Running multiple marathons is not a risk factor for premature subclinical vascular impairment

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Abstract

Background

In contrast to the well-accepted benefits of moderate exercise, recent research has suggested potential deleterious effects of repeated marathon running on the cardiovascular system. We thus performed a comprehensive analysis of markers of subclinical vascular damage in a cohort of runners having finished multiple marathon races successfully.

Design

This was a prospective, observational study.

Methods

A total of 97 healthy male Munich marathon participants (mean age 44 ± 10 years) underwent detailed training history, cardiopulmonary exercise testing for assessment of peak oxygen uptake, ultrasound for assessment of intima-media-thickness as well as non-invasive assessments of ankle-brachial index, augmentation index, pulse wave velocity and reactive hyperaemia index.

Results

Runners had previously completed a median of eight (range 1–500) half marathons, six (1–100) full marathons and three (1–40) ultramarathons; mean weekly and annual training volumes were 59 ± 23 and 1639 ± 979 km. Mean peak oxygen uptake was 50 ± 8 ml/min/kg, and the Munich marathon was finished in 3:45 ± 0:32 h. Runners showed normal mean values for intima-media-thickness (0.60 ± 0.14 mm), ankle-brachial index (1.2 ± 0.1), augmentation index (17 ± 13%), pulse wave velocity (8.7 ± 1.4 cm/s) and reactive hyperaemia index (1.96 ± 0.50). Age was significantly and independently associated with intima-media-thickness (r = 0.531; p < 0.001), augmentation index (r = 0.593; p < 0.001) and pulse wave velocity (r = 0.357; p < 0.001). However, no independent associations of peak oxygen uptake, marathon finishing time, number of completed races or weekly and annual training km with any of the vascular parameters were observed.

Conclusions

In this cohort of healthy male runners, running multiple marathon races did not pose an additional risk factor for premature subclinical vascular impairment beyond age.

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