I’ve been “a runner” for more than 30 years. I put this in quotes because running isn’t just something I do, it’s something I am. Part of my self-identity.
Seeing the sunrise on a workday morning. Running on the beach. Exploring a city. The sense of accomplishment and physical fulfillment running brings.
Are these part of your life, too? I hope so, brother. If not, you can and in fact should experience them.
But if you love running, the (ironic) challenge becomes one of doing it too often, or going too far. Both of these undermine a balanced and long-term sustainable fitness plan.
Running’s Challenge to Overall Long-Term Fitness
For many guys, running feeds a “constantly more” urge. I ran five miles today…next week I’ll do six, then seven, etc. I ran X times this week…next week I’ll do X+1 times. Other fitness activities are susceptible to this, too, but I think running’s especially so.
I know, this is a “high class problem.” If more 40+ guys had it, life expectancies would be longer. But if you want to “double down” on fitness to feel great, look your best, keep getting happier, and live long…then the “run constantly more” syndrome is something to avoid.
⇒ Injury. For all but the most bio-mechanically blessed, running too frequently or too far is rough on feet, shins, knees, you name it. I’ve had a variety pack of these injuries over the years. It’s a rare runner who hasn’t.
⇒ Asymmetry. Running doesn’t provide all-over fitness. It hits calves and hamstrings hard; quads and glutes much less so. And for core and upper body, it does little. It also reduces flexibility if not accompanied by purposeful and faithful stretching (usually not the case).
⇒ Crowds out other activities that round-out fitness and overall wellness. That urge to run eight miles? You’re better off stopping after five and using the extra 20-30 minutes to stretch and do a little strength work. Default tendency to run as today’s workout? You’re often better off doing a different endurance activity or something focused on strength or flexibility.
So Why Not Quit Running Altogether?
Some people say running isn’t even in the “top few” fitness activities. I understand the logic. But I still run, and I think most other motivated guys should, too—especially if you love it, man.
1. Running is great, natural endurance exercise with major peace-of-mind benefits. It’s the original workout our ancestors did in pursuit of life-sustaining prey.
For me, running invokes a deep inner sense of authenticity and when I run, I feel like a man in his natural state. This is no small benefit, with the crush of modernity all around us. Note: I have a bias against treadmill running, and though some of this post applies to it, I’m really talking here about running on roads and, even better, trails.
2. It’s a great way to spend healthy time with family, friends, co-workers…or your dog. Or use it as your “fortress of solitude.” I like running with my dog because it’s a hybrid between being alone (to think and clear my head) and having companionship.
3. When managed effectively, the “constantly more” syndrome is a great motivator. Ran a 5K and now motivated to run the next one faster, or train for a 10K? This kind of motivation, even inspiration, is the secret sauce for staying fit while some other guys fatten up and slow down.
4. Running is 100% portable fitness. Anywhere, anytime. On business trips and vacations. Off hours when the gym is closed.
Solution: Set Limits to Get the Right Amount of a Good Thing
Last year, I repeated a pattern I often have: push up to 10+ mile runs, let running crowd out the strength work I tend to make second fiddle…and then start to feel the negative side effects (this time around, a knee issue).
So, I decided to set these explicit limits for myself:
⇒ Don’t run more than twice a week (that doesn’t mean only two endurance workouts a week—there are other great options, including swimming which is a great complement to running).
⇒ Don’t run farther than 10K (6.2 miles). Take time I’d use to run incremental miles above that, and use it for strength and/or flexibility work instead.
How’s the new approach going? I’m not sure yet.
As I work my way back from the knee problem, running four or five miles still feels good and like “enough.” When I get up to that 10K level is when the “constantly more” urge will be something to overcome.
I also haven’t yet been somewhere where there’s a “killer, you gotta do this” route that requires more mileage. I’ll figure out what to do when that presents itself. As with the rest of life, this “limits” approach will be a work-in-process.
But most weeks going forward, I’m sticking to 10K and under. With your thriving in mind, fellow running guys, I suggest you consider this as well!
“Lately I’ve been running on faith. What else can a poor boy do?” (Eric Clapton, Running on Faith – click to listen)