Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Running Shoe In The Grave ...thoughts??

At this point, I'm sure you've all see the Wall Street Journal Article, One Running Shoe In the Grave.  As athletes, I'm sure we've all read the Runner's World follow up article The Too-Much-Running Myth Rises Again.  If you're familiar with this argument that keeps popping up, you might even be familiar with the previous Runner's World article Second Thoughts on "Too Much Running" that came out this past January. I also have a local coach and doctor who posted their opinions HERE on the matter as well. 

From all of this, we're all wondering...

Can you really run TOO MUCH? 

I am, however, stuck on a number of other questions that I'd like to highlight below.  Add your thoughts in the comments!!

One Running Shoe In The Grave

This article points out various RUNNING-related studies.  Why is there a TRIATHLON photo?!  Is this grave Davey Jones Locker?

In a five-kilometer race Thanksgiving morning, Ralph Foiles finished first in his age group, earning the 56-year-old Kansan a winner's medal.

Or was it a booby prize?

A fast-emerging body of scientific evidence points to a conclusion that's unsettling, to say the least, for a lot of older athletes: Running can take a toll on the heart that essentially eliminates the benefits of exercise.  Fast-emerging?  Fast in science terms is equal to 'years or decades in the making.'  And what do we classify as 'older' athletes? 

"Running too fast, too far and for too many years may speed one's progress toward the finish line of life," concludes an editorial to be published next month in the British journal Heart.  No surprise, the mentioned article comes with no citation and hasn't even been published yet.  It might be too easy to refute the claim if your readers had all the evidence. 

Until recently, the cardiac risk of exercise was measured almost exclusively by the incidence of deaths during races. For marathoners, that rate was one in 100,000—a number that didn't exactly strike fear. Moreover, data showed that runners generally enjoyed enormous longevity benefits over nonrunners.

What the new research suggests is that the benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life. In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.  Is is more than 20 miles per week?, or 25?

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.  Still no reference?

Those two studies—presented at recent medical conferences—follow the publication in recent months and years of several other articles finding cardiac abnormalities in extreme athletes, including coronary artery calcification of a degree typically found in the utterly sedentary.
Opinion is nearly unanimous among cardiologists that endurance athletics significantly increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia that is estimated to be the cause of one third of all strokes. "Chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive 'wear-and-tear' on the heart," the editorial says.  'Nearly' unanimous?  Are they still counting the votes in Florida?  This is the same as those commercials that say "4 out of 5 five dentists recommend..."  All they had to do was ask five dentists and their job is done.  But that doesn't mean it's true for the entire population. 

Not everyone is lining up behind the new data. "The guys advancing the hypothesis that you can get too much exercise are manipulating the data," said Paul Thompson, a former elite marathoner and nationally renowned sports cardiologist at Hartford Hospital. "They have an agenda." 

Sports cardiologist James O'Keefe, an author of the Heart paper, counters that Dr. Thompson is an exercise addict. "He, like many chronic exercise addicts, is the one with an agenda," said Dr. O'Keefe, a sports cardiologist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City. "My 'agenda' is my patients."  Yes, let's bicker.  That always solves an intellectual debate. 

Critics of the newer research say that the idea that running can harm the heart is based on research showing only an association—meaning that exercise may not be the cause of the problem. The note that in any large group of runners, high-mileage and high-speed athletes may be too few in number to be statistically significant.

Yet by all accounts, dosage is no less relevant to exercise than to any other medical treatment, and for years the endurance-athletics movement has prompted words of caution from none other than Kenneth Cooper, the Dallas physician widely credited with launching the aerobics movement nearly half a century ago. "If you are running more than 15 miles a week, you are doing it for some reason other than health," said Dr. Cooper, adding that he suspects—without hard evidence—that extreme exercise can render a body more susceptible to cancer.  Yes, because everything causes cancer! 

The most vocal proponent of cutting back for cardiac reasons is Dr. O'Keefe, a 56-year-old cardiologist and former elite athlete. From 1999 to 2004, he won outright the largest sprint distance triathlon in Kansas City, a testament not only to his athletic abilities but also to hours and hours of early- and late-hour training.

But a sense that this regimen was aging him prematurely, coupled with the mounting awareness of cardiac issues in extreme endurance athletes, prompted Dr. O'Keefe to slash his running to below 20 miles a week, never faster than eight minutes a mile. 

Asked if he ever runs a five-kilometer race for time, he said, "Not for the past three years. After age 50, pushing too hard is probably not good for one's heart or longevity."

Meanwhile, Dr. O'Keefe's fellow author on the upcoming Heart paper, Carl Lavie, continues racing at speeds slightly above what their editorial recommends. "I did a turkey day five-mile race in 38 minutes," said Dr. Lavie, a cardiologist at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. "I train slower than I race, and when I race I know the risks. That's all we're trying to do: Let people know the risks and make up their own minds." Isn't it risky enough from a training perspective to have not trained in at least some degree at your race pace? 

The conflict between pursuit of health and of athletic glory is particularly acute in Meghan Newcomer, a 32-year-old professional triathlete who in recent years passed out during several races, requiring acute medical attention and prompting her loved ones to ask her to slow down or retire. She has a promising medical career, after all: Why not quit competing?

Instead, after undergoing in-depth study at a Connecticut sports-medical clinic, she was told to triple her intake of sodium during races. Yet she was also told to slow down, advice that helped her this summer complete—without passing out—her first Ironman-distance triathlon. Who hasn't had fainting episodes? 

The idea that serial marathoners may earn no cardiac advantage over couch potatoes will surely amuse serial viewers of "Seinfeld" reruns. But don't expect the running boom to grind to a halt. Optimal health isn't necessarily the Holy Grail, even for aging athletes.  So we're now equating over-exercising with diabetes and laziness?  That sounds about right!

"Even if I knew for sure that running fast had an element of risk, I don't know that I would back down," said Foiles, the 56-year-old runner who lives in a Kansas City suburb. "To finish at the front of my age group, yeah, that's an inspiration."  I would guess that most of us are thinking along these lines.  It's safe to assume I am.  


1.  What are your thoughts on the whole argument?
I don't doubt that there is a dosage curve to exercise.  Exercise pumps our body with drugs and all medicated drugs have an upper limit.  But I hold Foiles' point of view with the notion that this is still 'new' research and I'm not willing to give up what I enjoy simply because some scientists have been able to find an association.  Did you give up coffee when they said it can cause cancer?  Well, turns out coffee is now supposed to be GREAT for you.  ...just an example.  

2.  Do you run over 20 miles per week?  Do you run faster than 8:00/mile pace?
Yup!  So far, I've run over 20 miles for 24 weeks this year.  Therefore, 25 weeks of this year were under 20 miles.  It'll be 27 & 25 split at the end of the year.  And only 12 of my runs this year have been over 8:00/mile pace. 

Dream.  Believe.  Achieve. 

1 comment:

CautiouslyAudacious said...

Well I'm not a very fast runner so I guess I'm in the clear :-0 But let me tell you I'm going to keep running and doing triathlons as long as I can. I think the key is listening to your body. For me I know when I'm pushing my limits past what I should. So instead of giving up running and taking up drinking and smoking I'm just going to keep doing what I do. I like some of the points you made!