Bingo. Words I had been saying for the last few years - few, not just now - even though the previous years I was guilty as charged, big times:
"Roca: Even today I’m amazed at the amount of people running and ultrarunning. The trend is brutal and every weekend there are thousands of races everywhere. I love that there are many people passionate about the sport and that organisers are working so hard to make their races bigger and bigger, but I worry that people do things without common sense, preparation and, sometimes, to just look good or say what they’ve done on social media. Sometimes it seems like we lose a little of the essence of why we do sport, why we run trails. Then it stops making sense. We have to remember that we move, run, and cycle because we feel alive, because it gives it so much, and because it makes us feel good, healthy, brave, and vital! Now with my thesis project, SUMMIT, I hope to open peoples’ eyes to see the dangers out there associated with ultra distances. I’m talking about if you’ve not previously had a medical checkup, a stress test, a biomechanics study. I’m talking nutritionally and making sure you’ve tried smaller distances before going and running half marathons or ultras. With the results I’d like to make sure that we’re getting people to do their homework in order to fulfill their dreams in the most healthy way possible.
iRunFar: It’s interesting that you mentioned it. I listened to you talking about ultra-athletes’ physiology last year. Can you tell me a little about it and what conclusions you came to?
Roca: With the SUMMIT (health in ultramarathons and its limits) project, we are still studying many parameters associated with long distance, but at a highly summarized level we are seeing:
- That we’re still easily dehydrated when drinking much more than 2% of our body weight during ultras—so our performance is compromised along with other biochemical parameters.
- Our right ventricle suffers during long, continuous, and intensive efforts—and that there are hearts that are poorly suited to long distance or many hours of training.
- That the role of our genes can be greatly influenced by the simple facts of having or having not trained, having eaten well, or having slept well. Not everything is written in the genes, but they have the ability to express it.
- Our immune systems struggle after ultras and we’re very vulnerable to viruses, getting colds, and generally becoming ill.
Roca: Yes. The heart is suffering because of the effort they are putting in over many hours. Then there is also bone decalcification—bones lose calcium and can cause osteoporosis much sooner than someone who hasn’t run as much. The studies also show that there is an increased risk of ventricular fibrillation in men, too; not women, though. So I would tell young people to wait a while before starting to run ultras—your metabolism will thank you in the future. We’re also seeing that exercise can be more beneficial than prescriptions to prevent premature death from almost all causes like heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, osteoporosis, sarcopenia, functional dependency and falls in the elderly, cognitive impairment, anxiety, and depression. This benefit is seen in both sexes and increases with the volume and intensity of exercise. You start seeing all these positive effects with only 30 minutes of exercise a day or 2.5 hours per week."
I love my sport, what it had given to me, and what it continues to give to others (and still does to me as well). I am simply advocating to be a little wiser, patient, and enjoy the process slowly and healthy.
When we (I) are in the midst of things, we only hear what we want to hear. I know that way too well.