Preparing for Ultramarathon:
Can Light Therapy Help?

Interest in running marathons has surged over the past several years. Except that for some endurance athletes, a 26.2-mile marathon would not be enough. More and more athletes opt-in for ultramarathons, which are marathons longer than 26.2 miles.

People find different reasons why they want to participate in such intense endurance events. They look for an adventure, a strong physical challenge, and a test to see how far they can push their body and their training. “Endurance races are a microcosm of life; you’re high, you’re low, in the race, out of the race, crushing it, getting crushed, managing fears, rewriting stories,” notes Travis Macy, the writer of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, and a Light Lounge enthusiast.

Running 100 miles does not leave your body unscratched, however. Ultramarathons require lots of training and preparation so that your body can withstand the challenge. Light Therapy can complement ultramarathon preparations and a training regiment. It can strengthen your body, making you a more powerful athlete. Keep reading to find out both about the benefits and dangers of running an ultramarathon, and how Light Therapy can help you in the training and race effort.

Benefits from Running an Ultramarathon

Ultramarathons are mainly run on soft terrain (such as dirt or forest trails), which helps prevent joint damage. Softer terrain puts less force and stress on muscles, and specifically soft tissue, which helps decrease chances of joint injury.

Since nature is the usual setting for an ultramarathon, away from bustling city life, this means that running one is good for your mental health, too9. Still, what’s most intriguing, research suggests that regular endurance training such as that for ultramarathons seems to have a protective effect on telomere length (a DNA component and a marker of biological age)-this protective effect can slow down the aging process14,6.

The Dangers of Running an Ultramarathon

Running more miles still means more health risks for your body, although most of them are manageable with structured rest and reversible within a couple of days14. Twisted ankles, dehydration, and stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bones) are some of the more common issues ultramarathoners may face.

Running over 40 miles a week has been consistently shown to be a key contributor to stress fractures. The most common stress fractures can be found on the tibia (the shin bone), but they can also be found on bones in feet, the fibula (the bone behind your shin) and the femur (the thigh bone)23.

Some health issues can be unique to ultramarathoners, however. Such as:

  • Possible visual impairments that usually present as a temporary, painless clouding of vision12;
  • Hypothermia (a drop in core temperature) as a result of energy depletion14;
  • Experiencing hallucinations due to extreme fatigue24;
  • Slightly increased risk of Atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat particularly common in middle-aged endurance athletes24,7;
  • Increased risk of permanent damage to the heart muscle in less prepared ultrarunners24,22.
  • Reduced lung function and increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections, although these improve with rest21,16,17;
  • More musculoskeletal pain during and after the race, especially among faster runners17 and severe muscle damage with an acute inflammatory response13.

Although the risks look daunting, almost all health issues associated with ultramarathon running are manageable. In most cases, there are no severe health complications if the runner has prepared well and is fit.

Fluids & Food Management During Ultramarathons

More time running means a greater need for water and food, but managing it properly is critical. Drinking too little water may result in dehydration while drinking too much water may lead to a condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH)11. EAH occurs when the blood’s sodium levels dramatically drop after overconsumption of fluids. Sodium is an essential electrolyte that helps the electrolyte-water balance in and around the cells in your body. Without it, cells can burst, so in severe cases, EAH can even result in death11.

EAH can be easily be prevented by consuming salt (or electrolytes) prior to, and during, running. In any case, it’s important to not overdrink water to prevent excessive urination that may cause the extra salt and electrolytes to leave the body10.

Obviously, ultrarunners also need lots of energy to sustain the running effort, which means eating more food. However, overeating increases the chances of digestive issues such as cramps and diarrhea, common among ultrarunners14. Research suggests that eating high-fat food before and during an ultra-marathon seems to cause significantly less digestive problems20.

Light Therapy Can Help You Prepare for an Ultramarathon

For an ultramarathon it’s critical that the athlete’s body is healthy, resilient, and well-prepared. Light Therapy can be a critical part of your training.

Light Therapy may help with training for an ultramarathon:

  • Light Therapy can help you improve performance by optimizing the way your body uses oxygen during aerobic exercise (running or cycling) and helping you to save precious energy15,19;
  • Light Therapy can also help you improve endurance, prevent muscle damage, and preserve muscle strength4,5.

Light Therapy may help with recovery after an ultramarathon:

  • Light Therapy has been shown to reduce inflammation and the buildup of oxidative chemicals, both of which can cause damage to your body5,8.
  • Science has also shown that Light Therapy can help with faster muscle recovery, decrease muscle soreness, slow down strength loss and increase range of motion2.

The best endurance athletes train hard and prepare well to ensure they are in the best possible shape to finish the race of their lifetime. This preparedness can include science-based Light Therapy. Professional endurance athlete Travis Macy, who has finished over 120 ultra-endurance events in 17 countries, who’s a record holder on epic endurance events, a speaker, coach, and author, has used Light Therapy at Light Lounge:

“My experience has been positive. The treatment is calm, warm, and meditative, and I leave feeling loose, light, and relaxed. I plan to continue with photobiomodulation for recovery from training and general wellness, as will my father, who is battling Alzheimer’s Disease and chronic back pain.” – Travis Macy

Light Therapy is a convenient and non-invasive way that can help strengthen your body, heal injuries and help combat diseases, with no demonstrated or reported side-effects. For any questions which you may have about how Light Therapy can help benefit your health, feel free to reach out to our team via Facebook and Twitter. We are always happy to answer.

Follow our Light Lounge blog to get the latest scientific updates regarding Light Therapy. And whether you already want to experience the benefits from Light Therapy yourself, book your FREE session here and visit us at our retail location in Evergreen, CO.

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