Run the Risk

Every so often a discussion arises debating the safety of running or if not a discussion, then a defensive reaction by non-runners. They cite the dangers of high-impact activity and all the stories they’ve heard from others regarding exercise based injuries or mishaps. And they aren’t all wrong, but certainly not all right either. I speak from the experience of my currently injured state.

I’ve heard a good deal of running defense based on unresearched anthropological perceptions of early humans running down prey and living to tell the stories. I find it amusing that in no way would we be able to gather data on what happened to their bodies after such supposedly inherent running efforts. Did land based people get shin splints? Did they get tendonitis or rupture their achilles? Did they suffer from stress fractures? Who knows. But still, runners like to cite the inherent natural dynamics of running, as has been so aptly put that we were “Born to Run” (That’s Springsteen’s version, not McDougall’s). But what does that mean exactly?

Recentely, it has meant that we are to throw away our protective foot covers and go barefoot, bounding across the idyllic plains of our birthright, well, in actuality, go plodding up our asphalt rail trails. Because apparently that’s “natural”. Still, runners like to think our sport is the most pure of all efforts and any injuries are due to shoes being either too bulky, or too minimalist, or simply due to our shoes period. And granted, our shoes, or lack thereof may contribute to the many injuries that runners tend to sustain, but how often have to stopped to consider that maybe it’s not running itself that is so unnatural, but maybe the WAY we run. And I’m not necessarily speaking biomechanically.

Entertaining the idea that humans are “Born to Run”, it follows that we have legs that propel us forward and our bodies adapt in various ways, sometimes allowing us to run further or faster than other humans. Fine. But put our ability to run in the context of civilization and all its motivations, specialized labor, competitive dynamics, etc. etc., and our ability to run is shaped in a way that really doesn’t mimic any sort of idyllic, anthropologically based, instinctual running past. Show me the evidence that land based peoples ran for at least an hour to two hours each and every day and rotated bouts of speedwork, hill running, tempo runs and carbohydrate depleting long runs…and then we’ll have a good discussion. I don’t buy it though. My awareness is that earlier peoples ran out of necessity or the context that is in no way parallel to ours. Sure, they ran, but not in the way we do. And that is where I believe so many of our injuries are sustained, in the way we run, not in the inherent act of running.

I’m always amazed when we break down running into a ratio of time spent per day. Excluding the ocassional long run, MOST competitive runners (those of us with full-time jobs, kids, spouses, obligations, etc.) spend about an hour to an hour and a half every day running. That’s it. Not much. Considering we spend 8 hours a day working, running is a drop of activity in our daily bucket. Sure, some elites put in a second run, or even a third, but most of us do not have that sort of time. But even so, that small amount of time we spend running takes its toll on our body, no matter what shoes we wear or don’t wear, and not because we are running, but rather the way in which we run.

Even building my muscles and systems up over the past three years is no defense from the strain that I put on my body during that hour or so each day, because what I do is really not “natural” (in the shallow sense of the word). What I do during that hour or so is stress the hell out of my body, hoping only to stress it to a point where it will recover sufficiently in the time that I’m not stressing it, but spend enough time without recovery built in and you run yourself right into injury, even if it’s only an hour a day. That’s all it takes.

All this is to say that running isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s simply risky. In my current experience, I lost at the risk and am currently paying the price for running outside of my body’s current state of evolutionary progress. I overstepped the bounds and was reeled back by the simple physical processes of recovery. So yeah, let’s add some levity to the debate here. Running is good for you. It’s valuable. And I think most people that run from time to time are doing a great service to their quality of life, but let’s also not deny that the way we currently run makes it a risky endeavor. The rewards are greater and more consistent for sure, but be careful. Run smart and know your limitations. I know I’ve been put in check for, if nothing else, running past the risk.


The re-recovery plan as of now. Continue to rest from running. Get back on the bike and ride the hell out of it for hours on end. Take large doses of ibuprofen a few times a day. Massage and ice.

I’m also going to start visiting ProWellness Chiropractic (see links bar/sponsors page) for an assessment on possible chiropractic work along with massage therapy. I have high hopes that this will help my situation for sure.

I’m also debating meeting with St. Vincent Sports Medicine to get an indepth analysis of my injury, what caused it, and further prevention methods.

Regardless, I’m off the trails for now.


3 responses to “Run the Risk

  1. Gosh, I know how hard the last three or four posts have been for you to write, live, and experience through the nulls that are occurring. Ironically, they made me feel better because I was in the same situation– sidelined, seeing everyone else enjoy the weather, and knowing a faster May means nothing today.

    I’m slowing recovering from my stress fractures. Today I ran five miles in the morning and three in the afternoon nearly pain free. To get here meant missing a half marathon and a full marathon which I was excited about, but I was good and I’m now here. Which I hope is better.

    As for barefoot running. I’m done with that, eh. I ran 2.5 miles in my five fingers on a six minute pace (fast for me over that distance is probably 5:30) and that did it. I’d ran 21 miles in the five fingers below, but very slow. The trauma of the fastness, perhaps as you allude to– I don’t think my great grandfather 10,000 years ago was running six minute miles for 30 miles. He was probably running 12 – 14 minute miles for 50 miles, and then that, only a few times a month if that.

    Anyways… heal up and ride the shat out of that bike. Some elite triathlon coaches seem to say “bike fitness translates to run fitness but not the other way around,” so I’m betting it works..

  2. oh– could you do a blog post on what vitamins you take as a vegan? I’m one too as you know and wonder if my lack of calcium had something to do with the fractures and contributes to some muscle twitches. I probably should seek actual medical help but I’m afraid they’ll just tell me to eat meat and be done with it.

    I take a vegan (deva) multi vitamin, vegan glucosomine, and vegan calcium+magnesium pills.

    • Hey greg,

      Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I was actually coming up with a post to address your concerns, but couldn’t finish it. I’m just finding it too hard to concentrate or get enthused about anything else related to running while I’m unable to. Regardless, to answer your question…I don’t take any supplements aside from B12, which I take in a liquid oral form only every so often. This is the thing, if you eat a diet varied in vegetables, especially leafy greens or supplemented with tofu, soymilk, nuts, etc., then you really have no concern for calcium. It is plentiful in the vegan diet as long as you aren’t subsisting on twizzlers and bread. And if you are also taking supplements, I can’t imagine a calcium deficiency would be the problem, unless your body has some absorption problem, which wouldn’t just be a dietary fix. Regardless, I had x-rays a few months ago and I was told my bone density was “great” and that was generated without supplements, if that gives you any encouragement.

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