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Is marathon running good for you?

Is marathon running good for you?

Wholly water

A change in the “tide” of marathon medicine

In spring in the good ol’ U.S. of A. – a season of love, baseball games, cookouts, yard sales, trout fishing, and marathon running. Five out of six of those things are good for you. The other is something almost everyone THINKS is good for you, but is actually heart-murdering lunacy.

Of course, I’m talking about the pavement-pounding.

As though it weren’t bad enough that the medical establishment and their dim-witted accomplices on network TV “Health Minutes” nationwide are encouraging us to take to the street in droves to beat our joints into dust and accelerate our heart rates to machine-gun levels, they’re also recommending that we swill gallon after gallon of water while we do it – a practice that for some unfortunate souls dilutes the delicate sodium balance in our cells so much that our brains swell up and we die!

It’s called hyponatremia, and it sickens or kills a surprising number of runners, bike racers, hikers, and fraternity pledges (ever hear of water intoxication?) every year. I’ve written about this before, of course, most recently in a January 21st Daily Dose. What makes it a topic to revisit now is this:

For once, the mainstream seems to be agreeing with me!

I shouldn’t say “for once.” For the last three years, the mainstream media has been relatively sympathetic (not to mention accurate-now there’s a “for once”) to the Atkins and other low-carbohydrate eating plans. It only took them THIRTY YEARS or so to come around. And now that I mention it, I’ve been talking about how we all drink way too much water for about that long, too. So I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised: When you look at it this way, they’re right on time: 3 decades late! But I digress

The real story here is that a new study published in last month’s New England Journal of Medicine – and picked up by no less than the esteemed (by many in the mainstream, anyway) New York Times – reveals that, as I’ve been saying all along, exercisers drink too much water. The study focused on participants in the 2002 Boston Marathon. Based on blood samples and other data gathered from the 488 runners before and after the grueling race, it was determined that 13% of them (more than 1 in 8!) showed indications of hyponatremia.

Among three of these, blood sodium levels were so low they risked imminent death. Keep reading


So, how much water did they drink? In the course of the race, the AVERAGE of these 488 participants consumed 3 liters of water or the equivalent “sports drinks.”

Since a liter is about ten percent more than a quart, 3 of these metric units equals about 4/5ths of a gallon. This means that runners on the upper end of the samples of 488 were consuming well over a gallon of liquid (closer to 1.5 gallons based on the typical method of “standard deviation” statistical analysis) in approximately 4 hours

Many of them actually gained weight during that race, a contest in which one person died of hyponatremia. Subsequent years’ races saw 7 cases of the condition in 2003 and 11 in 2004. The Times article also makes mention of a 2003 London marathon in which 14 runners were hospitalized for hyponatremia. They all lived, but their brains were so bloated that none could remember finishing the race!

What’s really scary is they all got that way by following the medical mainstream’s (and the running community’s) marquis advice: Drink as much liquid as you possibly can during exercise.

Bottom line: As I’ve said about a million times before, people don’t just drown in pools, lakes, oceans and bathtubs – overdo the H20 and you can easily “drown” in a glass of water.

And it’s nice to see the mainstream forced to agree with me. Again.

Gloating, not “floating,”

William Campbell Douglass II, MD

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