Protect Your Heart When You Run Your Next Race

January 28, 2022
Protect Your Heart When You Run Your Next Race

Here's why you should resist the urge to surge as you head towards the finish line.

That big race you've spent months training for is here—and you're almost at the finish line. Just one quick sprint and a finisher's medal will be hanging around your neck. And maybe you'll even hit a new personal record.

Not so fast!

Experts recommend that you resist the urge to surge at the end of a distance race to protect your heart. Dramatically accelerating your pace at the end of a long race can put a lot of stress on the heart and vascular system. In fact, the majority of heart complications occur at the end of races, when athletes may be dehydrated, have low electrolyte levels and may be at the limit of their cardiac performance.

Researchers speculate that sprinting to the finish line may produce a rush of adrenalin that can trigger abnormal rhythms in runners with susceptible hearts. Sudden cardiac arrest and other heart complications can be brought on by intense physical stress. So while the benefits of exercise are well-known, there may be a point at which sudden or vigorous exertion becomes dangerous.

The risk rises with age as the likelihood of abnormal heart rhythms and thickening heart muscle and arteries increases. Younger runners may also experience heart issues, often with less favorable outcomes. Although this thankfully doesn't happen often, when it does it is typically due to an undiagnosed heart condition. It's worth noting that distance runners experiencing catastrophic cardiac events during a race are extremely rare, even though they may make the news.

So what's the best advice for your next long-distance race?

To protect your heart and avoid other injuries late in the race, pick a comfortable pace about a half mile out from the finish and stick with it. Now is not the time to put undue stress on an already stressed heart muscle. The few extra seconds you may shave off your time aren't worth the risk.

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Date Last Reviewed: July 19, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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