11/28/2012 05:27 EST

Running Effects: 9 Weird Things Running Does To Your Body


By Stephanie Delman

We’ve all seen them — those runners who jog by with long, lean, enviable bodies and nary a jiggle or patch of cellulite in sight. Yes, running is one of the best ways to torch calories, tone your muscles, and improve your cardiovascular health — one recent study at Duke University Medical Center even found that jogging beats weight training for getting rid of belly fat.

But running has its downsides, too. Aside from the toll it can take on your knees and joints, recent reports of things such as “runner’s face” and “dead butt symdrome” could send some running devotees sprinting in the other direction, or more likely, laughing off the sport’s weird side effects all the way to the finish line.

Whether you’re a marathoner or an aspiring 5K-er, check out this list of some of the more bizarre ways running can transform your body.

Did we miss one? Tell your stories of running mishaps and injuries.

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Self-Healing Heart

Any runner will tell you that nothing gets the heart pumping like a long run on a trail or treadmill. But new research suggests that all that heart-friendly exercise may actually cause temporary damage to the right ventricle. In a study of 40 elite athletes who were training for endurance running events, researchers found signs of damage immediately following the races — the heart was enlarged, and function of the right ventricle had decreased.

Don’t let this send you running away from your workout and to the doctor, though: Scientists say they found no evidence that running isn’t healthy, and that amazingly, the athletes’ hearts were able to completely heal themselves from the damage in about a week.

Runner's Face

New Jersey cosmetic surgeon Brian S. Glatt, MD, recently made waves when he said in a press release that some runners quite literally run their faces off, creating a “Skeletor”-esque appearance. The condition he coined “runner’s face” often affects men and women age 40 and older who burn off too much fat beneath their facial skin.

“The marked loss of fatty tissue results in a loss of volume, which leads to a prominent appearance of the bones, accelerated development of skin laxity, and deepening of wrinkles,” Dr. Glatt said in his press release. “Though you may look like a 20-year-old from the neck down — your face will easily give away your age.” Ouch!

But others disagree. Calling the problem runner’s face is a misnomer, says Kevin Burns, licensed fitness instructor and American Council on Exercise spokesperson. He says that the loss of facial fatty tissue is just as likely to be caused by a strict diet or a different form of rigorous exercise. He acknowledges that this can lead to a more angular appearance in older runners, but that’s no reason to stop working out. “Comments like Glatt’s aren’t doing very good things for the running community or for physical activity at large,” according to Burns.

Crackling Knees

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also known as runner’s knee, is one of the sport’s most common body wreckers. Watch out for pain around or just behind your kneecap, especially after long periods of sitting with bent knees, running, squatting, or climbing or descending stairs.

Wondering what you did to your knee to provoke those angry clicking noises? Consider the knee joint’s delicate location: It serves as the connector between your thigh bone and shin bone. If your kneecap doesn’t move properly at this junction or if you increase your mileage too fast, you can develop runner’s knee as you extend your leg.

Don’t rush to alter your running style, though. Burns says that many runners actually injure themselves further by trying to “fix” their stride. The best treatment is to take a short vacation from running, and then ease back in steadily with plenty of warm-up exercise and supplemental training, such as straight leg raises and stretches, to strengthen your knee joint.

Dead Butt Syndrome

“There’s been a lot of hype lately about running being a literal ‘pain in the butt’,” Burns says. Pain in the butt, or “dead butt syndrome,” refers to the formally named condition gluteus medius tendinosis, which is an inflammation of the tendons in your rear. This pain doesn’t strike only runners — any rigorous activity can trigger it — but distance runners are among the athletes most likely to experience it.

Burns says that overuse can be a factor, which is a sign from your body that you should slow down or take a break altogether. Pulled muscles, muscle strains, and hip and pelvis misalignment are other culprits. The pain most commonly starts in the glutes and shoots down the back of the leg, and it can worsen over time if you don’t stop to take care of it.

Burns advises taking the same measures with your achy bum as you would with a bum knee. Don’t drastically change your running style or stride in hopes of deflecting pain, just give your body some good old-fashioned rest and TLC, a pain reliever like ibuprofen, and ice. Dead butt shouldn’t sideline you for too long, but talk to your doctor if the pain doesn’t subside after about a week.

Black Toenails

Are you going through a Goth phase, or is that not black nail polish on your big toe? If you find yourself with an unintentional (one-toed) pedicure after a hard run, you’re not alone. Many runners suffer from black toenails, which are caused by bleeding underneath the nail.

Improperly fitted or too-small footwear is usually the culprit. “Two of the most important pieces of equipment I own are my shoes,” Burns says. “The correct shoe can make all the difference.” An ill-fitting shoe can rub harshly on your feet, eventually causing enough friction to bruise or bloody the toes. Remedy the problem by buying your running shoes a size larger, or talking to experienced runners or personal trainers at your local gym for shoe recommendations.


The sporting goods industry has been kind to women’s chests, producing sports bras in every shape imaginable. But because men don’t have the protection of a sports bra, their sensitive nipples can chafe easily during long-distance training. Burns says he has seen many male runners sporting bruised or bloody chests after a marathon, and he advises them to use petroleum jelly or bandages to protect their nipples during long runs.

Female runners commonly chafe along the bikini line — especially if they wear thong underwear. The ropelike fabric can rub and irritate that sensitive area, and excess sweat makes the problem worse. To protect your nether regions, choose comfort over fashion while working out. Look for undergarments made of fabrics with natural wicking properties, like nylon or mesh.

Runny Nose

When you go running, does your nose follow suit? A 2006 study in the Journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that 56 per cent of people got the sniffles while running outdoors. This condition is called exercise-induced rhinitis, and it’s probably caused by the increased air flow that you inhale as your breathing rate quickens, which sends your nose into mucus-producing overdrive. Also, the weather has a serious impact: Both cool air and dry air have been found to increase nasal mucus production.

Don’t let your running nose interfere with your running schedule. Consider taking an antihistamine to dry out nasal passages prior to your workout, tucking tissues into the pockets of your shorts, or switching to indoor training.

Overactive Bladder

Found yourself with the “gotta-go” feeling only a couple miles in — though you went right before you started your run? This could be due to a couple of factors. Increased blood flow from the cardiovascular workout can speed up other body systems as well, including your kidneys’ production of urine. Also, the urge to pee may not be what it seems, Burns says. If you’re dehydrated, your body may hold on to this concentrated reserve of urine, creating a sensation similar to the one you get when you have to urinate.

If this is a problem, don’t stop hydrating, as water is essential to a healthy workout. Instead, plan ahead to scope out pit stops along your route, and talk to your doctor if it becomes a consistent issue.

Runner's High

As devotees will tell you, running isn’t all aches and pains. Perhaps one of the greatest side effects of a runner’s lifestyle — besides the lean physique and cardiovascular health — is the natural “runner’s high” that you get from pounding the pavement. “The psychological benefits of running are enormous — runner’s euphoria is a real, proven benefit,” Burns says.

According to a study in the journal Cerebral Cortex, running really does produce feel-good endorphins in the areas of the brain associated with emotion. The study found that the time and intensity of running required to achieve runner’s high differs from person to person, as does the intensity of the high. But in general, researchers found most people to be happier and more relaxed during and after runs. The same endorphins that produce runner’s high also relieve stress and boost mood.

If the thought of these running-related maladies makes you want to toss your sneakers, you may want to reconsider. Take running injuries seriously, but don’t let the studies fool you — your daily jog is much more likely to make you feel great than to turn you into a dead-butted skeleton.