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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Does long-distance running change your body?

Yes. And I'm not just talking black and blue nails.
Let me, at the risk of grossing all of you out, use myself as an example. Warning: the post below describes my inner thighs!
This past summer I trained for a marathon with a fairly typical 6-day a week plan (five days were running; one was cross training). My plan included three 20-milers prior to the race. Following that marathon, I ran three more marathons, two halves, and a 10-mile race - all in about 80 days. So let's talk about physical changes.
1. More fat. This is weird. Many first-time marathoners have commented to me that they gained weight. For my first marathon, I did not. Actually I got super skinny, but I was also deathly ill most of the time, so I don't know why I lost weight. But for my second marathon I felt pudgy all summer. I don't know how much my weight changed since I don't have a scale, but trust me, my thighs looked like two bottle of marshmallow fluff. Why? I'm thinking it was the repeated long runs. I got my body used to running really far, then going straight to work often with few calories after (I was often queasy post-run and had no time to eat at work). I think my metabolism adjusted to retain calories just in case I busted out another 20. My weight dropped significantly following the October marathon, and it stayed normal for the rest of the races. This could be because I only did one other long-run all fall.
2. Bad skin. I made you all look at my pimples. Ok, I have a confession to make: I purposefully irritated them prior to the picture to make them look worse. But it was still bad! Over the summer my extremely sweaty runs gave me acne; even this fall my face was bad enough for me to go to a dermatologist (it's better now). Long runs are the pits for pretty skin.
3. Funky muscles. I NEVER stretch. I know I should, but I am so lazy! The consequence of this is that I am muscle-bound. My hamstrings are especially enormous and tight. I actually cannot straighten my right leg completely while extended: the hamstring is too too tight. I think I should work on this.
4. Achy joints. NOT. Strangely, while my knees were my Achilles's heel last year (haha! I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist making a silly and confusing anatomical joke. I take it back), I've been basically pain-free this summer and fall. Post-race I might ache a tad, but it is gone in 24 hours.
All men stop reading at once! I am about to start talking about menstrual cycles!!!!!!!!!
5. Fewer periods. I'd love to be able to explain this one. Most people assume that extreme athletes and long distance runners stop having periods because their body fat is so low. I am here to tell you that this cannot be the case. At least for me it can't, because my body fat is most definitely nowhere near that point. Not even in my dreams. Ask my jeans about body fat!
Yet since training started in May, I had only three periods (one of which was during a marathon, oh joy) and two were extremely light. I am convinced that their is another reason behind this, perhaps one related to hormone production instead. Now I am not complaining about this. On the contrary, it's an incentive to keep running! Periods are suck-o!
6. Other cosmetic issues. I stuck this down here in the ladies-only section because guys probably don't care anyway. Let's face it: wind in your face gives you leathery skin. It gave me a few wrinkles, which I love. I really do. I think they add character! Constant jolting can make your boobs sag; I know I said this isn't about toenails but seriously, do you know a runner with pretty feet?; ladies get man-calves and men get froggy-legs; this might just be me but, he, most runners don't really have fab hair either. Who has time to style with all these extra showers? But in the end, it's so worth it. Because all of us runners have pretty INSIDES. Our hearts  are masterpieces and our vasculature is beautiful to behold. So if someone makes a crack about your runner's toes, they can just tell it to your HDL!
How has exercise or running changed YOUR body? Bonus points for photos of toenails!


  1. I lost the awesome muscle tone that I had in my arms because I stopped lifting weights and then when I gained some weight post-marathon in 2010 I just got arm flab. Besides that and the toe nails I really didn't see much change.

  2. I lost a toenail over Christmas vacation one year and my entire family (7 people) made bets on which day it would finally fall off. My sister Madeleine won.

    I think my jeans look best around marathon time.

  3. My toenails are blessedly intact but the outside edges of my big toes are hideous thanks to repeated blistering.
    As for weight, I'm up a bit but I'm blaming the holidays for now. My clothes actually fit pretty well and I think I'm pretty muscular for my typically scrawny self. Then again, I've been making a point to keep lifting weights for vanity sake.
    We'll see how everything evens out post marathon- thankfully I'll have about 6 weeks until my wedding to work on my girlish figure and the plan is to spend a lot of time in the weight room! :)

  4. I lost a lot of weight when I trained for my first marathon. This time around, it stayed about the same. I have lost a little bit since, but is it because of the change in working out/eat or dealing with a break up? Hard to say...

    My feet are finally returning to normal. I never have lost a toe nail but my calluses were enormous and disgusting!

    My skin is actually WORSE now so I don't think there is a link between running & acne for me... Still trying to get the bottom of that issue...

  5. I think it's different for anyone. I have looked, weighed, felt the same for the past 30 years, only 5 of which were running. Sure I've aged, but you get my point. BTW, Dean Karnazes doesn't stretch either.