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The Short of Long Distance Running

November 22, 2011

Marathons and half-marathons are increasingly gaining popularity across the country.  It seems as if every other weekend here in Austin some type of race takes place – typically of the distance or endurance variety.  I will find out about such races because they often block east/west access through downtown Austin on a Saturday or Sunday when we’ll get a hankering for some good ol’ East Austin grub for brunch.

We have plenty of clients that participate in racing events to fuel the competitive spirit and sense of accomplishment.  There are intrinsic motivations participants have to feed the urge to complete a marathon or half marathon and I am not here to stomp on those goals but merely put them in perspective.

The latest string of marathon deaths has me convinced of what I have always known but had not given much thought lately – the majority of the US population is NOT built for running distances.  You occasionally find the person with the slight built frame and their running form seems effortless as they glide along at a pace most cannot keep.  BUT, as I observe the many runners and running groups around Austin I see a majority of the crowd that looks like they are struggling along with poor form, knee braces, and looking for the motivation to keep up the pace of the group.

It is true, one can train to complete a marathon but many times there are short-term and often long-term detrimental physical consequences that occur because of such training.  And yes, even death can occur come race time from those who appear to be in good physical condition for the race as in the most recent cases in Philadelphia where two men, 21 and 40, died from apparent cardiac incidents from the participation in the race.

Again, not trying to squelch the motivations of people considering taking on endurance-based activities or trying to come across with doom and gloom – I just want such activities to be considered for what they are by nature.  Distance races and training for the races are by definition not exercise nor can they necessarily help you achieve physical health or fitness.  For an excellent definition of exercise and recreation CLICK HERE.  If you are trying to lose weight or fat – take a hard look at what you are eating.  If you want a muscular look – consider adopting a proper resistance training program.  If you want a sense of accomplishment – take a look at your family, friends, and loved ones and assess your relationships – you might be better off not spending hours each week logging those miles in favor of spending quality time with those you love.

Yours in Health – Efficient Exercise

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2011 8:04 pm

    Thought this was great! I spotlighted it on Keep it up!

    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink*
      December 18, 2011 6:33 pm

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. tildenm permalink
    December 16, 2011 12:39 am

    Good topic! I am making the transition from pure endurance sports (marathons and long distance running) to much shorter races and martial arts. I wonder what your thoughts are on the relative distances that most humans are fit to run. 10k? 5k? 100M? Certainly 100M, and I would wager 5k is probably a pretty good distance for many people. Maybe 10k too?

    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink*
      December 18, 2011 6:35 pm

      I think the answer is “it depends”. There are still people fit to run longer distances than others and if running makes you feel good and all other biomarkers are healthy – then scale back from the longer distances and see what works for you. My guess is you will find a race distance and training distances that “feel” right for you and can be proven right by lower incidence of injury and improved health biomarkers.

  3. December 18, 2011 5:09 pm

    It’s sad that something that is so human (running) is now so uncommon to the point that it kills us if we try to do it. We aren’t big, or have strong claws or big fangs, so how did we used to survive?

    We ran. We could run longer than most other animals. How did we hunt without good weapons? We chased an animal down to exhaustion.

    Running is awesome.

    • efficientexerciseaustin permalink*
      December 18, 2011 6:41 pm

      Running and any other activity that taps into our human potential is awesome. From an ancestral perspective, the need for running great distances is really a thing of the past. In my opinion, the only running needed for survival today arguably would be the need to flee from a situation in a hurry in a quick burst of energy (sprinting). I think the ability to flip the intensity switch on and off and subsequently sustain intensity for a reasonable amount of time as needed is still valuable from an evolutionary standpoint.

  4. October 10, 2012 12:03 pm

    This is a really great perspective on exercise, endurance, etc. I have been contemplating getting into long-distance running, but wasn’t sure how it would fit into my exercise goals. I suppose that I should view it as a hobby separate from my workouts (if I decide to do it).

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