Dam­age-re­sis­tance mus­cles

Canadian Running - - THE SCIENCE OF RUNNING -

For­get about de­hy­dra­tion, glyco­gen de­ple­tion, over­heat­ing and all the other per­ils that marathon­ers worry about. When Span­ish re­searchers ran a study at the Madrid Marathon a few years ago to see which fac­tors would pre­dict how much a run­ner would slow down in the fi­nal miles of the race, the most im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor was mus­cle dam­age. Lev­els of cre­a­tine ki­nase and other mark­ers of mus­cle dam­age that cir­cu­late in the blood were high­est in the run­ners who hit the wall hard­est.

The same re­searchers, led by Juan del Coso of Camilo José Cela Univer­sity, have now pub­lished a fur­ther anal­y­sis in PLoS ONE show­ing that lev­els of mus­cle dam­age dur­ing a marathon are partly pre­dicted by seven dif­fer­ent gene vari­ants. That led to some pre­dictably overea­ger head­lines, like Reader’s Di­gest ’s “Avid Run­ners Are Ge­net­i­cally Gifted to Feel Less Pain.” But the dif­fer­ences were ac­tu­ally quite sub­tle, with a “gene score” of 5.2 out of 14 for the run­ners with the least mus­cle dam­age ver­sus 4. 4 in those with the most dam­age. And the fin­ish­ing times and post-race sore­ness in the two groups weren’t sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent.

The take­away? Mus­cle dam­age in the legs, from the ac­cu­mu­lated pound­ing of about 30,000 land­ings per marathon, is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem for some run­ners. But don’t just blame your genes. In­stead, make sure your train­ing in­cludes some long, hard runs – a marathon-pace 30k, like Hamilton’s clas­sic Around the Bay race be­fore a spring marathon, is ideal, del Coso says. And lower-body strength ex­er­cises such as weighted lunges and squats can also help dam­age-proof your mus­cles.

Alex Hutchin­son is a se­nior edi­tor and sci­ence colum­nist for Cana­dian Run­ning. He’s con­sid­ered one of the most re­spected sports sci­ence jour­nal­ists in the world.

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