Ask The Expert: What Happens To The Body After 26.2 Miles?

Thinking of running a marathon? Read this first.


Runner photo via Shutterstock

Running a marathon is an amazing feat of physical fitness, but we couldn’t help but think that running 26.2 miles, often on pavement, might not be so great for your body. We asked Jeff Butterworth, owner of Rx Strength Training what impact a marathon really has on your body.

Q: What happens to the body after running 26.2 miles?

A: Running is a a no-frills, natural form of exercise for which the human body is perfectly constructed, and while there are plenty of health benefits to be found in the act of vigorously traveling from point A to point B on your own two feet, we have also become quite capable of doing ourselves harm in the name of good. Running over short distances can increase your metabolism, burn unwanted calories, and get your blood flowing to promote healthy circulation throughout the muscles, organs, and brain, and particular metabolic benefits have been shown in short, intense bouts of sprinting. However, these effects decrease exponentially over the duration of the run, and long runs (eight to 26 miles and beyond) can lead to a metabolic slowing, and joint- and bone-related issues. The body may be triggered to anticipate a lack of available calories based on a rapid expenditure due to constant activity and slow down the metabolism to guarantee survival, and you may suffer impact-based injuries, such as hairline fractures of the feet and legs, joint inflammation and excessive wear, and muscular or ligament fatigue, which can become a lasting issue if not treated.

While we may possess the ability to push our limits and strive for ever-increasing distances during running for exercise, we may not be perfectly conditioned to do so, and it’s important to know that just because we’re pretty good at this bipedal thing, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to those limits once in a while. Exercise is important and running is a good thing—but be good to your legs and the rest of your body so you can keep running day after day!