Last Christmas, my sister got me the book Born To Run, which profiles some ultra runners including the indigenous tribe, the Tarahumara. I'm not fan of ultra running but still enjoyed the book. One of the quotes was "You don't stop running when you get old. You get old when you stop running." I liked that one so much that I posted it on my Facebook. There are a lot of interesting claims in the book. Although I do not buy the whole package, it is intriguing nonetheless. Here are a few of the claims:
-the human body is indeed designed to run well over 20 miles
-protective shoes do more harm than good
-barefoot running is the way to go
Let's considering the Tarahumara culture. Running is not just recreation. It is a way of life. They run in little more than slippers over rocky and mountainous terrain. There is no heart disease, obesity or diabetes in the entire tribe and cancer is very minimal. 50+ year olds routinely keep up with 18 year-olds. Despite logging ridiculous mileage, there are very few overuse injuries. That's enough to at least consider the possibility that there may be something to all of this.
The book claims that up to 80% of runners suffer some type of injury every year and weekend warriors are just as vulnerable as elite marathoners. This leads many people to believe that running is bad for you. Despite modern treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs, custom made orthotics, cortisone shots, stability and motion control shoes, the rate of injury has not changed in recent decades. If anything, it's actually ticked up a tad.
Here's my take on it:
The 80% figure seems awfully high to me. I define an injury as a condition that forces you to stop running for at least 10 days, not just some aches and pains that force you to reduce mileage for a week or 2. I started my comeback almost 6 years ago and have had only 2 major injuries (both in 2010). Both of them were caused at least in part to forces beyond over-reaching with training.
Can anybody run a 50 Mile ultra? NO way! How about a sub-4 marathon? NO! There's are little things called genetics and inherent natural talent that determine both your maximum speed and capacity for workouts. That said, I do believe that if you truly make an honest effort to become a runner, you will likely be very pleased with your results. I define an honest effort as slowly building to 15-20 MPW on 3-4 days of running. My average volume is about 40 MPW and I max out near 55. My paces are faster than most runners of my caliber but that's because my goals are different. I'd rather run a fast 10K than a good marathon. Some may put in plenty of effort but top out at only 30 MPW while others can do 80+. Either way, if you're putting forth a good effort, be proud of it.
As for injuries, I don't think you can ever make yourself bulletproof even if you do everything right but many injuries can be prevented. Here's how:
1. Balance your body chemistry- if your basic minerals are out of balance, connective tissues do not heal properly, which leads to reduced capacity for work and vulnerability to tendon injuries and muscle pulls. I am off the pills now but still strongly endorse the hair test protocol.
2. Improve your diet- Above all, sharply reduce your sugar consumption. I've learned that plantar fasciitis may be caused by unbalanced blood sugar. I'm sure that many others can be traced to poor diet as well. For reasons I cannot explain, I am hyper-sensitive to the Cal/Mag pills that I took for over 5 years and now cannot tolerate them. My blood sugar is not in balance but I only adjusted my diet 5-6 weeks ago. It could just take time to get better and perhaps the PF will fade in time. Without pills, I must make up any deficiencies with my diet. That's where the chia comes in. It's packed with omega 3s, protein, fiber and yes, it's said to be excellent for blood sugar control. Lastly, it's a big part of the Tarahumara diet.
3. Choose proper shoes- I believe that barefoot/minimalist training is not for everyone but I know plenty of people that swear by it as the cure for chronic injuries. My taste in shoes has evolved more toward lighter and flexible options. I will likely settle at a rotation that includes both minimalist shoes and neutral options with cushioning or OTC orthotics. If you do want to go down the minimalist route, do so gradually. Switching from heavy motion control trainers to a super lightweight racer usually spells trouble
4. Perhaps alter your gait- I say perhaps because I don't recommend tinkering with a runner's natural style if it's working well. That said, forefoot and midfoot strikers are less injury prone than heel strikers. Shoes such as Newtons can help you transition gradually. However, if taken to the extreme in toe running, too much pressure is put on the calves, Achilles and plantar fascia.
5. Treat injuries properly- I believe that NSAIDs and cortisone shots are overused. The problem is often not inflammation but damaged connective tissues. I do believe that if taken care of properly, the body is capable of healing itself. I endorse prolotherapy because its purpose is to stimulate natural healing.