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Running column: Mark Armstrong on why it’s never worth putting your health at risk for running

PUBLISHED: 09:48 10 May 2018 | UPDATED: 09:48 10 May 2018

Mark Armstrong ponders the health risks of running. Picture: Alison Armstrong

Mark Armstrong ponders the health risks of running. Picture: Alison Armstrong

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Running columnist Mark Armstrong asks an uncomfortable question: Is running really good for your health?

Runners put the hammer down on the home straight at the GEAR. event in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian BurtRunners put the hammer down on the home straight at the GEAR. event in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

Is running good for your health?

It’s a question I’ve pondered recently after the sad news that two marathon runners lost their lives doing something they loved in the past few weeks.

The first, Matt Campbell, a 29-year-old regular on the marathon circuit, collapsed at mile 22 at the London Marathon having three weeks earlier completed the Greater Manchester Marathon in under three hours.

Another report came in on Monday of a male in his fifties, who collapsed during the early stages of the Belfast Marathon.

I’m not going to lie, it scares me.

Part of the thrill of running for me is asking how hard can I push myself? How fast can I go?

I’m one of those runners that wants to continually explore my physical boundaries – it’s how I get my enjoyment.

At 35 I know that I’ve only probably got a few more years before old father time is going to catch up with me and the times will start to slow.

MORE: Finding a new routine amongst the newborn chaos is a challenge for Mark Armstrong

My wife, Alison, has a more balanced view on things. Yes, she wants to go quickly when she can but she’s more than happy to book up a race in the knowledge that she’s just going for the experience. I’m slightly envious of this mentality and wish that sometimes I could relax the rules a little when I’m only in competition with myself. Perhaps it will come with age…

Pushing the boundaries is something I thrive off. It’s why recently I’ve been going out at 9pm at night to run as it’s the only ‘free time’ I’ve got after the children are in bed. Truthfully, there are occasions when I’d rather be tucked up myself but the thought of not doing the best I can at my next race keeps driving me on.

However, I would never let running come before my overall health – that’s where I draw the line.

Since losing my mother more than two years ago I’ve become acutely aware of my own mortality and the thought of not being there for my wife and two children is my biggest fear.

It’s why I haven’t been afraid to duck out of a race and why I can’t really understand why anyone would put their long term health at risk for a run.

It felt horrible missing the Cambridge Half Marathon this year but I knew deep down that if I ran I could really end up doing myself some damage. No race is worth that.

I’ve written before about running with cold/flu symptoms yet you still see people on social media asking for advice whether to run.

I’ve had chats with Neil Featherby before and if you ask enough people the question then you will find the answer you’re looking for…but it doesn’t mean that it’s in your best interests.

MORE: Variety is the spice of life for summer running

The same goes for an injury. If you’re having to ask someone whether you should race then the very fact you’re asking should ring alarm bells.

It’s also worth bearing this in mind in the warmer weather we’ve been having recently.

When it’s hot, unless you’re an elite athlete, you’re not going to be able to run an endurance event as fast. Even the elite get it wrong sometimes just as Callum Hawkins did at the Commonwealth Games when he hit the wall in the 25th mile in the stifling heat of the Gold Coast. Fortunately he was okay after being taken to hospital but it demonstrated how dangerous it can be to push yourself in extreme heat.

It’s frustrating after months of training for a race but sometimes you have to admit that it isn’t going to be a PB day and adjust your pace accordingly.

There’s always another event as long as you look after your health to the best of your ability.

Running is renowned by health professionals for its benefits, both physical and mental, to the body.

By taking care of myself, seeking medical advice where necessary and adhering to a more balanced view to training and racing, I hope to reap running’s benefits for many years to come.

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