from anemia to chronic dehydration to a basic inability to get out of bed. Nieman was both troubled and fascinated by these tales. Their symptoms all seemed to point to overtraining syndrome, and he’s been looking into the root causes of the condition ever since. [continue]