This post is half inspired by a race report I read recently and half by a discussion with Chris at Warhorse. In the said race report, the author was giving lessons learned for a first marathon and included things like “show up earlier than expected so you can pee” and “be aware of your surroundings.” Little helpful tidbits like that.
This motherfucker also talks about the shooting pains he got in one knee, but it was fine because he came prepared with his trusty knee sleeve. But, oh no!, he started experiencing pain is his other knee 14 miles into the race because he had subconsciously started relying on it more. The pain was so bad that he was considering quitting 15-16 or so miles in because he felt that he might actually be doing some serious harm to himself. Thankfully an aid station medic had some topical pain reliever that reduced the pain enough that he could finish.
His helpful tidbit after this section was “Come prepared; I should have brought two knee sleeves as well as ibuprofen and topical pain reliever.”
Like what in the actual fuck? Your helpful piece of advice is, “Just finish the race no matter the consequences! You wouldn’t want to stop just to prevent a little permanent damage to your joints, would you?”
This is exactly why I think most people should stop running. In our type A, no pain no gain world, people really do not know how to back off. We’re always coming across a client with an injury or nagging pain and, usually, the conversation goes like,
“Well, I’ve started running more and it hurts…”
“I’ve been running for a while and it hurts…”
PAIN. Something hurts! All the freaking time!
How many self-described runners talk about how much something hurts? How many actually do anything about it other than buy a new pair of shoes, insoles or compression socks? It’s almost a badge of honor: “Yea man, both my knees are killing me, I’m pretty sure I have plantar fasciitis but that IT band strap netted me a 4 second PR on last week’s 10k!”
Look, I get it. Running has a certain cathartic effect to it. No worries, no stress, just one foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. Nothing but the wind in your face and your mind over your body.
But here are a few reasons why you should probably stop
1.) You’ve never learned how to run
I know it sounds stupid. Place one foot in front of the other vigorously. Repeat. Seems simple enough, really. But most people run like assholes.
**CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP**
Stomping down with the weight of the world exploding through their joints. Or their feet/ankles/knees are collapsing in, literally destroying their joints and leading to a crazy amount of pain or dysfunction down the road.
I don’t care if you run barefoot or with the most cushioned of shoes, run with a forefoot strike or if you’re a heel striker for life; regardless of your style of running, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Do you know what your cadence is? Are you making noise when you run? Have you ever watched a video of how you run and compared it to higher level athletes? Do you exhale on your left foot strike or your right? Are you hunched over or standing tall?
2.) You’re in pain
This should seem like a no brainer
If you’ve trained for anything, regardless if it’s running or something else, pain is inevitable. Sooner or later, it’s going to catch up to you be it through accidents, by not taking care of yourself or by trying to do too much. However I, and I’m sure you, know plenty of people that “deal with it.” Again, their way of dealing with it is usually buying something new to overcome their problem. New shoes, IT band strap, custom orthotics, shiny new foam roller, whatever.
There is never any investment into healing beyond doing some physical therapy until the pain goes away. “Oh the doctor said I had IT Band Syndrome; I just need to switch my shoes up.” Your knee hurts and the only thing you can think of is buying new shoes? Granted, most running advice usually says, “buy new shoes” but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not delving into the real problems.
It’s a vicious cycle of pain, some rehab and/or new gizmo, pain.
3.) You’re not competing
Competing against yourself is a powerful motivator. People will wake up at ungodly hours of the day to get their long runs in and push themselves hard during their intervals all in an effort to set a new PR. However, have you made a single cent from any of this?
If an athlete pushes themselves too far or get’s hurt for any reason, they have a team of massage therapists, doctors, physical therapists and coaches to work on them, get them helathy and get them back running. You have nothing to fall back on. You’ve gotten injured in an effort to make yourself better. At best, you spend $30 on a copay for the physical therapist to tell you to foam roll, stretch and do some clamshells.
4.) You’re doing it to get in shape
This is really the most insidious of reasons and is also the biggest reason most people should stop. The outwardly simple effort of running lures thousands of people every year to take it up in an effort to reduce fat and get in better shape. I mean, all you need is a decent pair of shoes, right?
If only it were so simple. Every year anywhere from 50% to 85% of runners will experience some sort of injury. While biomechanically humans are meant to walk and run, our modern lifestyle has really robbed us of this simplicity. From the age of 5 or 6 to somewhere around death, we spend an inordinate amount of our life seated and typically hunched over a desk, a steering wheel, a phone, etc. Our large and powerful glute muscles stop working, our hip flexor muscles get stuck in a short and tight position, our abs turn off, our ankles don’t move like they’re supposed to…in short, all of the advantages we had going for us are now injuries waiting to happen. Our muscles are supposed to absorb the shock of each step when we run but our bodies are so shitty that the joints are now taking the brunt of the force.
The picture above is a prime example: knees collapsing in, feet turned out. Most runners (60%-80%) have to wear stiff shoes to prevent overpronation at the foot and ankle, yet this “problem” could be fixed with a stronger body that worked synergistically.
It should be no surprise that I would recommend strength training, circuit training as well as shorter and more intense bouts of cardio intervals rather than long distance running. Many of our modern lifestyle problems are corrected under a proper strength training program. Our glute muscles become more developed and work better to support us, leading to less instances of low back pain, they help maintain our lower body posture and eliminates the typical duck foot/over pronation that most runners deal with, our back muscles strengthen and improve our posture preventing shoulder and neck pain while our abs turn back on, leading to a stronger core that is preventative of so many issues it’d be hard to list them all here.
Likewise, many of the cardiovascular and fat burning effects of running are easily matched by a proper training program. A proper full body strength training regimen will not only make you stronger, less injury prone and give you better posture, but it will also burn fat, increase your cardiovascular fitness as well and help you look good naked.
In other words, you can get in shape while simultaneously improving just about every other aspect of your fitness and health all while exposing yourself to much less direct force on your body.
In short, why are you running in the first place? From what I’ve experienced, there are two types of people that are fine with running:
- Competitive distance running athletes – obviously, not running isn’t an option
- Meditative runners – these are the people that will go for a jog every so often to clear their head and gain some clarity. In my experience, this type of person almost never has any typical “runner” issues because they do it for the mental benefits. Interestingly, most don’t refer themselves as “runners” so much as “I like going for a jog sometimes.”
If you don’t fall under these categories, you should probably stop running or, at the very least, change your focus. For instance, first responders and military athletes need to include some distance running into their routines due to operational needs as well as fitness tests. However, due to the nature of their work, a focus on distance running would detrimentally affect their ability to build strength and durability while allowing them to remain healthy. Thankfully, the shift in that world has started to focus less on distance running and instead focuses more on building a well rounded and healthy individual.
As I just covered, if you’re running just to be healthy, well, there’s really no reason to choose it over a well rounded fitness program. If you’re a competitive runner for the sheer joy of it, yet there’s always some sort of nagging issue or you’re fine so long as you have your knee sleeve, strap, compression socks and tiger balm, well maybe you should examine if your next PR really is worth all of the pain you’ve put yourself through.