Earlier today, via a running forum I sometimes hang around, I came across a post on the blog of some random Crossfit place in Virginia. Succinctly entitled Why Jogging Is Terrible, the author – a chiropractor by the name of Corey Duvall – argues that there is “NO benefit” to running “consecutive distances of 2 or miles at a pace slower than 8 minutes/mile.”
When I saw the link, of course, I rolled my eyes. I’ve seen my share of ranty screeds about running written by Crossfit folk. They’re usually poorly composed, unnecessarily inflammatory, and designed to make the reader feel like every other activity in the universe is pointless – except for Crossfit! Join our box for only $200/month!
Marketing at its finest.
But I was bored so I clicked over and read through the post a couple of times. And you know what? It wasn’t all bullshit. If you could pick through the obviously biased writing and ridiculous superlatives, Dr. Duvall actually made a few points that I think most runners (and people interested in fitness generally) would be wise to consider.
[Necessary disclaimer here: I’m not a coach, trainer, or medical professional of any kind. I’m just a chick who’s been running for a long time. Also, I’ve never done Crossfit and have no plans to try it, but I have nothing against it. And I’m going to talk about pace here, and we all know that it’s hard to talk about pace without being an asshat, so…forgive me for being an asshat.]
Point #1: From an overall fitness standpoint, most runners would probably benefit from running less – and running faster.
“Let me clarify Jogging. This is the act of repeatedly running consecutive distances of 2 or more miles at a pace slower than 8 minutes/mile. If you aren’t running that fast you should speed up and shorten your distance.”
Now, I’m not sure what’s so magical about the 8-minute-mile thing. Nothing, I expect. Perhaps that is the author’s personal threshold for discomfort, or the point at which, in his anecdotal observations, the average person starts to struggle to maintain pace.
But whatever the number is, if you can run 2+ miles and you’re not at least occasionally running in the discomfort zone, you’re shortchanging yourself, fitness-wise.
(This is why I always include short and fast intervals, down to 400 meters, in my training – even when I’m training for a marathon. As my former CPTC coach used to say: fall marathon PRs are built on summer 5Ks. Truth.)
In my own experience, as an active member of many teams, clubs, and training groups over the years, I’ve watched runner friends train for, and run, marathon after marathon in the 5-6 hour range. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m convinced they’d be better overall athletes if they focused on improving their 5K and 10K times.
Of course, everyone has their own reasons for running; some people just like running marathons, and that’s fine! But from a strictly physical fitness standpoint, I think that there’s a grain of truth in Duvall’s statement, even if it’s snippy and arbitrarily judgmental.
Point #2: Couch to marathon is a bad plan.
“I have treated MANY people for issues that are the result of nothing more than bodily neglect followed by abuse. They ignore their movement systems, create horrid imbalances by sitting around, then abuse these systems by putting it through an incredible load for little to no value; they wind up with shin splints, Achilles tendinosis, “runners knee”, IT band pain, or back problems.”
My initial reaction to this was: NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. You’re a sports doctor/chiropractor guy; of course you see injured runners. The healthy ones don’t need your services.
But then I read the paragraph again, and it actually kind of speaks to something that’s been a concern of mine in the running community for several years, especially as the popularity of 13.1 and 26.2 has skyrocketed: namely, the bucket list would-be marathoner who gets off the couch and decides to become a distance runner and – surprise! – gets injured.
Again: everyone has their goals and their reasons. But distance running is no joke. It requires a great deal of work to properly build up to, and a great deal of training and commitment to execute safely. And even then, experienced runners who do everything right get injured all the time.
I wouldn’t say there’s “little to no value” in distance running. But I would say that it’s generally overvalued.
Point #3: Form matters.
“The problem with Jogging is that people often speed up their walk instead of slowing down their sprint to move greater distances.”
Okay, so I was pretty much a cross-country nerd in high school, and the highlight of my summers was attending cross-country camp. Where we did totally nerdy things like make up skits about running and have granola-bar-eating contests and rail against the injustice that was My So Called Life‘s cancellation.
But we also worked closely with accomplished coaches and trainers, and I can clearly recall that many of them repeated some variation of the above quote, mantra-like, when trying to get us to pay attention to our form.
Without hesitation, I credit these early lessons for the fact that, fifteen years later, I can coax my stumpy legs in to turning over at a decent pace. (Yep, that’s under eight minutes per mile, Dr. Duvall…for a marathon!)
My form is definitely not perfect, and occasionally it’s pretty terrible: the cross-body swinging arms and slumped shoulders are, of course, captured for posterity in those late-stage race photos. But it’s something that I think about regularly, and especially when I’m running hard or doing a speed workout.
Here’s a fact that I don’t think anyone will dispute: When you’re sprinting, you have to be as efficient as possible.
I don’t agree at all with a subsequent statement Duvall makes, claiming that there is no difference between the form of elite sprinters and elite distance runners. (Uh, ask Meb if he’d like to run a marathon in sprint spikes.) But I do believe that the average hobbyjogger would probably benefit from focusing more on form and thinking about posture, turnover, economy, etc in the course of their training.
Point #4: Train to your goal.
Concluding his piece, Duvall writes:
“Jogging is terrible because it does not help you reach your goal any faster than walking, it helps you reach it FAR SLOWER than occasional sprint intervals, and it ups your injury rate to keep you from your goal.”
Right. So what is my goal supposed to be, again?
This is never addressed in the post. But let’s assume that Duvall is assuming that “your goal” is general overall fitness, functional strength, SEXAY toned muscles, reduced weight/body fat, etc.
If those are your goals, then I agree: distance running is a shitty choice.
Distance running is good at training your body for…running long distances. For the average person doing a moderate amount of overall mileage, it’s not the most efficient way to lose weight, get tight abs, or look good in a bikini.
Even putting aside the diet/nutrition issues that come with doing two- and three-hour runs (OMG I WANT PANCAKES AND CHEESEBURGERS AND BEER!), it’s hard to get around the fact that distance training teaches your body to burn energy (i.e. fat) as efficiently as possible. This means it burns as little as it possibly can over the course of your workout. And this is absolutely what you need it to do, if you’re running a marathon.
But if you just want to look good in your animal-print pants? There are better ways to accomplish that.
Which brings me to…
Point #5: You have to do what you like, and like what you do.
The glaring omission in Duvall’s post is the simple fact that some people actually enjoy running.
Running is incredibly simple to do: you just walk out your door and do it. It can be social and fun and is a great way to make friends and meet new people. It can be easy or hard; it can be slow or fast. Many of my friends who do their long runs on Sunday mornings quite literally refer to their workouts as their own personal way of going to church. To many runners, this hobby is so much more than proper mechanics or energy burn rates or tight butt cheeks.
And I don’t think I need to point out that no one is going to charge you hundreds of dollars a month to join their “box” in order to be a runner.
Point #6: Here’s a beer if you made it through this entire post.
Or…um, this is awkward…do Crossfitters drink beer? That sounds so not Paleo.
Just another reason I’ll always be a runner.