Heard Around the Lake: News, Notes and Idle Gossip

You might have seen the headline this week—One Running Shoe in the Grave–in a Wall Street Journal article. The Journal summarized a new study to be published next month in the British medical journal Heart which is giving pause to plenty of older runners. The study suggests that long and hard fast running and racing may not be the best thing for your heart. Actually, just the opposite. According to the study, “Running too fast, too far and for too many years may speed one’s progress toward the finish line of life.”

Yikes! So instead of strengthening my heart, cardiovascular system and doing all those other good things running is supposed to bestow upon us, I may be hurting myself?

That’s what the study purports to suggest. The study followed 52,600 people for more than three decades and the runners in that test group had a 19 percent lower death rate than the nonrunners. The caveat is that within the running group, those who ran more than 20-25 miles per week, lost what the study calls the “mortality advantage.” Nor was there any benefit for those who ran faster than eight miles per hour. But those who ran slower gained the benefits that the faster folks didn’t.

This seems to reaffirm the thinking among cardiologists that endurance athletes—including runners—increase their risk of atrial fibrillation which is a serious arrhythmia that, according the study, causes more than 30 percent of all strokes. “Chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive wear and tear on the heart,” says the study.

Before you toss your running shoes into the recycling bin, not everyone is buying into this. One of the most respected cardiologists in the country is Dr. Paul Thompson who has studied all aspects of the relationship between heart disease, sudden death and running from the unique perspective of a two-time Olympic Trials marathoner and a long-time runner. Thompson flat out discounts the British study by saying, “The guys advancing the hypothesis that you can get too much exercise are manipulating the data. They have an agenda.”

Touche. Thompson and other critics believe that there isn’t enough data which shows a cause—high volumes of running—and effect. Their reasoning is in any study of a large group of runners, there simply aren’t enough high-mileage runners.

But even if there were, chances are we’d find that the higher-mileage runners don’t necessarily live any longer. We don’t know conclusively yet if they live any shorter lives, but it does seem evident that at some point—probably somewhere in the 50’s—runners who go long and hard, should scale back to enhance the chances of a longer lifespan.

I’m not sure what that “sweet spot” of moderate exercise is, but it’s certainly more than couch potatoes do and less than 40-50 miles per week.

My friend and former Runner’s World colleague Amby Burfoot has been fascinated by this aging and running stuff for years. A former Boston Marathon champ who regularly used to churn out 120 miles per week, Burfoot wrote of the British study on runnersworld.com:

“It argues that we should think about exercise as a drug that has an optimal dose and perhaps also an overdose level. Take the right amount and you get incredible benefits across a range of chronic, worldwide diseases. However, take too much of the drug—run too far, too often, too fast—and you might hit the overdose end of the spectrum. You might lose the benefits of moderate exercise. Indeed, excessive endurance exercise might lead to heart problems, especially in those over 50.”

Food for thought.


  • Austin’s Trail of Lights is back (thanks to Paul Carrozza and the folks at Humana) and so is the Trail of Lights 5-K. The race, which disappeared a couple of years ago, will be on December 15th at 6:30 p.m. As is tradition for this fun family run/walk/stroll, the 5-K will give folks a preview of the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park which opens to the public the following day. To register, go to trailoflights5k.eventbrite.com.
  • Hundreds of Austinites are on their way tomorrow to Sacramento for the 30th annual California International Marathon which annually is one of the fastest marathons in the country with some of the best running weather. Not this year. There’s been a series of storms pummeling the West Coast since Wednesday and Saturday night it is expected to intensify. The National Weather Service is predicting heavy rains (with “potential for flooding rains”) for Sunday morning with possible 27 mph winds. Can anyone say Dallas?
  • My buddy James Hill is the fittest, fastest 73-year-old I know. (Actually, he’s the only one I know.) Anyway, James was up in the Metromess…er Metroplex on Thanksgiving and had to miss the Thundercloud Turkey Trot. Fortunately, he found a 150-runner Thanksgiving 5-K up in Las Colinas in Irving where one of his sons lives. Hill started back in the pack and, as the race progressed, passed runner after runner until he crossed the finish line in 20:36. A remarkable time for any runner, much less a 73-year-old. Even more remarkable, James finished second overall in the entire race.
  • The Decker Half Marathon Challenge is next Sunday (December 9th) and the guest of honor for the race out at the Travis County Expo Center will be Amy Yoder-Begley who made the 2008 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. A 2001 grad of Arkansas who is originally from Indiana, Yoder-Begley has run as fast as 1:10 for the half marathon. Yoder-Begley won’t be challenging the Decker hills next Sunday, but will run Brown Santa 5-K and then hand out awards after half marathon.
  • My old gym—the 24 Hour Fitness/Lance Armstrong Sport on William Cannon—has finally removed all vestiges of Armstrong from its signage and its walls which used to have this massive Armstrong quote denying any and all drug usage. The 24 Hour Fitness also removed all other Armstrong memorabilia, including his bike and gear from the locker room.
  • More Lance. Evidently, the still untitled Lance Armstrong movie remains in the works but Matt Damon, a hard core cyclist was supposed to play Armstrong at one point, won’t be in the film. Damon, who says he is still a big Armstrong fan, claims, “I was way too old, 10 years to play him.” (Damon is actually just a year younger than Armstrong.) Even without Damon or Jake Gyllenhall who was also rumored to play Armstrong, the movie which is based on Armstrong’s memoir It’s Not About the Bike in post production, is, according to famed producer Frank Marshall, “full steam ahead.” No word on who actually portrays Armstrong, but Marshall concedes that the movie will take some “recutting. It’s a sad end but we have some really interesting footage and a story to tell. So we’re going to go forward and tell the story.” The problem with the film, says one Hollywood insider, is the story is “too tragic right now. You would need some sort of redemption at the end.” At this point, that isn’t likely.
  • Ultramarathon god Scott Jurek will be in town on Sunday morning (December 2nd) to lead a run around Lady Bird Lake and sign copies of his book Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. Jurek, who won the Western States 100 seven consecutive years, says he has one more goal to shoot for: The world record for the 24-hour run which is a mind boggling 188.5 miles. Anyway, Jurek will lead the run starting at 9:30 at Luke’s Locker (115 Sandra Muraida). Following it, Jurek will answer questions and talk about his vegan and plant-based lifestyle.
  • What I’m listening to this morning: A great live recording of the Grateful Dead at the Municipal Auditorium (which morphed into Palmer) on November 5, 1971 (courtesy of archive.org) when the Dead were at the height of their virtuosity.

Have any juicy news for me? (It doesn’t have to be entirely true.) If you have something, send it to wish@runtex.com.

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