How does preparation for a long distance race look from a medical point of view?

Participation in a long distance race should be preceded by training sessions designed to help you reach an adequate physical condition, and a range of medical actions related to prevention, diet, and preparation for intense physical effort. One must bear in mind that intense physical effort is a huge stress on the entire body and especially on the cardiovascular system and can lead to serious health complications, for which the reason may be various latent health problems of which we are unaware. The vast majority of health complications associated with long-distance running is the result of an existing symptomatic or latent (asymptomatic) disease of the heart. They can exist for many years and cause little or no symptoms, and intense physical and emotional stress caused by such effort can lead to the rapid onset of such a disease. Professional and thoughtful preparation for long-distance running should take into account the DTL strategy:

Doctor – a medical exam with possible additional check-ups;
Training – a properly planned and conducted training, preferably under the eye of a professional;
Listen – listening to your body both prior to and during the race and focusing on detecting potential injuries or contusions.

A successfully executed strategy does not eliminate 100% of injuries and health complications associated with long-distance running but it can drastically reduce the number of their occurrences. This is particularly important if you are starting a preparatory program after a longer period of reduced physical activity and a more inactive lifestyle.

D stands for Doctor:

A visit to the doctor is recommended prior to the start of a preparatory program. It is absolutely necessary in the following cases (according to the American Heart Association):

  1. Pain or discomfort in the chest;

  2. Sudden fainting;
  3. Shortness of breath, excessive fatigue during exercise;
  4. History of heart murmur;
  5. High blood pressure (hypertension);
  6. Family history of premature death before the age of 50 or disability due to cardiovascular diseases;
  7. Family history of cardiovascular disease, such as cardiomyoroutey, Marfan syndrome, QT prolongation, arrhythmias.

Depending on your results, the doctor can make an educated decision about potentially running additional tests. Those test would be based on individual needs and can include the following: EKG (during rest or during exercise), lab blood tests, or the echocardiogram test.

As part of a doctor assessment, the condition of the musculoskeletal system should be the examined, preceded by collecting a history of previous ailments or injuries. Physical examination to check the range of motion in individual joints, the presence of any swelling, ligament efficiency, balance of power in the various muscle groups. The last element is particularly important, since on the one hand an imbalance in muscle strength is one of the causes of various diseases, and on the other – it will be an important clue to the correct training plan.

T stands for Training:

Participation in long-distance running is a great stress for the whole body, especially the cardiovascular system. The primary objective of training should be to prepare the body for the effort, taking into account the gradual increase of its intensity, in the final stage of its exposure to effort comparable to that, which will take place during the actual race. The key to success is properly prepared schedule of activities (e.g. with the help of a professional). Training should include a proper nutritional plan and replacement fluids, in accordance with applicable standards.

L stands for listen to your body:

Sensitivity to concerning signals during the training program, as well as the actual race is very important. The appearance of symptoms such as chest pain, tightness, squeezing, palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness, during and after exercise should make you contact your doctor. Failure to act may increase the risk of severe complications during your next workout or race.

In conclusion, participation in long-distance running should be preceded by a number of various and planned activities, in order to obtain a suitable physical condition especially considering the fact that such a race is a huge stress for the whole body, especially the cardiovascular system. Well guided preparation, including, among others medical consultation, may reduce the risk of serious health complications, and will allow the race to be a source of immense satisfaction.