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Ethiopians Sweep 2016 Boston Marathon

By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service

Ethiopia brought its A-game to the 2016 Boston Marathon.

Runners from the East African nation swept the men’s and women’s titles and took five of the six possible podium finishes in the 120th running of the race.

Lemi Berhanu Hayle, a 21 year old Ethiopian, ran 2:12:44 to defeat defending champion Lelisa Desisa, also Ethiopian, in the men’s race. Desisa finished with a time of 2:13:32. Yemane Adhane Tsegay, also of Ethiopia, ran 2:14:02 to finish third and complete the nation’s podium sweep in the men’s race.

The men’s race was tightly packed for the first half of the race, but Hayle and Desisa moved to separate themselves through the Newton hills. The two were together until just after the 40 kilometer (24.8 mile) checkpoint. From there it came down to the younger, fresher legs of Hayle outlasting Desisa over the final mile and a half.

Atsede Baysa, a 29 year old Ethiopian, made a dramatic surge over the final four miles to overtake the lead pack and clinch her victory in the women’s race with a time of 2:29:19. Baysa was 37 seconds behind fellow Ethiopian Tirfi Tsegaye and Kenyans Joyce Chepkirui and Valentine Kipketer at the 35 kilometer (21.75 mile) checkpoint.

Tsegaye of Ethiopia, 2:30:03, and Chepkirui of Kenya, 2:30:50, finished second and third.

The women’s race started off very conservatively, with the lead pack going through the opening ten kilometers in 36:21 (5:48 per mile). Like the men’s race, however, the race opened up when Tsegaye, Chepkirui and Kipketer opened up a gap on the rest of the field through the Newton hills. These three seemed to be sure locks for the podium until Baysa made her decisive move to finish the race.

Defending women’s champion Caroline Rotich, a Kenyan who lives and trains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, dropped out of the race before reaching the ten kilometer mark.

American runners Texan Zachary Hines, 2:21:37, was the finished tenth and was the fastest American man. Coloradan Neely Spence Grace, 2:35:00, finished ninth and was the fastest American woman.

In the push rim wheelchair races, Marcel Hug of Switzerland fought off Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa and Kurt Fearnley of Australia to win the men’s title by less than a second. All three athletes finished with a time of 1:24:06. Tatyana McFadden of Maryland, 1:42:16, won the women’s race by more than a minute over Manuela Schar of Switzerland, 1:43:30, and Wakako Tsuchida of Japan, 1:43:34.

Bonus: Here is Baysa showing off her singing ability.

Marathon Customers Give Restaurants a Boost

Category : Marathon 2016 , The Stories

By Brooke Jackson-Glidden and Sarah Kirkpatrick
BU News Service 

For fans watching the Boston Marathon, the hunt is on each year for ideal marathon-observing territory. Of the entire 26.2-mile course, though, observers flock to the final straightaway for the ending along Boylston Street, in hopes of catching a glimpse of some of the world’s best runners.

For restaurants in that path along Boylston Street — and around the rest of Boston — the increase in spectators and marathon participants from around the world provides a prime opportunity to fill seats on Monday. Between special deals for meals and upping the cost for reserved seating along the final mile of the race, restaurants gear up in advance for the opportunity for increased business on one of Boston’s biggest days.

Max Brenner offers outdoor seating less than a block from the finish line but at a hefty price. For parties of two, tables are available on the patio as long as patrons spend at least $250 during the day, according to Shayla Murray, the lead host of the chocolate-themed restaurant’s lead host. For parties of four, the price increases: Tables must spend at least $500 to hold the space.

Instead of individual tables being reserved, though, some locations are entirely reserved by companies and prominent Boston figures. Solas, an Irish pub inside the Lenox Hotel, located within a block of the finish line, has been bought out by New Balance for the past nine years. Following the conclusion of the race, the bar will open to the public at 5 p.m.

For several restaurants along located Boylston Street, though, seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. At Dillon’s, next to the Boston Fire Department station on Boylston between Massachusetts Avenue and Hereford Street, there will no reservations or buyouts offered to patrons. Instead, the doors will open early at the bar.

“The restaurant opens at 8 a.m., and we will start seeing business then,” manager Sid Datta said.

The staff at Dillon’s opens the windows so people seated inside can cheer on the runners, and patio seating is also available for patrons. Multiple staff members at Dillon’s plan to run in the marathon. The restaurant also hosted a fundraiser and raised $8,200 for the team of workers, as a part of a team with the firehouse next door.

Sweetgreen, situated adjacent to the finish line, will also not take reservations. The fast-casual salad joint will open at 10:30 a.m., with outside seating available to those who show up first, but no one will be allowed to camp out in the outdoor seats.

“It’s just a regular day,” Marilyn Moralez, manager, said.

Some restaurants also take the opportunity to provide special offers for participants of the marathon. Serafina Boston, located in the downtown area, will offer unlimited pasta to any participant who shows their medal for $26.20, emblematic of the distance of the race, according to a press release. Strega, with locations on the Waterfront and in the North End, also noted in a press release that it will offer one of its staple dishes, Fettuccine Strega, for $15 on Monday following the race.

Play Tells Untold Stories of Marathon Bombings

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

The Boston Theater Company is staging a documentary play, “Finish Line: The Untold Stories of the 2013 Boston Marathon.” The play tells the stories of 33 survivors, first responders and others affected by the bombings, using nothing but their own words. BU News Service’s Jonathan Gang spoke with co-creators Joey Frangieh and Lisa Rafferty to find out more.

LISTEN: Marathoners Enjoy Pasta Feast

By Andrea Asuaje
BU News Service

The night before the Boston Marathon, runners and their guests are invited to an all-you-can-eat buffet-style pasta party where participants can relax and greet fellow racers before the big day. Still, an air of excitement and nervous energy was palpable during the carbohydrate feast.

2016 Boston Marathon Live Blog

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Desisa, Rotich Look to Defend Titles in Boston

Category : Marathon 2016 , The Race

By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service

April 18 is the 120th running of the Boston Marathon. Thousands of runners will complete the trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square, but only a couple dozen have a chance of finishing first. Here’s what to watch for in the elite race.

What is going on?

The Boston Marathon is a 26.2 mile (42.2 km) race that happens annually on Patriot’s Day (that’s the third Monday in April for all you non-Massachusetts readers). About 30,000 runners are entered in the race. Of these, 19 men and 17 women make up what is considered the elite field: professional runners entered not just to finish the race, but to win it.

What is on the line?

The Boston Athletic Association will award a guaranteed $830,500 in prize money at the 2016 Boston Marathon. The top fifteen men and the top fifteen women will receive money starting at $150,000 for winning and going down to $1,500 for finishing fifteenth. Prize money is also awarded to the top five men and women in the Master’s Division (40 years and older) and the top ten men and women in the Push Rim Wheelchair Division.

Some of the elite runners will also be looking to improve their standings in the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Boston is one of six marathons in the series (Berlin, New York, Tokyo, London and Chicago being the other five). Elite athletes are awarded points based on their finishes in these six races. The winner of the men’s series and the women’s series, both running and wheelchair, split a $1 million prize purse. The 2016 Boston Marathon marks the beginning for Series X, which will end with the completion of the 2017 Boston Marathon.

For some foreign athletes, especially the Kenyans and Ethiopians, a trip to the Olympics may be on the line as well. Each nation sets its own standards for selecting an Olympic team. While the U.S. uses a trials system, other nations hand-select their teams. A strong showing at Boston would likely go a long way to boosting these athletes’ hopes of running in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

What should you know about the wheelchair race?

The competitors start first and finish first. The push rim wheelchair athletes are faster than the runners. Last year, Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the men’s wheelchair race in 1:29:53, and Tatyana McFadden of Maryland won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:52:54. Both Hug and McFadden are back this year to defend their titles.

Who won the Boston Marathon last year?

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopa won the men’s race last year in 2:09:17.

Caroline Rotich, a Kenyan who lives and trains in Santa Fe, New Mexico, won the 2015 women’s race in 2:24:55. Both Desisa and Rotich are back to defend their titles this year.

Who are the favorites this year?

The favorite on the men’s side is the defending champion, Desisa. He’s won Boston twice (2013 and 2015), so he knows better than anyone else in the field what it takes to come out on top.

Sammy Kitwara of Kenya has the fastest personal best time of the elite men (he ran 2:04:08 in the 2014 Chicago Marathon), but he has yet to win a major marathon in his career.

Wesley Korir of Kenya won the 2012 Boston Marathon and finished fifth last year. He hasn’t run sub-2:10 since 2014, but he is arguably the most experienced of the elite runner.

On the women’s side, Rotich is back to defend her title, but it’s hard to count her as a lock. Her personal best time of 2:23:22 (set in the 2012 Chicago Marathon) is on the slower end of the elite field. If tomorrow’s race is tactical, she’ll be in the mix. If someone takes the pace out hard, Rotich will struggle.

Buzunesh Deba, an Ethiopian that lives and trains in New York City, is a perennial favorite in Boston. She finished second in 2014 and third in 2015.

Tiki Gelena is the Ethiopian national record holder with a personal best time of 2:18:58 set in the 2012 Rotterdam marathon. She is also the Olympic Record holder, winning the London games in 2012 with a time of 2:23:07. This is her first time running Boston, however, and 2012 was a long time ago, so count Gelena as a wild card.

Who is missing?

The Americans! The top American runners will be sitting out of Boston this year because this is an Olympic year. The U.S. Olympic marathon trials were in February, so the competitors did not have enough time to recover and prepare for Boston. The four American elites who are running Boston are Ian Burrell, a lawyer from Colorado who ran in the 2015 IAAF World Championships; Girma Mecheso, a former runner at Oklahoma State; Sarah Crouch from North Carolina; and Neely Spence Gracey from Colorado.

Also missing is Geoffrey Mutai, winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon, who withdrew from the field on April 5. Mutai’s winning time five years ago, 2:03:02, is the Boston Marathon course record.

What kind of race will this be?

If you’re looking for record-setting times, look elsewhere. This is Boston! This is a tough course that typically yields a slower, more tactical race. The runners will at least have a break with some beautiful weather: Race conditions are forecasted to be upper-50s and partly cloudy with a slight tailwind. So the potential for a fast race is there, but I’ll still be counting on tradition prevailing.

Where can you watch?

If you can’t make it out to the course but you’d like to watch the race, you have a few options. People living in the Boston area can watch the local broadcast on WBZ-TV. The national TV broadcast will be done by the NBC Sports Network. You can also stream the race worldwide on the Boston Athletic Association’s website.

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15 Years of the Marathon’s Top 15 Female Finishers

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

(Photo by  Dingfang Zhou/BU News Service)
By Buthayna Al Refai, Mariya Manzhos,
Alexandra Werner Winslow, and Olya Yordanyan
BU News Service

This year marks 50 years since the first American woman ran the Boston Marathon. Back then, her bid to enter the race sparked controversy. Today, women from around the world compete, and lately those from overseas have been taking the top spot in the race.

In 1966, Roberta Bobbi Gibb threw on a hoodie to hide her hair, secured a pair of her brother’s shorts with twine, and took her place behind a bush near the Boston Marathon’s starting line. Her application to enter the marathon had been denied. The Amateur Athletics Union that sanctioned the marathon prohibited women from racing more than 1.5 miles.

But Gibb wasn’t taking no for an answer. For Gibb, who regularly ran near her home in San Diego, the marathon represented an opportunity to change the regulations that kept women from officially participating.

“It was a classic Catch-22,” Gibb told Runner’s World in a recent interview. “How could women prove that we could accomplish something if we were never given a chance to try?”

And try she did. Photographs show the 23-year-old relaxed and smiling as she crossed the finish line less than four hours after she started, the 124th runner to unofficially complete the 1966 Boston Marathon.

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became another icon of resistance to the ban on women running when she became the first female to run as officially registered. However, she had cloaked her gender by registering as K.V. Switzer. She professed that she liked the way it sounded, like J.D. Salinger.

Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number, however, during the race an official ran after her yelling: “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

That iconic moment in women’s sports history was just a start for Switzer. Among her later contributions: the creation of the Avon International Running Circuit and officially making a women’s marathon part of the Olympic Games of 1984.

By 1972, women setting out to cover the same 26.2 miles that Gibb and Switzer ran did so as part of an official women’s division. Today, scores of women from around the world join the pack.

There’s just one difference between them and the women who paved their way: these days, the top 15 finishers are usually citizens of another country.

As early as 1973, Gerda Reinke, a runner from West Germany, was among the top 10 finishers. In 1975, Liane Winter, also from West Germany, set a world record.

By 2015, 11 of the top 15 finishers were not American. In 2010, 14 — all but one — hailed from another country. And in the two years since the Boston Marathon bombings, there’s been no discernible drop in international female runners finishing in the top 15.

View map full screen.

A number of sub-patterns emerge from mapping the Marathon’s top 15 female finishers since 2001. European countries, for instance, supplied 34 runners, or 15.11 percent, with Italy topping them all at seven. In the past 15 years, only 25 percent of finalists were from the U.S.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, China, the globe’s most populous country, produced only four of the Boston Marathon’s top 15 finalists in the last 15 years. To the north and south of the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Colombia produced 4 percent.

The real standout in the finalists’ geographic distribution are the East African runners. Since 2001, they have consistently placed among the top 15 finishers, with 40 Kenyan and 36 Ethiopian finalists in the past 15 years.

Taken together, in fact, Kenya and Ethiopia represent 33.8 percent of the last 15 years’ top finalists. Moreover, 86 percent of Boston Marathon winners — those who placed first in the women’s division in the last 15 years — were from Kenya and Ethiopia.

A 2012 study by the National Institute of Health proposed eight factors that may explain the outsized Kenyan and Ethiopian success in distance running, including diet, environment, and extensive walking and running at an early age.

More unexpected is the study’s hypothesis that an economic motivation may play a part in East African runners’ success.

“The Boston Marathon’s rewards for women from Kenya and Ethiopia are enormous in proportion to other opportunities available to these women in their countries,” said Tom Derderian, a running historian and author of “The Boston Marathon,” a history of the race.

He echoes the National Institute of Health study’s suggestion that monetary rewards have proven to be a significant incentive for East African female runners. Award money ranges from $1,500 to $150,000.

“Women have an option to work on the farm, or do well in the Boston Marathon and become rich,” said Derderian. “They can buy a farm in their country and become a major person in their community.”

And yet, even though Kenya and Ethiopia have produced the most top 15 female finishers in the last 15 years, the country to produce the most finalists overall is, in fact, the U.S.

With 57 top 15 female finishers since 2001, the U.S. has supplied almost twice as many as Kenya, the next biggest country of origin.

Among the American women to participate in recent years is Cambridge resident Emily Raymond, 34, who moved to the Boston area 12 years ago. She began preparing to run her first Boston Marathon in 2006.

Although Raymond skipped the years when she gave birth to her three children, this year she will run her sixth Boston Marathon.

“I keep trying different things. There is something I can always improve,” says Raymond. “Every year I think I could do better.”

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How Has the Boston Marathon’s Wheelchair Event Evolved?

Category : Marathon 2016 , The History

(Photo by Xuedong Wang/ BU News Service)

By Jon Sigal, James Mattone and Juan Esqueda

The Boston Marathon is a storied event. The city watches on the third Monday of April as runners from around the world compete for 26.2 miles. But, some of them don’t run.

As it turns out, eight different events will take place on April 18. Men and women will gut it out in their respective “open” and “masters” events, and framing them will be a conglomeration of three-wheeled speed demons. That’s right – the wheelchair event is as much a part of the Boston Marathon as fans gathering around Boylston Street and Copley Square to cheer on the race.

To get a sense of how integral this portion of the race is, the timeline below highlights some milestones. Now in its fifth decade, the Boston Marathon’s wheelchair competition has no shortage of elite athletes.

Similar to how the running events attract people ranging from the Eritrean-born Meb Keflezighi to the Kenyan-born Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, male competitors from around the world convene for the wheelchair event.

Eighteen men from seven different nations have emerged victorious, and the below map gives a sense of just how far-reaching the event is.

Male Winners by Nationality 

The same phenomenon holds true for the women’s portion of the wheelchair race, as 16 different women from six countries have emerged victorious. Some notable competitors include the Japanese-born Wakako Tsuchida and Swiss-born Edith Hunkeler.

While less geographically diverse, the below map illustrates how truly global the female event is.

Female Winners Nationality 

It has became increasingly difficult to win the wheelchair event over time. Wheelchair technology has improved, competitors have mastered the course and they’ve also become better conditioned.

The below graph depicts this, as the first male winner took nearly two hours and the most recent winner clocked in at roughly an hour-and-a-half.

The same trend can be observed in the female portion of the race. The first winner took nearly four hours to complete the 26.2 mile course, while the most recent winner accomplished the same feat in just under two hours.

Another intriguing way to analyze the men’s and women’s races over time is a side-by-side comparison. The spikes and dips follow the same patterns, and trends link up with the elite race as well. For example, in 2011 when Geoffrey Mutai had the “fastest marathon” run ever, the men’s and women’s wheelchair records were also broken.

The wheelchair’s 2016 version will commence at 9:17 a.m. on April 18 with 35 male participants, while the female counterpart kicks off at 9:19 a.m. with 15 participants.

To get a sense of the journey these 50 athletes will embark upon, check out the map below.

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Measuring the Impact of Elevation on International Runners

Category : Marathon 2016 , The Runners

By Kristin Hugo, Caitlin Bird, Ian Evans, Liz Sheeley
BU News Service

Over the years, the Boston Marathon has gone from being a Boston-centric event to an international phenomenon. This year, more than 4,700 international entrants from 80 countries will traverse the 26.2 miles of Massachusetts’ streets in the 120th Boston Marathon. This is a quick look at where they come from.

Running at Altitude

Entrants will be arriving from nations with varying elevations, from Jamaica — which is only an average of 18 meters above sea level, to Chile, at an average of 1,871 meters above sea level. Such variety can have dramatic effects on athletes.

Imagine the Rocky Mountains: beautiful, imposing, capped with snow, looming above the landscape thousands of feet above sea level. If you climbed up for some fresh mountain air, though, you might find it a little hard to breathe. At high altitudes, the concentration of oxygen in the air is less than at lower altitudes. The air pressure is lower, and it’s harder to get oxygen into the lungs. Despite this, athletes have actually been utilizing training at high altitudes in order to improve their performance. However, anecdotal evidence differs from the scientific on whether this is a reliable training method.

Starting at around 2,000 feet above sea level, the human body can start to feel the effects of high altitude, though it is more dramatic the higher one goes. It can become harder to breathe in the thinner air, and there is a possibility one will develop altitude sickness. When the body tries to get more oxygen into the lungs by breathing faster at high altitudes, this can result in the headaches, nausea, fatigue, and sleep disturbance of altitude sickness. Symptoms can vary in severity from mild to severe and may require medical attention, though usually it will dissipate after a few days of acclimatization.

Runners and other endurance athletes might train at a higher altitude because the lack of oxygen also prompts the body to produce the hormone EPO, which increases the amount of red blood cells in the body. Anecdotal evidence claims that this results in an increase in athletic performance, especially if the athlete returns to sea level with the boost. However, scientific studies have found inconsistent or neutral results when testing the effect of altitude.

One reason for the discrepancy might be because of the rigor of statistical significance. Say a scientist has runners do a race, half of whom who have been training at altitude and the other who have not. When she analyzes the results, she has to prove that any differences between the groups could not have happened by chance. If the altitude runners were only a tiny bit faster or slower, then the results might not actually be significant. Yet, running a race a second or two faster might make the difference in an Olympic marathon, so there might be an actual benefit to altitude training.

Elite Runners

Running a marathon takes talent and dedication, but there is a class of runners who go above and beyond. Of the 30,251 people entered the Boston Marathon in 2015, only 36 — 20 men and 16 women — were entered in the elite category.

At 9:32 on the morning of race day, the elite women runners have the honor of being the first heat on the Boston Marathon course. The elite athlete team is recruited and sponsored by John Hancock Financial, and includes past Boston Marathon winners and other athletes from around the world. Ten out of the top 10 men’s times in 2015’s Boston Marathon were in the elite group, and nine out of the top 10 women’s winners were in that group as well.

To qualify to run the Boston Marathon, participants must have scored a certain time in the last year and a half, based on their age and sex. Men ages 18-34, for example, must have run a marathon in the past with a time of three hours and five minutes at most. Women 80 and younger must have run a marathon in under five hours and 25 minutes. The exception to this rule is for people who run with charity groups.

For the elite runners, there is no “qualifying time,” but rather the race sponsor must recruit you. The fastest elite runner’s personal record for a marathon, earned by Lelisa Desisa, was 2:09:17. Desisa went on to win the 2015 Boston Marathon. The slowest elite runner time was 2:29:23, earned by Aleksandra Duliba. Cynthia Limo, from Kenya, debuted in the 2015 Boston Marathon, and had no personal record for the marathon, as she is a half-marathon specialist.

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Is Running Really Good for You?

Category : Marathon 2016 , The Runners

By Ryan Cross, Sarah Faulkerner, Michaela Kane
BU News Service

On April 18, more than 30,000 runners will line up at the start line of the Boston Marathon, ready to race 26.2 miles and cross the finish line in Copley Square. For many runners, this is a lifetime achievement, the result of months or even years of training. But recent studies suggest that running isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

Racing the Wave of Running Injuries

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, between 37 and 56 percent of runners are injured every year. Runners face stress injuries in their thighs, calves, knees, feet and ankles, caused by the repetitive movements required for running. This wave of injuries isn’t necessarily surprising, since running is technically a high-impact sport, requiring its participants to smack their feet on the pavement mile after mile, day after day. Each stride forward creates a jolt of force that shoots up from the sole of the foot to their ankles, knees and hips. And after a while, that repetitive jolt can be a problem.

Today, a majority of running injuries occur in the knee. The most common injury, called Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS), more commonly referred to as Runner’s Knee, accounts for 42 percent of all knee injuries from running. This happens when irritation occurs between the kneecap and the thighbone, sometimes damaging the cartilage in the knee. Other common injuries include plantar fasciitis, which causes pain and inflammation in the heel; shin splints, which involve pain in the lower part of the leg, usually centered in the shins; inflammation of the Achilles Tendon and even sprains or fractures in the ankles, shins and knees.

While injury rates in runners may be on the rise, studies have shown that these rates don’t indicate that every runner who laces up their sneakers will get injured. Many studies show that novice runners are more than twice as likely to get injured when compared to experienced runners who have practiced the correct running forms and training regiments. Additionally, runners who train with an injury or have a history of weakness or pain in their legs and joints are also more likely to injure themselves again when out pounding the pavement.

Although the rate of running injuries climbed over the last 30 years, it has not deterred people from running. In fact, according to Running USA, which publishes a State of the Sport report every year, the number of people participating in marathons across the U.S. has steadily climbed between 1990 and 2015, only dropping in 2012 after the New York Marathon was canceled, taking 50,000 racers out of the count.

For Healthy Hearts, Moderation is Key

A 2012 study examined 10 years of marathon running in search of an extreme: runners who die either during or immediately after a marathon. Its conclusion had runners everywhere breathing a sigh of relief.

Researchers found that between 2000 and 2009, there was no change in the average performance of a marathon runner – it still takes an average marathon runner about four and a half hours to finish. They also discovered that the death rate over that period of time remained unchanged. In other words, the increase in runners was not associated with more deaths.

Of the 3.7 million surveyed participants, the researchers identified 28 people who died. The majority of the deaths were due to a heart related problem — cardiac arrest, a heart attack being the most common.

The study concluded that there hasn’t been a change in average performance or death rate in marathon running, despite a boom in the number of runners. But perhaps the factoid that comforted runners the most is that the odds of suffering a heart-related death while running a marathon is extremely small.

Not surprisingly, there is too much of a good thing. A separate study looked at the prevalence of heart troubles in veteran endurance athletes — people who run marathons and ultramarathons ( more than 50 miles) frequently. They found that half of the surveyed veteran male endurance athletes had myocardial fibrosis, despite being healthy and asymptomatic. Myocardial fibrosis is the thickening of the heart valves, a sign of progression towards heart failure.

The prevalence of myocardial fibrosis was not due to age, height or weight. Instead, it was strongly associated with the number of years training and the number of years spent running competitive marathons and ultra-endurance marathons. While causation is certainly not clear, some researchers suggest studies like this point to a potential limit in human endurance.

Whatever the case may be, it seems the average marathon runner can embrace the challenge of their race without fear of a heart attack.

The Marathoner’s Metabolism

In addition to cardiovascular fitness, many people may view the metabolism boost that comes with regular running as a primary benefit. While it is difficult to quantify the exact number of calories a run will burn, many modern health and fitness apps, as well as the old-fashioned treadmill, estimate 100 calories per mile of running. For rudimentary measurements, this number works, but there are many variables that change that oft-cited statistic. Body weight, age, sex, speed, distance, and environmental conditions such as the temperature and rain will all alter energy demands during a run.

One noteworthy benefit of long runs is elevated lipolysis, or fat metabolism. A study of 25 Boston Marathon runners showed that lipolysis increased by 1128 percent following the race. When the body runs out of glucose (sugar), the preferred energy source, it will begin metabolizing fats called triglycerides. The breakdown of triglycerides releases free fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. It was the measurement of increased glycerol molecules in the bloodstream that allowed the researchers to quantify the change in fat metabolism.

Burning off some extra calories during a run seems like a good thing, but there could be a downside. Serious distance runners, like most athletes, need to consume a large number of extra calories to fuel their runs. This continually increased calorie consumption in serious may take a toll on the body.

Health studies in animals show that the most reliable way to increase longevity is to drastically reduce calorie count. This doesn’t necessarily imply that eating more contributes to a shorter lifespan in humans, but there is a line of thought developing among metabolism researchers that reduced food intake may be the easiest and best way to improve long-term health. Although necessary for their runs, the large amount of calories runners need to consume may have long-term consequences for their metabolism.

While it is difficult to connect running to specific metabolic benefits or disadvantages, one researcher determined some correlations with marathon running and lower medication usage for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes.

A more immediately measurable harm of marathon running comes from measuring ion levels for sodium, magnesium, and potassium in the blood, which may contribute to collapse, where a marathoner is unable to finish the race. In extreme cases, drastically altered ion levels can result in death.

One study showed that nearly a third of collapsed runners had dysnatremia, which is abnormally high or low sodium levels. Hypernatremia, where the sodium is too high, was found in 27.7% of the runners, and may be caused by insufficient water intake. Hyponatremia, where the sodium is too low, was found in 4.8% of runners, and can surprisingly be caused by drinking too much water. Another study in collapsed runners found that 49% had decreased calcium levels and 19.5% had reduced magnesium levels.

It takes considerable training and effort to prepare your body to tackle this feat. Experienced distance runners have a much lower rate of injury than novice runners, who now, more than ever, are lining up to race in these marathons. Statistically, it’s unlikely there will be any serious damage to your heart and metabolism, but you have a greater risk of damaging damaged joints and sore legs if this is your first marathon.