Ask any marathoner—in other words, ask just about anyone—and you’ll get why running has become so popular. It feels natural, it requires minimal equipment and setup time, and perhaps best of all, it inspires a feeling of solidarity. Burpees with friends? No thanks. But running with friends is fun, and running a race with friends can make the difference between pushing to the finish line and pooping out.
But are the fitness benefits really there? And is it worth wrecked knees? I think it’s time we break down the pros, cons and twisted ankles of running, starting with my own cautionary tale…
I took up running about six months ago. It was for a good reason: everyone else was doing it. I wanted to try something new and it seemed like a good sport to test-drive. I could piggyback on my friends’ workouts and all I needed were some running shoes—which I happened to already have.
So I laced ’em up and off I went.
After a month or two of running almost every day, I was stoked about the results. My endurance had improved and so had my asthma. I started to feel more in tune with my body. And I started to feel a sense of camaraderie with my neighbors as I joined the herd loping around the park across the street from my house.
These people looked fit and happy and their stride seemed so effortless. It pushed me to keep going. My gait was improving and running was indeed getting easier. Soon I ditched my iPod shuffle because I wanted to be present in the experience, which was becoming sort of cathartic.
By spring (around month four), people started to comment that I’d really slimmed down. Pro: I lost weight. Con: It was muscle weight. I was slender before and just wanted to tone up and get strong, but now I looked like scrawny. My once-cute summer dresses drowned me like paisley hospital gowns, gaping open at the chest, with shapeless arms and legs (and armpit flab) dangling out. Sorry to be so graphic, but it must be said. I didn’t look very good.
On top of all that, my joints hurt. When I started cycling again in the spring, I could feel that something was up with my knees and hips.
I know what you’re thinking! “She should have been doing strength training too.” But I was! Maybe I just wasn’t eating enough to prevent my body from burning up muscle for energy.
As for the sore joints, I was doing an active warm-up and cool-down with plenty of stretching, so I didn’t really get it. I avoided the “rookie” running mistakes. Maybe my gait was wrong, or my shoes, and I probably should’ve started with a trainer. But most people start running the same way I did.
So, is pounding the pavement really all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe it depends on your body type and the strength of your joints. I know lots of exercise physiologists who run, and doctors, and athletes. Many runners are strong and in great shape.
For me, I am a “hard-gainer” and plain ‘ol cardio is clearly not my path to getting toned and strong. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I’ll probably keep running for endurance and “head-clearing” on active rest days, but my focus will be on strength training this summer. I’ll face the blood-sweat-and-tears HIIT workouts, and just hope that no one catches me doing sumo squats in my train cabin.
What’s your take on running? Does it work for you?