Obviously, there are several caveats to this question, such as over what time period? What does ruinous mean? Is it complete disintegration of your physical being or a potential to become more careworn and vulnerable to injury? What time frame are we talking about? Does it mean within months or years of engaging in the event or are we looking 20-30 years into the future? All of these things would need to be considered for us to make a decision. I would hazard also that this decision would be different for the individual, based on many factors such as age, gender, life experience and the theme of which that individual wishes to lead their life.
This result, whilst not a complete surprise, was notable for the percentage of people who indicated that they would continue to compete at ultra marathons if they knew that this was bad for their health. If using ultramarathons is garnering too much of an emotional response from you, substitute any supposedly healthy activity, say, Tennis. I am in no way taking a swipe at ultra marathons, however I would suggest that the people need to consider the rationale and reasons behind why they pursue an activity. That 1000 people chose to answer that they would continue to engage in ultramarathons, despite the knowledge that it was bad for them is significant and bears exploration.
Those that answered “no” were more likely to be younger, have less children, and interestingly, a lower health priority than those who answered “yes”. Whilst it was still high, the people that answered “no” had higher ratings for personal goal achievement, psychological coping and life meaning.
The crux of the study was that despite people learning that the activity was bad for their health they would continue to engage in it as it served their task orientation and psychological personal achievement motivators that they believed that the risk was worth holding at the risk of their own health.
Whilst I understand motivation and task reward, and also that the relatively “safe” struggle and pain we experience in ultra marathons crafts a fulfilling personal narrative, I still struggle to understand why someone would continue to do something that is perceived as adding to wellbeing, when they were aware that it would ruin their health.
Surely, the goal of an active life is to live well for the longest time possible, maintaining activity and vitality well into our senior years. Also, would you not consider that if your perception of a positive expression of health lead to your health declining, would it not be time to re establish some new goals, limits or expectations?
Whilst I’m not sure at this point I can answer any of these questions, I would be very interested to hear what the community has to say on the matter.
Martin D. Hoffman & Rhonna Krouse (2018) Ultra-obligatory running among ultramarathon runners, Research in Sports Medicine, DOI: 10.1080/15438627.2018.1431533