In Defence Of Runners: Five Running Myths Dispelled

25 Jan

I have noticed a very strange phenomenon. When I tell people that I am a runner, many of them – all non-runners, of course – go to great lengths to tell me how bad running is for me. I’m never too sure why this is. The subject usually comes up in the course of natural conversation. It’s not like I walk into a room full of strangers and blurt out, “Hey, guess what, everyone? I run!!!” I make it a point not be all preachy about it, and I never criticize the lifestyle choices of other people. There’s no reason for anyone to get defensive about their choice not to run. So why do many non-runners feel the need to try and get me to give up my evil running ways?

There is a lot of misinformation out there where running is concerned. Today I want to dust off my soapbox and hop on, if not to convince more people to at least give running a try, then at least to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Running is bad for your heart.
This myth is undoubtedly fuelled by the tragic and widely publicized deaths of runners participating in marathons and half-marathons. In the last half-marathon I ran, a 26-year-old man in apparent good health collapsed and died on the home stretch to the finish line. It is beyond sad, and these incidents can be alarming. But one only has to take a look at the numbers to know that the risk is very low. Out of almost eleven million marathon and half-marathon participants in the United States from 2000 to 2010, there were 42 fatal heart attacks. This translates to one death for every 259,000 runners – about half of the death rate from heart attacks in the general population. In other words, from a purely statistical standpoint, people who run are less likely to suffer cardiac arrest than people who don’t.

Myth #2: Running is bad for your knees.
Arguments in favour of this myth seem solid. When you consider the fact that the knees take a force of about eight times a runners’ bodyweight with each strike of the foot, it seems reasonable to conclude that wear and tear would ultimately win out. However, a number of recent studies suggest that not only does running not harm the joints, it may in fact help them. A person’s chances of developing arthritis or some other problem with their joints does not appear to be connected with whether or not they have run. I know many people who are still running well beyond their 70th birthdays with no ill effects to their knees, and I know people who have never run who have had knee problems.

Myth #3: Running doesn’t actually help you lose weight.
This myth is driven by some scientific algorithm I don’t understand that dictates what intensity of exercise makes you burn fat and what doesn’t. Whenever I try to read the theories surrounding this, my eyes glaze over, so all I can really go by is my own experience. When I took up running again after a break of about seven years, I was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds. I was heavier than I had ever been in my entire life – and that included either of my two pregnancies. From the time I started running again until the time I ran my first half-marathon for autism – a period of about six months – I managed to shed about fifty pounds. My diet did not change significantly during that time – it was all down to the running.

Myth #4: It’s not safe for a woman to run on her own.
This really depends on a number of factors, like location, time of day, time of year, and so on. It is true that runners – women and men – need to consider safety when they are running. This topic is broad enough to merit its own blog post, but there are things that runners can do to ensure their safety. Some basic precautions are: be aware of your surroundings, know the area you are running in, make sure someone knows what route you are taking, stick to the beaten track, and make sure you have a means of communication with you, whether it’s a cell phone or quarters for a phone booth.

Myth #5: Running is boring.
I suppose for some people it might be. For me – and I daresay for most dedicated runners – there is far too much going on for boredom to set in. There’s all the clichéd stuff about trees and birds and fresh air – and there is merit to that. Early morning running in particular can be spectacular from an at-one-with-nature point of view. I love the feeling of running before the rest of the world gets going, when it’s only me, the open road, and the sunrise to which I am invariably treated. The air is clean early in the morning, before the traffic comes along to muck it up, and the sounds of nature are pure and beautiful. And quite apart from all of that, when I run I can I focus on all that is going on with my body. My heart race, my pace, how my legs are feeling. I take stock, re-evaluate, re-strategize, decide whether to speed up or slow down or throw in a burst of sprinting. I can marvel at what the running is doing for my mental health – the endorphin rush that gives a natural high, the stress relief, the fact that unlike the times spent at home, when I’m running I can actually start a thought and see it through to completion.

Do you run? Do you have strong feelings about running, either for it or against it? Have you come across any other myths about running?

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2 Responses to “In Defence Of Runners: Five Running Myths Dispelled”

  1. DrRachelRuns January 25, 2012 at 9:35 PM #

    Thanks for your comments. When I tell people I’m a runner, I usually hear one of these myths. They simply aren’t true. Running is the best. One that I get a lot as a female runner – “running is not ladylike” or “running will make your boobs sag”.

  2. Lanie Litwin January 26, 2012 at 1:00 PM #

    I don’t run (tragic (tongue-in-cheek) incident at the 1/2 marathon at Disney) however, my husband started as just a runner, then went in for tri-athalons, now he wants to transition to Ultra Marathons. So we are used to all the strange looks, and stupid comments. We haven’t developed a standard off-the-cuff smart ass response yet, but we are working on it. LOL!! Good luck with the running! My husbands favorite running quote from a running club…..if you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch and don’t bark…..or something like that.

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