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The Daily Pennsylvanian has run a series of pieces on marathon runners and long-distance running, and in preparation for the Penn Relays this weekend, has spoken to John Vasudevan, assistant professor of clinical physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Perelman School of Medicine.

Vasudevan, who will be working the Penn Relays this year, shares his views on injuries involved with distance running, the risks of marathons and more in this space:

Daily Pennsylvanian: In preparing for longer races, is it important to taper as the race approaches?

John Vasudevan: A lot of times what happens is it’s more than just the simple mileage, it’s about understanding and making sure you’re avoiding rapid changes to your training regimen.

People will try to ramp it up too quickly, they’ll change the intensity, they’ll change the terrain and they don’t anticipate the conditions for the day of the race … You may be training in one climate and maybe it rains that day and you’re not used to running in the rain, so a lot of times it’s more about being prepared for those conditions than a specific ‘I’m running this many miles today’ and there’s a lot of different plans out there on how to get there.

DP: Is it dangerous to sprint at the end of marathons?

JV: The big thing is trying to avoid hitting the wall and making sure you’re able to maintain the balance as you go.

The other thing is oftentimes a lot of people will end up collapsing past the finish line in what’s broadly termed as exercise-associated collapse, and a lot of different reasons why that can happen [are] because people push really hard at the end and push their bodies just that last little bit, but they can end up just crashing and passing out, having difficulty once they get through that finish line.

A lot of times the reason people end up crashing is because they push themselves hard, hard, hard and then they get to the finish line and then they stop. They say, ‘I made it through,’ and what happens is as soon as you stop, all that blood pools down to your legs, you get light-headed, you pass out and you can really kind of crash.

DP: Explain the biological aspects of “hitting the wall” and what can be done to prevent it.

JV: To a certain extent, even the most well-trained athletes can still hit the wall. Sometimes it’s a combination of effects, but essentially when you hit the wall, it’s because your body has run out of one source of energy and has to switch gears to another kind of energy.

The fortunate thing, and you always hear about it when there’s a cardiac arrest or someone dies, is that the overall rate is about one per 100,000.

Most collapses that happen after the finish line are typically not related to cardiac arrest, it’s when [the runner passes] out in the middle of the race that’s the most concerning scenario, because a lot of people will push hard and will slow down too quickly after the finish line and may have hypothermia. But it’s usually when they pass out right in the middle of the race that you’re much more concerned that they’ve just had a heart attack.

DP: Advice to runners racing in their first marathon?

JV: It’s important to understand why you got [a certain] problem … address your running biomechanics and look at the structure of your foot and look at the structure of your knees and look at what kind of deficiencies you have.

A lot of times people start increasing their mileage, but they have training errors from the start. A lot of times it’s really understanding what your risk factors are based on what you run and what your body type is.

The Q&A continues on The Buzz as Vasudevan talks about injuries that can pop up after the race and whether the risks of long-distance running are greater for either gender.


Bonus Q&A: The grind of going the distance

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