There is absolutely no doubt that endurance sport globally is on the rise. Races sell out within hours or days and what we are finding is the more gruelling the event the more the demand.
On one hand I absolutely love it but on the other I sit back and hate it because I know there is a road that so many are going to travel down which is going to cause way more harm than good. Endurance sport has its benefits, but for many it has it’s perils.
When deciding to do an endurance event whether a marathon, ultra-marathon, Ironman or a cycling event the one common thing is that your body has to go through it. A couple of weeks ago I witnessed a runner boasting on facebook that she had participated in a marathon on the Saturday, another on the Sunday and by Monday she was in the gym doing a weight combination HIIT session. Of course she had videos to prove it. I just looked at this and the first words that came to my mind was “What an idiot”. I’m not being prejudice in anyway but when I read through the replies and responses I noticed her telling others that its fine, it works for her and this is what she does. I was left there thinking this is really not good. My reasoning was is that she thinks this is absolutely fine which it was not and in a way this could possibly encourage others to follow suite.
Of course you are looking at a typical slightly overweight athlete. I would place the body fat percentage at between 26-30% (been doing this long enough to accurately gauge) low muscle tone and poor posture. What did this tell me about the person? Simple poor nutrition, no proper structured training and absolutely no idea of physiological health. It was clear she has zero knowledge of what happens to the human body under stress, especially back to back races causing impact on the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. I did see mention of training with a heart rate monitor and watching her heart rate carefully. However I am willing to place a large amount of money on the table that if I asked her what her exact heart rate zones were for proper aerobic function she would not have a clue.
I use this purely as an example to try to put this blog into a little more context. In this case endurance sport is damaging. This runner if she continues to carry on will eventually experience injury or potentially ill health which could be so severe it leaves her shortening her journey on earth as opposed to lengthening it.
Day after day I come across a variety of athletes who have once been podium finishers and couch potatoes to marathon runners and triathletes who have succumbed to severe injury or illness. Of course most think it will never happen, because endurance athletes are invincible and road cyclists and triathletes are the perfect specimen of a human being. Let us take this a little further and I will be as so bold to say and its clear as day that many top age grouper athletes are doping nicely while portraying their hard work to those that look up to them. You can take me to toll on this but to many its obvious and you only have yourself to answer to I personally could not care. What I do care about is the fact that endurance sport should not been taken lightly.
It adds an incredible stress on the human engine. It by no means makes you healthier or stronger if it is mistreated or abused. The opposite it slowly breaks you down from your podium positions until you can no longer participate in it, even to the extent it can leave you with a severe health issue.
Take a formula one vehicle place it on a track and push that accelerator down nice and hard and take it to its limits. That’s exactly what we do to the human body when we put it into an endurance event. The difference is the engineers of that race car will make sure the best grade fuel, oil, lubricant and components are used to ensure a positive outcome. On the other hand the endurance athlete, the human race vehicle does the complete opposite. They over rev their engines, use poor grade fuels and lubricants and don’t even service their own engines as needed. They just keep placing more and more stress on it until eventually it breaks down and begins moving towards the scrap pile.
Now you might feel I am being overly harsh or exaggerating but that is not the case. I have been doing endurance sport for over 25 years and I have seen heavy overweight athletes running a Comrades Marathon (90km Ultra), cream of the crop athletes whether age grouper or elite being brought to their knees in the form of severe injury or illness, and in some cases I have witnessed fatalities at finish lines or during training sessions.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely encourage a healthy active life. I am passionate about endurance sport, its not just my career but I have a love for the lifestyle. But you need to be realistic and ask yourself how do you know when you are stretching that elastic band way to far to the extent it will ultimately snap.
I am sorry to say but if you are placing your body under unnatural stress and that is what endurance sport is, an unnatural stress. Then you must ensure your body is looked after properly. You need to ensure you are truly healthy and that you are able to withstand the stresses you are going to be placing on it. You need to get into that engine and check absolutely everything. You need to feed it the best fuels, ensure that proper recovery exists and that inflammation is reduced after stressing it. You need to focus on sleep and sometimes you need to learn how to rest and allow training adaptions to take place.
Are you willing to sacrifice a healthy future for a medal hanger, Strava kudos and social media likes?
Your body is the most important place you have to live. Treat it with respect, endure with honour, fuel it with intent, build it with passion and make the healthy choices to promote longevity. Being an endurance addict is not just about participation in events. Its about a lifestyle, a healthy one. Make sure that you make it count.
all the best
Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focussed on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery and health.