How to Ruin an Otherwise Excellent Run

Posted by Filed Under: Running Tips

in the knowThe run started well enough, with me and my running group giggling, gossiping and soaking in the multi-million-dollar properties of the rich and famous on a cool, cloudless morning in one of the United States’ priciest ZIP codes. Even when the topography turned torturous and the sun started to scorch, the paradisiacal views and camaraderie made me grateful to live and train in San Diego.

Then about 90 minutes into it, things took a turn for the worse. On an isolated stretch of trail, I got the spins. I stopped, but the dizziness didn’t. How, I wondered as I tried to reach home base, did I get this sick this quickly? Then it dawned on me: I’d woken with the sniffles and taken one of those flu strips. That was followed by my typical regime before a two-hour-plus long run: two extra-strength Tylenol capsules, just in case an old injury flared up. The combined dosage was the culprit.

Thus, I learned that day that common pain relievers can spell big trouble.

Many runners manage the aches that accompany rigorous exercise with ice baths, frozen pea bags, rest, elevation, massage, special sticks, rolling pins and maybe a stiff drink, be it whiskey served neat or an extra shot in that latte. How often, though, do we consider the copious amounts of aspirin, Aleve, Advil and other analgesics that we consume to dull pain or even preempt it?

Overdoing It

I searched among other running blogs and came up empty for experiences similar to mine. But this summer, a few months after my ordeal, the mainstream press was all over it. The topic was the dangers of taking too much Tylenol, the most common U.S. over-the-counter pain medication – and one promoted at a lot of road races. Newspapers like the Forth Worth Star-Telegram sounded warnings last month about Tylenol following a study published in a respected medical journal. Participants took the equivalent of eight extra-strength Tylenol tablets each day for two weeks, and tests then showed 40 percent suffered liver damage. The newspaper wrote that “excessive doses can overwhelm the liver, causing it to shift to an alternate breakdown route. This route produces a liver-toxic compound.” Physicians recommended not exceeding a daily dose of 4000 mg daily, which comes to eight regular-strength tablets in 24 hours.

That’s a decent amount but what most people don’t realize is that Tylenol’s active ingredient, acetaminophen, is in a lot of other medications, from the prescription drugs Darvocet and Vicodin to more than 200 drug store remedies, covering everything from headaches to hay fever.

Right now many runners are upping their mileage in preparation of half and full and ultra marathons this fall. As training intensifies, immune systems are more easily compromised if precautions aren’t taken. And when a cold or the flu hits, or when the tendons in knees, hips, ankles or feet feel tighter than usual, some of us will hit the medicine cabinet. To avoid ruining an otherwise excellent run, just remember: There are limitations to how much a body can take.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on August 22nd at 3:58 am

    I always use ibuprofen as a last resort rather than as a first resort. When I was in college, my teammates would take ibuprofen like it was candy. It is tough to run 85-105 miles every week and not have some aches and pains and (eventually) worse.

    I figured that rest and ice could solve my problems better than ulcers, which are a natural by-product of too many drugs.

  2. Dori on August 22nd at 7:03 am

    Excellent topic, Anne. I read in Running Times (“Who NSAID That” by Buck Jones, Ph.D.) that high doses of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, Acetiminophen, and Ibuprofen) can interfere with the kidneys ability to function, causing problems with dehydration and hyponatremia. Then I read in Runners World (“Pill Primer”, by Robin Rinaldi) that Tylenol doesn’t interfere with kidney function as much, which is why they distribute it at races. What both articles stressed was that anything over the recommended dosage should not be taken without consulting a physician. I take Tylenol during a race as a last resort.

  3. Linda on August 27th at 9:25 am

    This has need to be addressed for a long time. I had a friend (a nurse) from europe that told me a long time ago to be careful of both acetominophen and ibuprofen because of the effects on liver and kidney function. Not only that but your body can’t tell you how it is if it can’t “feel” anything when it’s pumped full of painkillers.

  4. Anne on August 27th at 11:21 am

    All three of you bring up great points about the hidden dangers of pain relievers. Yes, ibuprofen is another one that can do more harm than good. I experienced that first hand at my last marathon. And I’m now unable to run for months now,in part, because the pain killers masked a serious injury — a stress fracture. Thanks, everyone, for your contributions to this “conversation.”

  5. The Complete Running Network » Blog Archive » Snakes on a Trail on August 29th at 7:50 pm

    […] Each week I plan to use my li’l piece of real estate on this Web site to link news events to running. Last week, it was tales of Tylenol abuse. This week, I’m going to use the media hype surrounding the release of the summer movie Snakes on a Plane to create a little hisssss-steria of my own. […]