Everyone is a runner nowadays. The streets where I live are busy with people running the sidewalks every day. It seems there is always a handful of races every weekend. Running is the cool thing to do, but is the rise in recreational running as innocent as it seems?
I never really gave much thought to this until I recently spent a month in a remote village in Ghana, Africa.
One afternoon I was in a hurry to make it to the town market before it closed, so I did what any former competitive runner would do - RUN. I took three strides and immediately two other grown men began to sprint away in another direction. I had scared them! (Keep in mind I’m 6’2” - 175 pounds - not the scariest frame.)
Apparently in Ghana, it’s not normal for people to just run. Apart from the occasional soccer game, running is usually associated with surviving and not necessarily spandex. Example: rounding up livestock, dodging crazy taxi drivers, hunting, etc.
My month in Africa ended and I returned back to my job as a running consultant at a shoe store, Two Rivers Treads.
After a full day of talking with clients about plantar fasciatis, knee pain, shin splints, low back pain, and people dieing at marathons, it became apparent that our running culture and its associated assumptions may not be normal or innocent.
Here are some insights on some of these common assumptions I came across in the physical therapy clinic and running store. I hope these are helpful.
“Running long distances is good for you.”
This statement carries a lot of assumptions. And you know what they say about assuming... It may be better to say running long distances can be good for you if:
You have the appropriate mobility and stability to support the movement of running
You have an efficient running gait pattern that minimizes stress to your body
You are not causing excessive inflammation by running too hard and too long
“My (insert body part) hurts. It must be time to get some new shoes.”
Shoes do affect how you move, whether you’re walking or running.
This has the potential for shoes to be the culprit with some injuries. However, shoes are a tool. Like any tool, the person must have the ability to use the tool for its purpose. So what if the person using the shoes doesn’t have the ability to use the shoes well? Most people will victimize their shoes when their shoes may be innocent.
When there is pain, new shoes may be appropriate, but we should always start with assessing the person using the shoes before we go straight to victimizing the shoes.
“My (insert body part) hurts when I run. I just need to get my gait analyzed.”
There’s some truth to this statement as looking at someone’s gait can provide some helpful information.
However, only looking at someone’s gait does not truly reveal why someone is running the way they’re running. I was guilty of this when I started working at Two Rivers Treads. I would watch someone run and see that they were running with a slow cadence, foot landing way in front of their pelvis, and their knees knocking together. I would just tell them to not do what they were doing. That’s as helpful as telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking. It’s not that simple.
I would assume that the person had the appropriate mobility and stability to run well and do what I had told them to do. I was almost always wrong in my assumptions. We have to assess the person and their movement as a whole instead of just how they run.
“I need to lose weight, so I’m going to start running.”
If someone wants to lose weight and they feel they need to run to do so, their time could be better spent doing more productive things such as facebook stalking high school sweethearts and watching videos of cute kittens on Youtube.
You can lose weight by running, but you get the biggest bang for your buck from what goes on in the kitchen.
To quote my former mentor, TIm Difrancesco with the Los Angeles Lakers, “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
Tim Ferriss also had some insightful words when he said, “You lose pounds in the kitchen and only ounces in the gym.”
It’d be safe to replace “in the gym” with “on the road/trail/treadmill”.
With all of that being said …
Running is great. I love it! I find great joy in being able to explore an area by foot, on pavement or dirt, short or long distances, going fast or slow, alone or with good friends. It gives me a sense of freedom that doesn’t compare to anything else I do.
So if you want to join the millions of people hitting the pavement and trails, I want to leave you with some encouragement to ask yourself a few questions:
Why do I run or want to run?
If I want to run, do I have good mobility, stability, and movement patterns to be able to run without causing harm?
Am I running and eating myself into a deep dark pit of chronic inflammation?
Is there something else I could do that would be more effective in reaching my goals?
If you can’t answer these questions, we would love to assist you. Thank you for reading and don’t forget to play!