For the majority of my life, I’ve used running as a means to stay fit, play sports, or just to mindlessly sweat for a good 30 or 40 minutes. I played sports throughout high school and the first part of university before a back injury sidelined me permanently. At that time, running was a piece of basketball, rugby, football, and street hockey. I never played ice hockey as I am probably one of the few Canadians who never learned how to skate. I’m pretty sure by uttering that statement out loud I’ll lose my citizenship unless I immediately follow up by screaming “GET R DONE, MAPLE SYRUP, WHERE’S YOUR TOQUE, EH?”
When in university, running was a form of cardio, plus just staying warm. The downside is I hate running outside and always tended to gravitate to treadmills, especially when it dropped to -40 outside and spending more than 5 minutes outdoors ensured the loss of bodyparts to frost bite.
The treadmills were always doable, but when I was working out at the University of Alberta gym, they had time limits and sign up sheets. Every now and then I would get a tap on the shoulder from someone informing me that my time was up, and once even had someone wearing a Harvard Business School shirt stand right beside my treadmill, look at the clock, and at exactly 3:20, reached over and hit the stop button on the machine while I was in mid interval to inform me he was next and my time was up. I looked at him with the closest thing to “I’m going to wear your skin like a coat to keep me warm in January” look I had, he stared back unblinking and defiant, and I decided that rather than facing an assault charge from someone in Edmonton on daddy’s dime, it would be best to acquiesce. He then decided to walk – actually, amble would be a better term – while reading a copy of the Financial Times. I headed to the squat rack and decided to scare small children.
Aside from the occasional douche-canoe run in, running for me has primarily been a solitary venture. Sure there were the odd charity 5k races that I would do with clients or friends to have a social outing, but as anyone can tell you doing these are less than optimal for running, since you’re usually more like swimming up stream with salmon than having a moment of clarity, especially when they’re also walking their dogs and kids in strollers.
In a zig zag pattern.
Aside from these, running for me was more of something I felt obligated to do versus enjoyed. I hate running. I did it because for years I ran a boot camp through the Edmonton River Valley and had to run to stay up with the group, especially when we would go from one park to another, run stairs, sprint hills, and then do pushups until people felt their faces explode.
I just never enjoyed a minute of it.
There was a time when I ran a lot, up to 4 times a week for the better part of a year. This was in the lead up to my first trip to Mexico, and being a classic meat head, I figured I should get lean and ripped and stuff. I ran a lot and ate next to no cookies, which for anyone who knows me understands that this is a big step. I managed to get pretty strong on the run, getting my 5 km time down to about 25 minutes, which is pretty good for someone who outweighs most runners by over 70 lbs.
The run program worked. I dropped from 230 lbs down to 216 at my lowest, 3 days before going to Cancun. I looked terrible though. I had lost most of my muscle definition, and just left me smaller and much tighter than before.
My theory with running is that you can’t have too much flexibility to do it well. Your SI joints, low back, ankles, and knees have to be stiff enough to allow impact transfer through the body without creating shear forces at the joints, or you will wind up using active force producing tissues as passive supportive tissues. This could be where things like tendinitis and bursitis come in, when tissues have to pull double duty and become fatigued.
I have a lot of mobility through my SI joints and ankles from previous injuries, and as a result running consistently left me with sore ankles, plantar fasciitis, low back tension and hip flexor irritation. As much fun as it was to make sweet hot monkey love to my foam roller on a regular basis I had better uses for my time than trying to recover enough to run again, only to spend more time on recovery.
This is in no way meant to dissuade those who enjoy running from partaking. I’m all for doing what you love, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I mean, running has some amazing camaraderie among runners, especially those who run competitively or semi-competitively. Your social standing is essentially determined in the running community by your PR time. Some would even say it’s a socioeconomic thing, as pointed out by THIS ARTICLE by Daniel Duane. In it, he points out how professionals in careers like medicine, finance, and other considered “high society” fields would trend towards running as their preferred activities, whereas weight lifting would be considered not as socially beneficial. Whether this is true or not is arguable, but it is an interesting correlation.
Additional to this is a lot of research showing how we are able to run, and designed to allow for more endurance based activities than other members of the animal kingdom. Marlene Zuk, an evolutionary biologist who authored Paleo Fantasy: What Evolution Really tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live noted that humans have adaptations like sweat glands to improve heat dissipation, mitochondria in higher density to allow for greater aerobic power and endurance, and the ability to sustain effort for longer durations than other animals, who after a sprint would then need to rest. Running and other endurance based activities are a good thing.
Many runners pride themselves on completing feats of endurance such as marathons, ultra-marathons (for those who find regularly running 42 km too quick and easy), death races (because, you know, death), and Ironman triathlons as a testament to their iron will, personal strength, and available free time to spend 3-16 hours racing.
As much fun as I am sure it is to apply nip guard and chamois cream, lose toe nails, and run out of carbs 10 km away from the finish line, it’s not something that endures my emotions makes me get all twitterpated. Now, lifting something heavy and throwing something at or over something else, that does the trick.
There’s also a massive host of benefits to running, but also through all types of cardio activity. From calorie burning, to maintaining good cardiopulmonary function and elasticity, to improving recovery between heavy sets and workouts, there’s no denying it can be beneficial to work in longer duration and short interval training. For me, I really enjoy getting this from a bike versus from a run.
I bike in to work every day that the weather cooperates. That gives me a good 40 minutes each day of cardio, where I’m suffering trying to keep up with Edmonton traffic while dodging pot holes.
I grew up riding a mountain bike, in the mountain bike capital of Canada, Rossland, British Columbia. Here’s a clip of some of the places that Rossland boasts, and if anyone’s interested in going there, it’s a short drive north of Spokane, Washington and offers awesome adventures for any season.
I was never as good as these guys, but it was still awesome to have this right out my back door. I used to bike on my paper route every day, plus head out on weekends with friends to some of the easier pathways. When I moved to Edmonton, a bike was my mode of transportation when I wasn’t heading to University as the bus was a lot quicker and safer. Edmonton is still trying to figure out bike lanes, which is somewhat sad 10 years later. On weekends, I would still venture out to explore the river valley, at a rate of speed 3-4 times faster than running.
Every now and then Lindsay and I may head out to Jasper, Alberta, or maybe Banff or Canmore, bring our bikes, and hit up some trails to get in some good views and activity. If we didn’t bring our bikes, we’ll hike trails like the Lake Louise tea houses.
Teaching Lindsay, a Saskatchewan farm girl how to curb hop, stump jump and drift corners was definitely a fun time and a true testament to my skills as a teacher. She managed to get the basic skills down pretty well in a short period of time.
Running was good for a while, but then it left much to be desired for me. Between the soreness, the time, the sucktitude at which I run, and the desire to do other things, I’m thinking it’s going to be something that isn’t a regular occurrence for me any more. I may still run occasionally to get in some sprints, but otherwise I’m pretty sure I’m going to be hanging up my runners.
I’ll still be focusing a lot on weight lifting, as that seems to be more of what I enjoy, what gets me the results I want, and isn’t leaving me hating life as much as running, plus I can still bike myself silly to get in the cardio benefit I need.
The big goal with any kind of fitness it to enjoy it enough to want to do it again tomorrow. If what you’re currently doing doesn’t seem to be sparking a desire in you, there’s no problem looking to do something else, and in fact it may be the piece of the puzzle that winds up getting you the best results you always wanted.
Change is the only constant in life, and it speaks true in fitness as well. After 20 years of consistent-ish running, I’m calling it quits.