It stands to reason that marathons and ultramarathons are not for just about every runner. It takes months, sometimes years, of practice and training to get to the fitness level required of a runner in an ultra run. And new research shows that it’s not just an unfinished run that new runners have to deal with when entering a marathon, ultramarathon or an endurance run without the right training. They are literally putting their lives in danger.

Taking part in extreme endurance events causes intestinal bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, leading to serious infection, a new study revealed. Researchers of the University of Monash analysed people who participated in fitness events, including ultra-marathons, and multi-stage marathons which span consecutive days.

Dr Ricardo Costa, of the research team is quoted as saying in the Daily Mail, “Blood samples taken before and after the events, compared with a control group, proved that exercise over a prolonged period of time causes the gut wall to change.” This results in endotoxins or naturally prevalent bacteria leaking into the bloodstream, which could triggers an inflammatory response throughout the body and cause its immunity to break down.

Costa and his team examined competitors after a 24-hour ultra-marathon, and multi-stage ultra-marathons. They found that almost all of the subjects had indications of blood poisoning. The team concluded that people who jump into endurance events with little preparation that are most at risk.

The study also showed that fit and healthy individuals who followed a steady training program build up extreme endurance events had high levels of Interleukin 10, an anti-inflammatory agent, which counteracts the side effects of the endotoxins.

“It’s crucial that anyone who signs up to an event, gets a health check first and builds a slow and steady training program, rather than jumping straight into a marathon, for example, with only a month’s training,” he told the publication.

While it’s clear that just jumping into a marathon poses great risk, it doesn’t mean you compress your exercise and training routine into a shorter time frame. It’s essential to give your body the time to develop capacity for exercise, which is why most running programs, including FirstRun, recommend that you start slowly before increasing your running times and distance.

Main image: Kevin Dooley

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