My running career began in grade six, I have very distinct memories of running cross country races with the school team. The sound of my shoes on the grass, the strong rhythmic beat of my heart, the sound of my breath echoing in my head, the smell of fall in the air... my brain's constant dialogue "when will this end? when will this end? its almost over, I think I see the end, I hate this". While, I enjoyed being part of a team and often enjoyed the natural settings we ran in, the actual running was torture. I could never convince myself that running was fun.
Fast forward to high school. I opted to take phys ed classes over the other choices of home economics, art, or physics. In fact, my grade 12 gym grade was what tipped my average higher allowing me to go to the University of my choice. One of the yearly requirements for our class was the 800m run around the track. Our high school gym track was in a hot, dusty field behind the school. All I truly remember of these runs is the nausea.
Over the years I have tried to implement distance running as part of my workout routine. Like many, I mistakenly thought that being able to run long distances was an indicator of good health, cardiovascular endurance and would inevitably allow me to shed those unwanted pounds I had gained during University and into my child bearing years.
My attempts at running often began in earnest as I tied on a new pair of running shoes and attempted a jog around the block. Most recently, I attempted the very popular C25K podcast program. I think I did week 1, day 1. But, alas it was never to be. I am not a runner. Shin splints, nausea, boredom, and my own mind's inability to push through the pain of a 20 minute run kept me from ever truly becoming a "runner".
My last attempt at a C25K was right before discovering Marks Daily Apple and the Primal Blueprint. After reading Mark's posts on Chronic Cardio, I realized that in order to have good cardio vascular health & endurance, lose weight, and build strength I did NOT need to pursue any sort of distance running. What a relief!
I've often wondered to myself how so many people could have it wrong? Especially those who struggle through their runs, or who are not naturally born to run. Why do they pursue this torturous exercise? (I do believe that some people are naturally adept at running, and truly do love to run, more later)
I think conventional wisdom has us duped again. Running has gained popularity for the very same reasons I thought I should be running. It is seen as the ultimate cardiovascular exercise and a great way to lose weight!
But, what about the long term? In my last post I spoke about WHY I eat the way I do, parent & live the way I do and why I exercise the way I do. For me, its about longevity. Its about preserving my body in a sustainable way so that I am as agile, fit & strong in my 60's as I am now, perhaps even stronger. I, for one, do not want to be dealing with osteoarthritis (caused by the repetitive impact of running), joint pain & tendinitis, runners knee, and plantar fasciitis as I age. I also do not want to be relegated to a regimen of anti inflammatory medication & physio therapy. Prevention is a key factor for me when longevity is taken into consideration.
So, why would I pursue an activity that I dislike in the name of good health especially taking the risk factors of injury and inflammation into consideration? That seems highly illogical. I can receive the same fat burning effects without the risk of injury or inflammation by choosing to walk a short hike, or walk my kids to school daily, or even spend a few hours housecleaning. Furthermore, I can receive the same, if not BETTER cardiovascular effects from doing 10 minutes of low impact hill sprints.
Maybe you are thinking I'm on to something here? Keep reading.
Instead of running, I ensure that I log approximately 3 hours of low level cardiovascular exercise into each week. To do this, I try to walk as much as possible, do household chores with a bit of speed, go hiking, bike riding, practice Vinyasa yoga, or play with my children.
Every 10 days - 2 weeks I try do some hill sprinting. In the winter I opt to do sprints on a stationary bicycle instead. It takes no longer than 10 minutes, is lots of fun, is challenging, and really gets the blood pumping. Add to this the many many benefits of sprinting such as promotion of fat loss, and building lean mass. Sprinting is a great way to break through those weight loss plateaus. To me, sprinting is the ideal replacement for long distance running.
Not convinced? For those of you who truly consider yourselves natural runners (I know you are out there, I live with one of you!), consider running barefoot or in minimalist shoes. This post is not meant to discourage those who truly do enjoy running and can do so with with minimal risk of injury. This post is meant to assure those of us who truly dislike distance running, who think they HAVE to run in order to be fit, lose weight, and have good cardiovascular health that there are other, safer, easier paths to fitness. This post for those who intend to complete a C25K program but can't seem to get past week 1. It is for those of us sitting on the couch holding our running shoes, contemplating that 15 minute jog around the block but just cannot seem to get the motivation to head out the door. Go for a walk around the block with your kids instead! Better yet, head to the park and play on the monkey bars.