Is Running 26.2 Miles Necessary Before Racing The Marathon?

The atmosphere at a marathon is electric and with all the likeminded runners around you, the miles can fly by in a way that's not easily replicated on a training run. Photo: www.photorun.net

A Tough Toll On The Body

Bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and almost every physiological system is challenged when running a marathon. It doesn’t matter if you’re running easy: at the end of the day 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles, and your body endures tremendous physical duress when running that long. Here’s a scientific look at some of the systems that are most effected after running 26.2 miles:

Skeletal Muscle
Muscle soreness and fatigue are the most obvious cases of damage caused by running the marathon distance. One scientific study conducted on the calf muscles of marathon runners concluded that both the “intensive training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power and durability.” Even if you you’re not feeling too beat up after running 26.2 miles, your muscles are undoubtedly weakened and need extensive recovery before returning to full training.

Cellular Damage
Cellular damage post-marathon is best measured by the presence and production of creatinine kinase (CK)—a marker that indicates damage to skeletal and myocardial tissue, and increased myoglobin levels in the bloodstream.

One study concluded that CK damage persisted more than 7 days post marathon while another study discovered the presence of myoglobin in the bloodstream for 3-4 days post race. Both of these studies clearly indicate that the body needs rest after a marathon to fully recover from the cellular damage caused during the race.

RELATED: 5 Common Marathon Training Mistakes

Immune System
Finally, studies have shown that the immune system is severely compromised after running the marathon distance, which means you’re at increased risk of contracting colds and the flu, especially if you intend to keep training hard in preparation for your goal race. Furthermore, a suppressed immune system is one of the major factors associated with overtraining.

While it’s obvious that running easy will slightly lessen the harmful effects of running a marathon, the research clearly indicates that the marathon induces significant muscle, cellular, and immune system damage for 3-14 days after running 26.2 miles.

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