The Pros and Cons of Running

If I were more famous I’d confidently state that I famously am not a fan of running.

It’s not that I don’t like it for everyone, I just don’t enjoy it myself.

I’ve never been a very successful runner. I’ve never gotten a runner’s high. And my approach to running once-in-a-very-infrequent-while typically leaves my joints and my soul feeling achy and beat up after distances that most people would consider a warm-up.

But while it’s very easy for my personal experience to cloud my ability to enthusiastically recommend running, I have observed enough people who benefit from putting in the miles to be convinced that there is a legitimate upside to pounding the pavement.

So with the Boston Marathon (more on this later) in the recent rearview, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of running.

Hopefully you will get some insight into how to best incorporate some running into your overall training plan if that is something you’ve been resisting. And, perhaps more importantly, how to avoid some of the pitfalls that overly enthusiastic runners can tumble into.

Pro: Running is involved in many, many sports.

It’s tough to argue that the vast majority of sports – particularly team sports – involve a component of running.

From the short sprints of the basketball court to the full field runs on the soccer pitch, there are plenty of sports that not only include running, but the team that has the best running skill and capacity ends up with a great advantage.

This is particularly true at the lower levels (such as middle school or high school) where the team with better conditioning, rather than superior skills or strategy, can outwork and outperform their counterparts.

It’s tough to stop an opponent that keeps coming at you. And often a key to that relentlessness is the ability to keep running.

Con: Running over-enthusiasm

Runners love running. In fact, they love it so much that they will pile on mile after mile after mile without much regard for the damage that they are doing to themselves. Then, once they do feel that damage, they run some more.

Sure, anyone who is passionate about any activity can have a tendency to over do it. But runner’s take this shit to a new level. Often to the determinant of their health, fitness goals and, ultimately and ironically, their ability to continue running.

Outside of, perhaps, dancers, I haven’t come across any group of athletes who will push their bodies to the point of broken the way that many runners do. And the only impetus to address it is when they are so injured they can’t run at all.

If you are a runner, I implore you to resist the urge to let your addiction lead you to a breaking point. Follow a sensible program, alter your mileage and, like my good friend Jess Movold advises, make the majority of your runs “easy runs” – even easier than you think they should be.

It’s hard to rack up miles if you can’t stay on the road.

Pro: Running is great for fat loss.

While I fully believe that nothing trumps nutrition when it comes to weight loss, I do think that when choosing a “cardio” activity to assist the cause, it is very difficult to beat running.

Sure, there are other modalities that are absolutely equivalent to running when it comes to building aerobic capacity (rowing, fan bikes and swimming come to mind) but I do think running has them beat if you are trying to torch fat.

The reason for this is simple if not entirely obvious. With running you have to manage and overcome your body weight. Swimming in water or sitting on a rower or Echo bike mitigates your bodyweight and I believe that difference does add up.

Sure, running is not the only activity that satisfies this demand. Step mills (that rotating “stairway to nowhere” you see at the gym), Jacob’s Ladder and weighted sleds will provide the same effect. But to utilize them you have to schlep your butt to the gym and be willing to endure the mind-numbing 40 minute slow climb. With running you get to be amongst the trees.

Con: Marathons

I’m no scholar in the history of running but somewhere along the way recreational runners (and people who enjoy making bucket lists) have eschewed the mile, the 5k and other great distances in order to focus on the marathon.

I get it. Running 26 plus miles sounds impressive. And even if you finish in a less than competitive time, you’d still be well within your rights to brag about it to your co-workers as you stand around the water cooler on your blistered feet come Monday morning.

However, in general, the marathon is not a great target for the vast majority of people who are looking to be more fit and active for general health or body composition goals. The amount of time and dedication needed to appropriately train for a marathon precludes people from balancing their training with other important, non-running activities.

At best this robs you of the ability to get stronger, work on various energy systems and develop a variety of important movement patterns. At worst, the focus on a single modality for long distances puts you on the fast track to injury.

If you are truly drawn to the marathon distance, by all means don’t let me stop you. But if it’s just a passing fancy and something you think would be cool to simply “check off your list” I’d advise that you think twice before lacing up your soon-to-be well-worn running shoes.

Pro: Community

Let’s end on a high note. On the surface, running seems like a solitary activity. When you think of runners, the image of the lone runner on a long, winding empty road is a popular one.

But the truth is, the running community is a wonderfully strong one. You can see this at the expos, meets, races and running teams that prevail throughout the dedicated running world.

And it is my belief that nothing will drive up your enjoyment of any type of training more than doing it alongside passionate, like-minded people.

Will I become an avid runner any time soon? Who knows. I might just surprise you. I do embrace taking on a challenge.

Maybe I’ll run a marathon. And do it really, really fast.

Then, maybe, finally, I’ll be famous.