Globe correspondent Elizabeth Cooney is writing about the Boston Marathon in the series "Going the Distance," which appears in the Globe's G Health section. She's also training for it, and hopes you'll check in with her along the way.
Can anybody run a marathon? Should they?
I've been asking specialists those questions as I write about the health implications of training for the marathon. I confess I also wanted to silence some nagging doubts about my own uphill climb from short- to long-distance running. My long run on Sunday was less than inspiring, but I'm pretty sure it was just one of those days. Here's what I heard from two health professionals.
Not everybody is built to run a marathon, they say, but proper training and dedication can make a difference.
"There are some body types that excel at running marathon and long-distance events. And other body types aren't necessarily quote-unquote made to go the distance," physical therapist Jennifer Green of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital said. "Most can, some can't."
People who devote the time to preparing their bodies and focus on training will succeed, as will some whose effort is fueled by a fund-raising goal or some other special inspiration.
"That strong motivation allows you to train passionately for something like a marathon," said Green, who is coaching a team from Spaulding.
Dr. Arthur Siegel of McLean Hospital encourages runners to train thoughtfully.
"You need to know the skills you need to acquire," he said. "You don't go climb Tuckerman Ravine, even in June, without enough clothes. You don't go scuba diving unless you're certified. You don't run a marathon unless you have some idea about where your health is."
He's concerned about charity runners, who are not required to meet certain times at qualifying marathons before applying to run Boston. Runners who get a charity waiver might want to check with their doctors.
A veteran of Boston Marathons from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, Siegel now studies the dangers of long-distance running, including hyponatremia, better know as water intoxication, and cardiac arrest. While rare, they are increasing with the size of marathon fields. Both
may be linked to muscle injury when runners hit the wall of intense exertion, he said.
Injured muscles can lead to an imbalance of hormones regulating water, aggravating hyponatremia brought on by drinking too much water and not enough electrolytes. In cardiac arrest, the hypothesis suggests, muscle injury spurs the blood to get ready to clot, moving a runner from low risk to high risk of a heart attack if coronary arteries are narrowed.
"Don't run a marathon unless you have some idea about how good your health is," Siegel said. "You can get an overdose of a good thing."