Running your first marathon after weight loss surgery

By: Dr. David Provost 01


The idea of running a marathon can seem ludicrous to someone who has had (or is contemplating) weight loss surgery. Even for an in-shape, normal-weight runner, the 26.22 mile footrace (official distance: 42.195 km / 26 miles 385 yards) is nothing to take lightly.
Yet the formerly obese can successfully run a marathon – as many who have achieved this goal can attest. For example, Dr. Brian Spar, a veterinarian from the New York area, was once a beer-swilling 340-pounder. After four years of self-guided diet and exercise, Spar dropped to 185 pounds (and went from a 54-inch to a 32-inch waist size) and finished the 2008 New York Marathon in 4:40:21.
Even though Dr. Spar achieved his ideal weight without weight loss surgery, the lesson is clear: nothing about weight loss surgery stands between an obesity patient and his or her dream of completing a marathon.
But prospective long-distance runners who have had weight loss surgery should start slow, says Dr. David Provost. “During the first six months after surgery, exercise should be limited to increasing one’s range of motion – taking off your shoes, for example,” adds the doctor, previously the Medical Director for the Surgical Management of Obesity at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and current head of Provost Bariatrics, a major provider of weight loss surgery in Fort Worth, Texas, and the surrounding area.
He urges, “During the 6- to 12-month recovery period, 30 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise at least three days per week is ideal. Lower-impact activities like walking, biking, and swimming, plus some resistance training with dumbbells, are a great way to start.” By the time a year has passed after surgery, weight loss surgery patients can be doing yoga, dance, aerobics or kickboxing, Dr. Provost says. And after one year post-op, bariatric patients can ramp up to 45 minutes of exercise at least four days per week.
Weight loss surgery patients who are in good shape one year after surgery should plan on more intensive training for at least three to four months to prepare for a marathon. Those in poor shape can expect a longer training period – at least one to two years of serious training. It goes without saying that potential marathon runners have to run virtually every day, logging up to 25 miles per week to build up the stamina needed to carry a runner over the grueling 26-mile course. As the marathon date draws closer, those in training should plan on one long run of 15 - 20 miles each week to acclimate their body to the stress.
“Stress on the body – especially the joints – is an extremely important factor to consider for weight loss surgery patients who want to run long distances,” says Dr. Provost. The knees, in particular, need to be carefully strengthened before beginning any kind of running program, he notes, adding that overstressing the knee joints is one of the leading causes of orthopedic sports injuries, and fixing damage to the knees can be expensive and painful. Dr. Provost recommends gradually strengthening the knees and other joints by means of regular, low-impact exercise prior to taking to the streets for a jog.
The marathon is possibly the most grueling event in all of track and field athletics. However, weight loss surgery patients can absolutely take on this challenge, as long as they take due care.
“Running – even long-distance running – is not off-limits to surgical patients,” says Dr. Provost. “With proper training and strengthening, there’s no reason a weight loss surgery patient who has achieved his or her goal weight can’t finish a marathon.”

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Dr. David Provost provides expert care for patients seeking weight loss surgery in North Texas, Texas, and the surrounding area. Dr. Provost is the head surgeon at Provost Bariatrics and has more than 20 years’ experience as a bariatric surgeon.

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