To Run or not to Run
Running has been the focus of many evangelistic opinions and fundamentalist arguments.
Running had a boom in the 70’s and 80’s with the late Jim Fixx as its missionary. Those who ran were often adamant that others should too. Later, Jim Fixx died, of a heart attack,* taking some of the breath out of their sermons.
* From Wikipedia: In 1986 exercise physiologist Kenneth Cooper published an inventory of the risk factors that might have contributed to Fixx’s death. Granted access to his medical records and autopsy, and after interviewing his friends and family, Cooper concluded that Fixx was genetically predisposed (his father died of a heart attack at age 43 and Fixx himself had a congenitally enlarged heart), and had several lifestyle issues. Fixx was a heavy smoker prior to beginning running at age 36, he had a stressful occupation, he had undergone a second divorce, and his weight before he took up running had ballooned to 220 pounds (100 kg).
The tide shifted to an anti-running fervour in which Running’s adversaries declared it to be one of the worst things you could do, right along with smoking and eating junk food. A good read, “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall gave some credibility back to running, but with a barefoot twist. Not only were we arguing about running/not running but additionally as to whether or not one should run barefoot, or at the very least, in minimal shoes. The pro-running faction became split into shod or not shod.
On the other side of the trenches, the running haters used scientific studies claiming: that running was bad for the heart, and, that you could get better cardio-vascular benefits by doing short yet intense interval workouts.
Being that I’ve been running in various forms since a short-lived stint on the track team back in junior high, I’ve followed the running debate with some interest. I have my own opinion about running, so my interpretation of the literature has certainly been coloured by my beliefs. However, it seems that there are some changes in the fronts and my ideas are catching on. Here is a summary of what I deem to be the current state of affairs.
Here is a list of statements I’ve read and consider to be main stream in some way. By mainstream, I mean opinions that have come from a variety of sources. I will respond to them with my own form of wisdom, derived from my experience as a Feldenkrais Practitioner, reading many articles and, running.
Seventy to eighty percent of all runners experience injury from running at some point.
When I watch recreational joggers in the nearby forest, I can believe this statistic. It seems that maybe one in twenty runners looks as if they’re not damaging their body. From my point of view, this is one good reason not to run. Many people who “run” would be better off walking and if they really want to run, getting some coaching on form and technique.
Endurance sports are hard on your heart and cause a thickening of the arterial walls.
This can happen to runners who run long distances over many years. Interestingly enough, cyclists, rowers, XC-skiers and trail runners (also endurance athletes) don’t seem to have this problem. The best explanation I’ve come across is that the other sports require a variety of intensities whereas long distance runners tend to run at the same pace, most of the time. Interestingly enough, I just read that only doing weight training can have a negative effect on the heart as well and that we need to do cardio vascular work to balance this out.
You can get more benefit in less time doing interval workouts than you can from running.
This is partly true but many of those studies were short term and failed to take the longer view. I do think there is great benefit from interval workouts and they’ve even been shown to have positive effects on our mental abilities as well. Read “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by Dr. John J. Ratey, M.D. for or go to his website, “Sparking Life” for more on this. But, variety is the key. Just as you wouldn’t want to run the same speed over years, you also don’t want to just do intervals the whole time. Humans need variety!
This study was like gasoline on the fire in the great debate. People criticising running, and pushing interval training felt vindicated pointing to this study as the ultimate proof of their evangelism. However, further analyses of these results have shown that the recreational marathoner is not really well enough prepared for the task of running 26 miles healthily. This was even hinted at in the article and further reading on the subject has revealed that hobby marathoners train too fast when going slow and too slow when working on speed. Many can run a marathon, but the question is if they should?
My body wasn’t designed for running.
In the book, “The Sports Gene,” author David Epstein takes a good look at this question. It turns out that indeed,
there are genetic differences within the human race. Some body types are better suited for long distance, some for sprinting and some not just well suited for running. However, all of us who are blessed with average to good health can walk, and as I said above, many people would benefit from walking regularly rather than running or doing nothing.
So where does this leave us, should we run or not? First off, you have to want to run and even enjoy it for running to be healthy. If you’re running because you want to lose weight or doing it because you should “get some exercise,” then you’d be better off walking and/or finding something you really enjoy. If you do decide that you want to run you need to approach running in a conscious and mindful way. In the next post, I’ll go into this in greater depth so for now, enjoy your run if you want. Otherwise, take a nice walk and enjoy the autumn colours if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has colourful falls.
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