Health Risks from Running Marathons

Are you feeling inspired to start marathon training to participate in an event that takes place in your vicinity but you are still concerned about the health risks that such and event might hold for you? That is not unusual. The benefits and the disadvantages of marathons are debated on by experts and health professionals. There are arguments from both stances, but if you have health concerns, then here are some health-related risks of participating in endurance-races that you should be aware of. Marathon runners take pride in the fact that they are some of the fittest people in the world. However, no amount of fitness enables them to efficiently avoid the below-mentioned health problems.


Our muscle is designed to sustain intense shocks as well as forceful impact but still avoid any long-term damage. This and their quick ability to regenerate make our muscle such an efficient organ of the body. However, marathons involve tens of thousands of steps, and after a time the damage starts building up. The knees, ankles and feet become inflamed because of this damage, and the inflammation tends to further exacerbate the situation. Once the race is over, some of this damage is repaired and fixed in a couple of weeks and some other repair processes take up to 12 weeks to complete. If you have arthritis or any other preexisting bone, joint or muscle condition, then a marathon will pose serious health concerns for you.

Cardiac Events

There are numerous examples of this occurring. A man dropped dead due to a heart attack while participating in the 2008 New York Marathon, but that is one among hundreds of examples of heart attacks that occur while running a marathon. Although the risk of a fatal heart attack is only one in 50,000, it is still very important to get your doctor’s thumbs-up before deciding to run in a marathon. Various studies have been conducted to explore the causes of such heart attacks, and it has been discovered that people with even minor pre-existing heart conditions are at a high risk of heart attacks.


Although moderate running is known to be beneficial for people suffering from or at a risk of osteoarthritis, intense exercise especially ultra-endurance running has the opposite effect. The reason is that joint injuries are common among marathon athletes, and joint injuries greatly increase the risk of secondary osteoarthritis. Disturbed body mechanics as a result of a marathon can also exacerbate your joint problems thus cause osteoarthritis.

Weight Changes

There is a downside to the weight changes that result from marathon training. As people train for marathons, their energy intake increases and they become accustomed to consuming large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods to meet their energy requirements. However, after the marathon, when they slow down or often completely seize all exercise, the body slowly brings itself down to normal metabolism, however, they still maintain their high-calorie diet. In this case, weight changes become inevitable. They slowly start gaining weight while they are unaware of it.

Immune Changes

The immune changes are rapid and they enhance the risk of getting a disease as an aftermath of a marathon. A marathon temporarily pushes the immune system into overdrive. The number of WBCs increase in the body. However, once you have finished the marathon and your body is in recovery mode, large amounts of the hormone cortisol are released in the bloodstream in order to reduce swelling. This compromises the immune system and the system remains down for quite some time, and its return to normal is only gradual.


The number of injuries that are a risk for marathon runners is immense. There are serious injuries like muscle collapse and cramps which are painful and debilitating temporarily. Other injuries include skin abrasions, strains, blisters in the feet and lightheadedness. The physical injuries are due to overexertion of your muscles, and a resulting increase in lactic acid buildup. Lightheadedness and fainting are often due to a dwindling oxygen transport to the brain or due to dehydration. Apart from these, back pain and gastrointestinal distress are also commonly seen among marathon runners.