Runner's Face: Fact or Fiction?

What Is Runner’s Face

There is a school of thought that repeatedly pounding the pavement will lead to the runner getting a skeletal, gaunt, wrinkled look. Is there truth to that? If runner’s face fact or an urban legend? One thing is certain, people whisper the words “runner’s face” in hopes that the running gods aren’t listening.

Ultramarathoner Zach Bitter

Ultra-marathoner Zach Bitter is a world record holder in both the 100 mile and 12-hour distance. Logging upwards of 140 miles a week, he is a lean, mean, running machine. It stands to reason that he may look gaunt while in his deep training cycles. 

Does Gravity Take Over?

People have believed that gravity takes over, and after hours and hours of your face bouncing up and down while you pound the pavement, your face starts to sag and droop. While some physicians theorize that “cardio and running can cause more oxygen or free-radical damage, which can break or damage the face’s fibers,” (Dr. Annette King), a 2008 study states that only extremely intense cardio would have this impact. Published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, the study debunks the worry that running is bad for your skin.

Chad Hause – ultramarathoner

Moderate activity, on the other hand, actually has a rejuvenating effect on your skin! And since most of your Average Joe’s training takes place outside of the intense category, you don’t have to worry about scaling back your workout to protect your precious face!

What qualifies as extremely intense? Ninety minutes or more at 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. Perhaps this is why you are more likely to see some of these effects in elite runners than Mere Mortals.

Sarah Wiliarty’s husband refers to this as her “zombie fish face.” 

It Could Be Weight Loss

Many runners begin running as part of a weight-loss journey. Here’s the question to ask yourself, did the person you think has runner’s face drop an amount of weight that is noticeable in the face? Sometimes what people note as runner’s face is just a thinner face.

It is certainly indisputable that people training at an elite level, or anyone logging enough miles to prepare for an ultramarathon, will probably become quite lean. Anyone excessively exercising may become gaunt-looking, which is certainly noticeable in the face.

According to dermatologists, your average runner, heading out to run 4 or 5 miles a few days a week, as long as you are adequately fueling and not attempting weight loss, you’re probably safe. Dermatologists stress that protection from the sun and moisturizing are the two things you can easily do to keep your skin safe.

Photo Credit: TJ Theis (Mimi Fenton pictured)

Mimi Fenton submitted these photos to illustrate just what ultra marathoning will do to your body. The photo on the left was taken around 6:00 am at the start of an ultra. The photo on the right is taken 28 hours later, after running 100 miles through the desert.

None Of Us Is Getting Younger…

Perhaps some of the fear about runner’s face comes because people look at photos of someone running in their youth compared to races later in life. Guess what, folks? If someone starts running at twenty years old and is still running at forty, they will look different.

According to medical sources, the ways the face naturally ages perfectly match the description of the much-feared runner’s face. The loss of muscle tone that happens as we get older is something difficult to avoid and prevalent in most people. Thinning skin can cause the face to droop. Also, faces dry out and no longer have the smooth appearance of youth.

Did you know that the fat around the eyes can also move, causing a sunken-in appearance? And that the muscles supporting the eyelids can cause droop? I always wondered what eye lift cream was for.

Can you stop the hands on the clock of time? Without undergoing plastic surgery, not completely. However, hydrating moisturizers and protecting your face from the sun go a long way.

Mark Ginocchio

Mark Ginocchio reports there is no shortage of photos where he looks tired and gaunt in his race photos. I expect, for some runners, it seems to naturally coincide with hard efforts.

Photo Credit: Leif Berg

Author Pam Berg sitting inside 2011 Dodge Challenger says, “We are careful to only put high octane fuel in the car and religiously perform necessary maintenance. I guess you could say we take better care of the car than our own bodies, sometimes.” 

Are You Eating Properly to Fuel Your Body?

An interesting question to ask yourself if you are looking gaunt in the face but feel that you haven’t lost weight, aren’t yet experiencing the effects of age, and are protecting yourself from the sun’s harsh rays is this: Are you properly fueling your body?

Nutritionists point to inadequate fuel and hydration, coupled with exercise, as a recipe for potential disaster. You wouldn’t dream of putting low octane fuel in a high-performance engine of an elite sport car. Why? Because it isn’t good for it, your engine will knock and the car won’t perform as it is intended to.

So why do we think we can get our fill of donuts and bacon double cheeseburgers and expect our body to keep plugging along, full speed ahead?

Robert O’Malley

Robert O’Malley was shocked to see his face on this photo because he reportedly “felt great here at the end of this 10K” at Runner’s World Festival.

Prevention:

Spending hours in the great outdoors can lead to skin damage, which for sure makes you look older. Here are some good pieces of advice to help you stay young as long as time permits!

Always wear sunscreen. This includes those sunny winter days when the dangerous rays can reflect off of snow.

Wear sunglasses! Running without sunglasses may lead to squinting which ages your face.

Use moisturizer post-run. Spending hours in the elements (wind, snow, sun) can damage your delicate skin. Religiously using a moisturizer can be a game-changer.

A ball cap or visor can also keep the sun off of your face protecting against sun exposure and squinting which leads to, you guessed it, premature aging.

The consensus seems to be that, for your average runner, runner’s face is mostly an urban legend. However, there are things that every runner should do in order to be sure their skin and face are protected. You can’t stop the hands of time, but you sure can slow them down! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (Benjamin Franklin).

Sources:

Runner’s Fact: Myth or Reality?
What Runner’s Face Is Really All About
8 Exercise Induced Skin Afflictions
Aging Changes in the Face

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