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Friday, February 3, 2012

You run too much bro...

Several weeks ago I was reading the highly entertaining blog of my friend Patrick Sweeney.  If you haven't read it, you should check it out.  Patrick's accounts of his adventures as a Lunatic and elite racer are pretty epic. 

No shoes, no pants, no problem.

I was browsing a post about his trip to Austin to participate in the The Running Event expo with the folks at Luna Sandals when I came upon this jab: "Our closest competition at the expo was Invisible Shoes , they make a decent product but it's more of novelty huarache geared towards people who like to talk about running rather than actually do it."  The link in the underlined portion took readers to my website. 

Of course the jab was all in good fun.  I enjoyed it because it was a burn on many levels.  He's knocking my love of a certain company that sells you pieces of rubber on a string, along with my propensity to train for running by not running.  Well played hombre.  But, at least with respect to the running part, I take it as a compliment.

Although I had been running for several years before I read "Born to Run", I wasn't a very serious runner up until that point.  I wasn't at all fast, and I couldn't run very far.  I could hold my own up to the half marathon distance.  The stories from BTR inspired me to think that I could run a marathon, and even an ultra marathon (both of which I did).  Particularly what inspired me were stories of seemingly ordinary folks who took up running and began to run vast distances effortlessly and with an abundant sense of freedom, strength, and joy.  That inspiration swept me into signing up for several marathons, which I trained for using the traditional plan.  I ran, and then I ran some more.

But as I built up my mileage, I never felt like the characters in BTR.  As I neared those critical 20 mile long runs, I didn't feel exuberant.  I felt run down and tired.  I didn't feel strong.  I felt weaker than ever.  I didn't feel free.  I felt locked into a training plan that required me to spend increasingly more time away from my family.  And even though I had converted to barefoot running, the sanctuary of the injury-free, I was always injured.  In three years of traditional marathon training, I was injured to the point where I couldn't run at all four times. 

Maybe the real secret to ultra running is doing it in a cool robe.

Recently I've been looking around at the facebook pages, dailymile accounts, blogs and whatnot of my running friends and I've been noticing something.  A lot of you folks are feeling the same way as I did.  Barefooters and shod runners alike.  You're just going from one injury to another.  You are worn down and tired.  You don't feel strong.  And at all different levels...from 5k runners up through ultra marathon runners.  What is the deal here?  Aren't humans supposed to be born to do this stuff?  Some scientist dude in BTR said so!

Ahhh yes...Dr. Lieberman's running man theory.  The idea that we evolved to chase for hours antelopes until they collapsed in a heap.  I'm not debating the whole running man theory.  I think it's a plenty convincing.  Here's my question for you folks:

Do you think that primitive man ran 100 mile weeks?

Or 60 mile weeks?  Or even 40 mile weeks?  Did they even run regularly?

BTR did an outstanding job of portraying runners who performed incredible endurance feats.  What it left out was what happened when they weren't doing those things.  When the Tarahumara weren't running across the Copper Canyon, they weren't out running two-a-days and trying to hit mileage goals.  They were sitting around drinking pinole and fucking each others' wives.  When primitive man wasn't chasing antelopes across the plains, he was probably sleeping.  Or eating.  Or screwing.  Okay...probably mostly screwing.  We didn't get to the top of the food chain without procreating like bunnies. 

Although even back then, it seems like dudes are usually playing some stupid game more than they are paying attention to their wives.  Look honey!  It's the ancestral X-box!

When Dr. Lieberman came out with his last study on footstrike patterns, I participated in a thread on Jason Robillard's facebook page where he asked everyone's opinion of it.  Most people replied with something about how it shows that forefoot striking is infinitely better than rearfoot striking.  I said this, "I think it shows that running is bad for you." 

I was immediately told I was ignorant by some dude (we made up later).  Oh really?  Read the study.  The study followed 52 NCAA track athletes (36 heel strikers and 16 forefoot strikers) over the course of several years.  During that time, 74% of those 52 runners experienced a moderate to severe injury EVERY SINGLE YEAR!  Forefoot striking helped reduce injuries...to a "measly" 25% (or 4 runners) injured every year.  Excuse me if I don't start a slow clap for proper running form. 

That's an enormously high percentage for a species that is supposed to be born to do this, regardless of footstrike.  You want to know what I think is a bigger contributing factor to all of those injuries?  How about those high mileages that the studied cross country runners had to run? 

And those that participated in the study were those genetically gifted enough to be able to run at the college level.  Those are the folks who have trained for years and should be able to withstand (to some extent) the 100+ mile weeks required to compete.  What about you?  How much can your sedentary ass handle? 

I like running in a tiara too.  Makes me feel pretty.

I don't have a magic number of miles for you.  I'd even go so far to say that the answer isn't a number, but rather a frequency.  Humans are completely capable of running vast distances without injury.  Maybe we even evolved to do so. 

I would suggest though that just because we are "born to run", doesn't mean we are "born to run all the time".

I think a majority of all these running injuries stem from the way we train people to run.  That is...regardless of age, experience, or ability, we all train like an elite runner.  Most traditional elite racing plans are based on a system developed by Arthur Lyland.  Lyland's system feeds runners a steady diet of running.  Running on Monday.  Running on Tuesday.  Guess what's for breakfast on Wednesday?  Who guessed "running"?  Most of that running is done at a slow pace, and mileage built to a peak before tapering off; usually before some kind of race.  Most amateur training plans, everything from Couch to 5K to Hal Higdon's Marathon Plan, are just a scaled down version of the same program.  The emphasis is always the same.  Volume, volume, volume.  The trial of miles...nearly everyday. 

This is the same program that injured NCAA runners at a rate of 74% per year.  Now if you are a college or professional athlete, you might expect a high rate of injury.  It kind of comes with the territory.  So maybe that sort of program is worth the risk, because it produces the best results. 

But what about for the general running population?  We're getting injured at about the same rate.  And for what?  For most of us it's not even to place in races, or even in our age group.  It's just to finish the damn race!  I don't know about you, but I find it completely unacceptable that 3 out of 4 people have to get hurt trying to run a marathon.

It doesn't have to be that way.  The barefoot/minimalist community is constantly looking for some magic bullet that will cure us of our injuries and enable us to run all day, every day without injury.  First it was barefoot running.  Now it's the forefoot strike.  But injuries are still happening.  Even for barefooters, I'm guessing at a rate of around 25%.

Just a thought...but maybe the real cure is NOT RUNNING

I don't mean give it up.  I mean don't do it every day.  Maybe it shouldn't even comprise a majority of your fitness regime.  Not just for reduction of injury, but for balance in your lives. 

We certainly could be born to run.  But we're born to do lots of other stuff too.

Look at my example.  I went from running 60 miles per week to running around 10.  Instead I lift weights, walk, sprint, cycle, do yoga, and play other sports.  I do maybe one long-slow distance run per week.  I run faster and further than ever before.  Plus, I can sprint better, jump better, lift better.  I have more flexibility, agility, stamina, and balance.  I also think I look pretty good with my shirt off.

Which one do you look like?

In case you're not tracking, most runners look like the one on the left.  Does he look happy, healthy, and full of strength?  Or does he look like how you feel after that 20 mile run, three weeks out from your marathon?  I think he looks like he's either about to cry, break in half, or get blown over by a stiff wind.  Humans should look like the one on the right, just like their ancestors.  Strong, fast, and about to kick ass.

Take a lesson from your running man past.  You can and should run...occasionally.  You should also lift and carry heavy things, walk, swim, throw, balance, jump, use tools, and do all the other basic human movements that are your birthright. 

If you're not an elite runner, why are you using an elite runner's program to finish a damn 10K?  You don't need those Arthur Lyland-style running programs to finish long-distance races.  With the coming of Crossfit Endurance, I think it's debatable whether you even need them to compete in those races.  On the other hand, what are the costs?  If I were a betting man, I'd say the costs would be that you'll be hurt within the next couple years.  Not to mention you'll be sickly thin, weak, and tired. 

You don't need to run every day.  You don't even need to run every couple of days.  Want a really radical suggstion?  Don't do more than one long-slow run per week.  Do other stuff.  Be a balanced athlete.

You can run less and still achieve your running goals.  Right now?  You run too much bro...

Cheers to being a balanced athlete


  1. Good points - ever the contrarian you are.

    I see that you chose Dwayne Chambers (he of BALCO/steroid infamy) as your athlete on the right. The response to "who do you want to look like" would probably change if you caught a peak of his California raisins!

    1. The stories from BTR inspired me to think that I could run a marathon, and even Cheap Viagra an ultra marathon (both of which I did). Particularly what inspired me were stories of seemingly ordinary folks who took up running and began to run vast distances effortlessly and with an abundant sense of freedom, strength, and joy.

  2. Great post MGBG, and entertaining as always. I've never raced, and don't consider myself a runner. I'm just a guy who runs, rows, and lifts weights for fitness, along with some bicycle commuting and walks with the family. I obey general principles, like allow a given muscle or muscle group 48 hours to recover, but other than that, my routine is really loose. When I discovered other people ran barefoot I started checking out the BFR sites. But I always felt a bit unworthy, because they're about barefoot RUNNERS, not BAREFOOTERs who run. I envied the high mileage guys (even though in my youth we mocked those skinny guys during football practice when the cross country team ran by). I even checked out the Runner's World site and felt like a real alien. You’ve helped justified my lackadaisical approach. Thanks. Right now I do something like this: three runs a week, one is a quick 1 and a half mile, one is 3 miles, and the third is 5 miles, with a day’s rest in between and Sunday’s off (family day). I’m thinking about upping the distances to 3, 5, and 10 miles. What would you think of that kind of schedule?

  3. Erik, I'm always glad to validate people who go against the grain.

    Here's what I think about your plan. How about doing this for your running: one sprint workout (like 40s, 100m, 200m, football drills, etc.), one long interval (like 800s, mile repeats, etc.), and one long slow run of 3-10 miles? I like variety. Varying tempo is not only more fun than going slow, it will hit all of your energy systems (ATP, anaerobic, and aerobic) and give you more balanced fitness.

    Nothing wrong with only doing one slow run, and having it be your long run. I've been doing that for almost two years now and I love it.

    1. Sacrilege! We must have lots of volume!!! ;-)

      Funny, but I started following almost exactly this sort of plan 2 months ago (one speed day, one interval day, and one long run) and I've seen my overall running improve greatly from when I was doing nothing but lots of long, slow volume running. HOWEVER, I'm not sure if this is a benefit of building on top of that big volume base, or just from the change in training.

    2. Thanks MGBG, I did some sprints last year and it felt great to go that fast again (I played safety in football). I like your idea of doing nothing but sprints for one of my run days. Spice is the variety of life, right? One question: For the second day, what would 'mile repeats' involve--running a mile and then resting or walking before I run another mile? My mile pace is probably not going to be a whole lot faster than my long pace at the moment. (Second part of question:) What sort of differential should I shoot for?

    3. Erik, between intervals I would say walk or jog slowly. Run the intervals at a pace where you can keep them within a few seconds of each other. It doesn't do much good if you go balls out the first interval and then each interval afterwards is progressively slower. The point is to get the feeling of going faster in increments so that you can put it all together into a longer, fast run if you want to.

    4. Sorry, I should have been more clear. In the second part of my question, I meant to ask what kind of pace, more or less, I should aim for while doing mile intervals, relative to my long, slow pace on longer runs. Thanks.

  4. My biggest gains in running have all come from doing shit besides running. Nothing kicks my ass more, gets my lungs burning, heart pounding, and blood barreling than a nasty crossfit workout like the Filthy 50 or Hidalgo or whatever madness I dream up. Throw in a couple of short interval workouts and boom, you can suddenly run 20 miles when you want to.

  5. I love and appreciate your contrarian posts. They often have more of the feel of the discussion I would have with a friend around a backyard fire pit. A smart friend, even! I think you offer a very helpful, moderating, perspective in the midst of our instant-all-or-nothing tendencies where new discoveries of physiology & health are concerned.

    For my part, I've adopted an every-other-day strength training program based on a quite-reduced CrossFit workout. I do the CrossFit workout of the day with about 60% of the weight and 60% of the reps. After all, I'm not training to be a mixed martial artist. But I am hoping I will see some benefit in my running and weekly basketball league and, I don't know, be able to wrestle with my kids through middle age. Thanks for the affirmation!

  6. Great post. While I subscribe to the doing lots of things mentality, I've experimented with running 2-3 mile runs on my lunch break in addition to weights, swims, and bikes for the last 3 weeks. Why? I've had knee problems for over a year and found a need to tweak my running form. Over the winter I found that when I ran only a 2-3 times a week I would have trouble with my knees. I felt like I needed to work on my running some, because I enjoy it but knee pain is a big buzz kill.

    Right now I've solved this problem by mixing in the 5 shorts runs, with a long run on the weekend.

    I'm hoping in the future I've cemented some of the changes enough to ease up on the frequency, but right now I'm just glad to not have knee pain. I will note that these short runs are more refreshing than taxing to me, a chance to get outside and relax in the middle of an otherwise busy workday. When I first started doing marathon distance events I was running ALOT more than I do now on the advice of your run of the mill training programs and feel like it probably contributed to the rapid decline of my knees and didn't improve my ability to race over guys I knew who ran less.

  7. More good stuff. Thanks!

    My current plan involves running 2-3 times per week (or whenever I feel like it) and chasing around three kids under the age of 5. You wouldn't believe how effective it has been. I don't recommend that everybody go out and have or get three little kids to run around with, but its working for me. Bonus: I get to spend more time with my kids. It's a total body workout for sure.

    All humor aside, I do agree with doing one long slow run, one speed workout, and one interval day per week max. Then, like Christian said: go do other stuff. Humans are meant to be able to do a little of everything. Climb a tree, saw a board, throw a ball. Be well rounded and it will pay off. Just get out and move.

  8. Huh? What madness is this? We all *must* do high-volume training, lots of LSD, plenty of speed work, cross train, do heavy resistance training, eat whole foods all the time, not smoke, not drink alcohol, sleep 8 hours a day, have 6 meals a day, take a highly digestible glucose and protein drink mixture with BCAAs and creatine pre-, peri-, and post-workout to maximize muscle gains and recovery, hit all muscle groups hard equally well every week, do 5x5 workouts, Crossfit, strongman, and German High Volume training. And we need to do all that because we are all, every one of us, such world-class, Olympic-caliber athletes. At least that's what the commercials and websites keep telling me.


    If you do 80% of whatever it is you're supposed to do all the time, eat a broad range of healthier foods, workout in a variety of manners to whatever tune suits you at the time, and fucking relax I figure we'll all do just fine.

    Yes, humans may have been born to run, but not at the elite level. Humans were also born to lift heavy things ("Honey, do you want this rock here or there in our cave?") but I'll be damned if I'm gonna eat and train to clean and jerk over a quarter ton over my head like Rezazadeh.

    MGBG, dude, you are so on it. I'm really liking your blog.

    1. If this was all on FB, I would "like" this comment.

    2. I felt the same impulse ...

  9. I'm often baffled why people continue to run when they are constantly injured. Yeah. They'll take a few weeks off here or there but then are back to their old LSD high mileage weeks. My husband always reminds me of the definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. People can be so insane. I know I was.

    At least I had the sense to quit running altogether. If it weren't for reigniting that passion and finding a new way to train I would have never been able to run an ultra. And you know my "new" training is very similar to yours except without the once a week long run. I don't even do that. I'm convinced this is what I should have been doing all along. I wish I had seen the light ten years ago.

    The problem is people are so entrenched in their beliefs about the best way to train because its been written in a book or the great elites follow this plan or their neighbor did it or they read about it on RW. The thing is every body is different. I know I don't have the body of an elite runner. I have MY body, which has some issues. And I need a different plan.

    I thought I would hate giving up running every day when I started my HIIT training and strength training. But you know what? I found another passion that's just as satisfying and fun and the best part... I DON'T BURN OUT. Yeah. That's key. I'm on FIYAH for my races now, which will probably be ultras from here on out. I can't wait to get on the trails and run. I'm more fired up than I was grinding out my daily miles years ago. And I'm in MUCH better shape and stronger too.

    My best decision ever was not to listen to the masses. I'm so glad I found the path I'm on.

    And I think you're right. Primitive man's passion probably wasn't running. That was work. But screwing... hehe. ;-)

  10. You've just said exactly what I've thought for a while now. Almost every runner I know runs way too many times a week. They also don't seem to take any real down time when they're feeling horrible, and they pay for it later. Since I've started, some of them have been out for months and even a year several times, as I kept plugging right along. I see slow steady improvment each year, and they seem to stay level with all the setbacks.

    Now granted, I'm not conquering the world with amazing running feats and haven't really gotten to the really long distances yet, but I'm guessing I get there. I'd even venture a guess that I stay fairly healthy doing it, as I'm starting to work out with a well-balanced program, not only running.

  11. I disagree completely "Running is not the problem"! Most people could benifit from running 5 of even 10 times the amount they currently do. The problem lies with how we do it. "Racing is horrible for your body." "Pushing through the pain, trying to beat someone that's better than you or racing against a clock are all bad for your health and giving 110% now that's plain stupid."

    I don't think I've ever gotten injured from training on average 70-100 miles a week but racing has messed me up more times than I would like to admit.

    Telling people to run less Is like "Telling your wife she looks good in that dress after shes gained 20lbs." (not your wife in particular)
    It's irresponsible and giving people another yet excuse to keep on being Lazy American's. Which is why I think your post will resonate with a lot of people whom are seeking the easy way out.

    But what your saying is good way to get blog readers
    I suggest your next post be "Eating bacon helps increase penis and boob size."

    Christian I still Love you, you are who are and the worlds more interesting place with you in it.

    I don't see running as chore it's something I truly love to do.

    as for your picture of the 2 dudes running I bet the dude on the right dies at a much younger age.

    As for Muscles I got nothing. Sure they might be nice to see in the mirror but I don't really care. Last weekend I competed in Spartan event full yoked out cross fit paleo dudes. After a few miles of running they looked like they were about die and even though they developed strong upper bodies most of them sucked at the obstacles that favored them because they were to week and out of shape from a lack of cardio.

    But they looked good in mirror.

  12. "No shoes, no pants, no problem."
    I Like!!!

  13. I have decided that though I may be somebody that runs, I am not a runner. I was thinking the other day if running is just logging in more miles than what is the point. I enjoy being in motion whether it's running, cycling, swimming, climbing, yoga, or lifting weights. By diversifing I can recover from one activity and still perform others.

  14. So I run 6 or 7 days a week fine, but honestly I don't care how often people run.

    The only gripe i have is that it's Arthur Lydiard, not Arthur Lyland.

    Oh and I find it misleading that Dwain Chambers was used as an example of the body people want...since he...you know...used steroids to get the body he had...

  15. Sounds like a book I read back a while ago CP. http://www.amazon.com/Runners-World-Less-Faster-Revolutionary/dp/159486649X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328316256&sr=1-1

  16. I suppose it does depend on what you want out of your running -- I completely agree that the running world pushed ridiculously pro training schedules on every level of runner at every distance. But running less isn't a solution if what you want to do is just run. And run a lot. Like what bourbonfeet said above, I just love to run. Nothing makes me happier than a 20 mile run. But then, my millage isn't done in a push-myself negative-split lap-repeat fashion, I just run because I love it. I don't lift lots of heavy things because I don't love it. And that's it. Most people probably should run less, but I want to run more, but as an end, not a means.

  17. I agree with you UTR, enjoyment is key to any fitness routine. I would put it this way:

    1. if you don't enjoy it, you won't do it.

    2. if you enjoy it but get hurt, stop doing it or do it differently.

    3. if you enjoy it and don't get hurt, keep doing it.

    for some of us, a little variety is key, for others, devotion to one thing works best. follow your bliss ...

  18. Thanks for the kind words Patrick. Your running and life is an inspiration. If everyone agreed with me, life would be boring. I certainly don't want anyone who loves running for the pure joy of it to stop. It's when running becomes training instead of that joyful expression of humanity that I have a problem with it.

    I remember something Bookis from Luna Sandals said about his training for Leadville. He said he only ran miles if they were "golden miles". I think he meant that he only ran if the miles felt great and he was having fun. If that is 10 miles or 100, I don't care as long as you aren't doing it just because your schedule says so.

  19. Good on yer Pat! Keep on never running seriously!

  20. This is a great discussion, and I'm reminded of two things which I will add. The first is that one can do either short distance sprint interval training or endurance training and have virtually the same effect in in regard to "exercise capacity and muscle adaptation related to exercise tolerance," as shown in the study found in the The Journal of Physiology, http://jp.physoc.org/content/575/3/901.full. Now, they did make the disclaimer that "the present data should not be interpreted to suggest that SIT [spring interval training] is necessarily adequate preparation for prolonged endurance-type activities." If your goal is to get fit and you have a tight schedule, than you can accomplish quite a lot in a short amount of time. On the other hand, if you have the time and the love for long runs, go for it, because it will most certainly provide benefits.

    Relating to the latter of the aforementioned, there was a guy running Western States last summer who was 73 years old and was running it for the 10th time, starting at age 62, and he had completed the race in under 24 hours every time. When asked what his training was, he said he runs 5 miles 3 times a week, and does a 30-miler once a month. That's considerably less training than most would do for such an incredibly taxing event, and yet he was pulling it off well into old age. Lesson is: do what you love, because the love equates to the unmeasured capability to endure and succeed in damn near anything.
    [end verbose comment]

  21. I don't know about the other guy, but Janne Holmén has performed extremely well (both physically and mentally) and, as far as I know, continue living happy, healthy, and full of strength...

  22. To my eye, the marathon runner in the picture (Janne Holmén, PhD) looks much like a healthy Homo sapiens persistence hunter (http://tinyurl.com/persistence-hunter) and the sprinters body plan is more like that of a H. neanderthalensis (nothing bad in that, neanderthals were great athletes - fast, strong and smart - but they were unlucky and died).

  23. Maybe a photo of someone like Hal Koerner on the left would be a better choice for fairness. Trail runners and road marathoners are different species, IMO.

  24. Folks...it's a demonstrative photo. The guy on the left looks like a twig. The guy on the right looks well-built (yes, I know he does steroids...didn't when I posted). The point isn't who is in the pictures, it's what they look like. Sheesh...

    1. I am pretty sure that Janne Holmén would be perfectly capable of running down a kudu antelope, but I also suspect that Dwayne Chambers would die if he tried to run down bambi…

      One implication of the running man hypothesis is that our ancerstors really looked like “twigs”.

    2. Sorry, I had to mention again the name of the "guy on the left" (pictures above), that was because he is a local hero around here :) Holmén is a writer of excellent articles in a running magazine. True, he is not a barefoot enthusiast but, as a substitute, he is a European champion.

  25. "In case you're not tracking, most runners look like the one on the left. Does he look happy, healthy, and full of strength?"

    Ultra runners are sensitive to this kind of comment.Most runners do not look like the one on the left.

  26. I really liked this article!

    About Me: Im a Junior in high school and I started running when I joined decided to leave water polo and join my XC team last summer. I used to run in middle school and had constant heel/arch pain, so got started during the summer in huaraches. I obtained a decent running form, and ran in mostly NB Minimi and now in Merrell Trail gloves since we do a lot trail running which is really fun....

    Since I used to play water polo, I'm a good swimmer, so now I'm doing both track and swimming and it's awesome! I basically alternate practices, and I always feel good when I run (which is about 3 times a week). I've seen a lot of kids burn out, especially this one kid who's had consistently bad knee problems. Basically everyone got injured during XC season, and I agree, it's probably simply too much running. Taking time from running to go swim, I think, is a great balance for my body. My swim practices are probably harder than track practice, and swimming helps my breathing ability and overall strength. I hope this idea of a "balanced athlete" will create a big shift in how all people train. I imagine I could go all season without an injury with how good I've been feeling.

  27. To The Tall Gangly Superhero:

    I am on the CF boat, and have seen my mileage plummet to single digits per week (like 6-9 miles per week). I do lots of compound movements like power cleans/squats, OHS, deadlifts (my 5x5 best stands at 125kg at a body weight of 158lbs), clean and jerk, snatch, and some kind of WOD I can cook up on my own. I am running low 19 minute 5k's (in Vibram FiveFingers) so I guess that the run less run faster is working...and I'm 42 years old to boot.

  28. What has happened to MGBG? Not running anymore?



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