I’ve read a few articles, including this one, lately about why running is a terrible exercise and I was incensed, upset and disagreeable afterwards. Some extolled the virtues of another sport in the process but then I got thinking, running isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. I also watched Nova’s Marathon Challenge and that message sunk in. But at the same time the idea that running is the best, and sometimes only, way to loose weight is still very much out there. So here we are here is my why running isn’t a good sport post but written by a runner. But if you do want to loose weight and become a runner, read on, this post is also an outline to get you there in a balanced and realistic way.
Throughout this post I’ll be ‘picking on’ a hypothetical woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall and 180 lb and needs 2100 calories to maintain this weight. She would be considered obese but just barely. This woman is of average height a little heavier than the US average of 167 lb who is quite overweight. Our hypothetical lady would need to loose 40 lb to be considered of normal weight with a BMI of 24. I’ll be comparing that to a 125 lb. woman of 5 foot 4 with a BMI of 21.5 who needs 1700 calories a day to maintain her weight if both are lightly active. All of the calculations were done using this popular site so feel free to check for your own dimensions.
It doesn’t really burn that many calories
Don’t get me wrong it burns more calories than most other exercises per unit of time and weight but if you are somewhat unfit and have quite a lot of weight to loose you can’t do it for that long. I would also argue that any sport that burns more calories can only be done for less time. If you can’t spend A LOT of time doing a particular exercise it won’t be a significant calorie burner.
I made this chart as a way to compare effort and calories burned. Just as a point of comparison for the speeds listed running 5.2 mph (or 8.3 km/hr) is about my regular old running speed and 6.7 mph (or 10.7 km/hr) is my 5k and 10k race pace my current half marathon pace is in between. So I can hold 6.7 mph for about an hour when racing and 5.2 mph for about 2 and a half hours, but that took years to get there and I’m still not fast! My fastest race times put me in about the 30th percentile so I’m not about to win! If doing jumping jacks for an hour straight seems impossible to you it might be best to start with walking. Aim for as vigorous a pace as possible. One of my fit running friends and I used to walk together when running would make us to sweaty at work and we would hit 4.3 mph walking! Perhaps work up to running from there. The real key to turning exercise into pounds lost is the time you spend on you feet!
It can be hard on you body
Each and every runner can expect to spend weeks or longer out with an injury every 800 miles or about once a year. The number of injuries is higher if you are heavier or inexperienced. Several of the runners in the documentary I mentioned experienced injuries, two were told by the doctors to stop running because of it. The key difference between running and walking is that when walking part of one foot is always on the ground. When running for part of each stride you’re airborne. That feels amazing but the forces involved in landing multiply your body weight by at least a factor of 10 (on flat ground). Those landing forces can play havoc on your feet, hips, bones and yes your knees. Since you never leave the ground when walking your never landing with more force than your own weight, which is most often distributed between your two feet.
So if you have weight to loose consider walking until you get closer to your goal. When your ready, try some running but if you start to feel pain while running or after, even in the slightest, return to walking for 5 more pounds or at least 4 weeks. That lowers your landing force by over 50 lb and then try again.
Running can be intimidating
I get that I’m part of the problem here. I can look like one of those runners out there and I’m sorry. When I lived in my old neighbourhood there was this fast runner chick that I sort of hated even though I never met her. She ran in tight short shorts, a matching sports bra, full makeup in the middle of the day and had a perfect ponytail swing. I however ran in old boxers and a tee, with no make-up at 6am before I brushed my hair. This chick looked like she could cause a traffic jam and I looked like I might need spare change, and that sort of made me want to run her over. I’m sorry about that too by the way.
Now I just realize she was a grown up and I was a grad student. Now that I’m a grown up too I have to fit running into my schedule where I can too. Often that means I have to adult in the morning and then again in the evening which leads to running in done hair and make-up. Pro-tip: blotting papers and dry shampoo make this more than possible. It also means that I can’t smell terrible after so limiting sweat is of top priority. That’s where the tech gear and few articles of cute clothing win over modesty and cheapness. Plus at some point every runner gets a ‘real’ running item as a gift and all of a sudden gets why tech gear is a real thing. Double dressing is something I do, so tight wins over loose and baggy. I often teach one class, strip off into the back seat of my car, run, redress and then off to teach again. Check this out for warm weather running tips.
I’m also pretty darn fit and very thin while I’m doing this. And since honey got tiered of my mix and match running gear and bought me all sorts of new stuff I match too. Watching someone or lots of someones like me run by can give you the idea that unless your polished, matching and thin you’re not a runner. Add in the fact that we’re always glancing at out fancy tech watches now and we can make you feel like you can’t join. That is not the case and we welcome everyone in the sport but get a good tech tee you’ll thank me later. If you do get out there (even as a walker) we’ll smile and nod or wave when we see you! In the meantime walking is a great way to get out there get fit and loose some weight and it is definitely WAY less intimidating. When you’re ready to start check this out for how.
Runger and Runchies is a real thing
An intense sort of hunger that occurs after a long or hard run. You can’t help but stuff your face with whatever isn’t nailed down. This phenomenon leads some to GAIN weight during marathon training.
I don’t necessarily experience runger after a regular old run like my 6k this evening that being said I did come home and eat three pieces of bread with hummus, the disappointing amount of fro-yo left (3 spoonfuls) and I could eat now. But… remember when your starting 3k will feel like my 9 k run. True runger can not be denied! It leads me to weird food combinations and embarrassing you ate all that moments. After a 15 km long run runner once led me to eating veggie burgers from the side of a bubble bath another time eating uncut plain bagels while cooking pasta dinner and ordering desert.
I have runner friends that have been known to skip marathons in a particular year because they don’t want to gain weight. That’s right spending 4 months running 900 km, to train for a 42 km race is a recipe for WEIGHT GAIN! Less intense exercise, even if done for longer doesn’t seem to trigger runchies to the same extent. I also find it sort of lingers for the rest of the day too. If you want to combat this plan your after run/walk/exercise session meal and have it prepared. Perhaps consider scheduling your it later in the day too if you find intense and lasting hunger to be a problem for you.
It can tucker you out in a big way
Now this one is the opposite of my problem, this girl doesn’t really go to sleep. Part of the reason I started running was a futile attempt to tucker myself out by the end of the day. But for a lot of people running on the regular makes them non-functional sleepy. More so than other types of physical activity can, even vigorous activity. It is certainly the exercise but also the fresh air, the sweating getting cold then warm again and anything but perfect weather just adds to it. Mentally it’s tiering too especially when you’re a new runner. It’s normal to focus on how hard it is, how much it hurts and beat up on yourself which can also leave you mentally tiered. I imagine it’s only worse if you have weight to loose since your doing even more work. If you want to give it a try check out how to running start slowly and what might happen if you don’t. It does get better as you get fitter, lighter and adapt to it but if after a week or two your so tiered it’s interfering with your life return to walking for a while.
Truthfully loosing weight is done in the kitchen
I’ve heard different splits like 70/30 to 90/10 but either way most of the work you do loosing weight is done in the kitchen. What you put in has a much bigger effect than what you burn off. Traditional thinking states that there are 3500 calories in a pound, which I’ve found to be pretty accurate. Doctors agree that you can safely loose one pound a week or two if you have over 50 points to loose. If we pick on our 180 lb lady again if she cut her calories to her goal weight among she would loose almost a pound a week (0.8 actually). She would have to run 4 miles, 5 times a week (45 minuets) to loose the same amount, or walk for an hour.
Truthfully loosing or maintaining my weight isn’t my first second or even third reason for staying fit. But for a lot of people it’s reason number one. I’m not claiming to be a dietician or weight loss guru but… I watched my dad struggle and ultimately loose his battle with excess weight. So I know a lot of diets out there are doomed to fail from day one. Because I know people aren’t great at change I like the idea of only doing it once and that’s it. Why not just eat the number of calories you need to maintain for your goal weight and do it forever, done. Sure the weight will come off slower but to me that is the very definition of a lifestyle change. Here’s a post I wrote on how to know if you’re on a ‘bad’ diet.
An hour long walk three times a week will get you to meeting your healthy living guidelines, increase your cardiovascular health, help you live longer and spend your last years living and enjoying life. The average Canadian spends their last 8 years living with profound disease, the best way to shorten this is to stay active throughout your life. The other side of the story is that walking three times a week for an hour adds up to a pound lost every four weeks at 180 lbs and every month at 125 lbs. Either way that’s about 110 calories a day or two apples, a SMALL (4.5 oz) glass of wine or 3 Caramilk squares a day. Not a whole lot!
So what is the takeaway? Is running a good sport?
Short answer, yes. Does it help you loose weight? again yes. But no more so than any other vigorous exercise. You burn a lot of calories in a short time but if you are overweight and unfit you can’t do it for very long. Plus after you loose weight the number of calories you need drops but getting fitter increases your basic metabolic rate and that gives you a bit more flexibly.
Is it a magic bullet? No. The idea that running is the only or even best way to loose weight is just a myth. It is not true that running is a sure bet to make the pounds melt off. We even see that many runners training for marathons actually gain weight.
Is it bad for you? No. It won’t kill your knees or cripple you in some way. Knee problems and the braces that go with them are on the rise but that is most directly correlated with increased body weight. In fact recent studies show that lifetime runners have way less knee problems later in life. They are also less likely to have arthritis and osteoporosis. That’s true but knee injuries are the most common injury in runners. It’s actually pretty easy to see where this comes from. Twenty to thirty years ago doctors operated on runner’s knee and not only did it not help it often made it worse. My yoga teacher, aunt and uncle have the scars to prove it. Now we know that the best action is no action, not everyone can stay running but for almost all people the best treatment is nothing (or just physio.)
Is it good for you? No, it’s actually great for you. Running is proven to fight depression as well as therapy or medication, boost your mood, increase your life span and make you happier with life. So as you read these running is bad, the worst sport you can do articles take them with a grain of salt. It’s a cheap sport you can do whenever, wherever and get in a wicked hard workout where ever you are. When you want to do it in a big or organized way and race it’s one of the best experiences you can have. Follow to make sure you don’t miss an upcoming post on what to expect from your first road race.
If you’re a runner do these ‘running is bad’ articles make you smad (sad and mad) too? Is there a reason I missed why running isn’t the best for loosing weight?