Friday, July 27, 2012

Endurance Running and Pheidippides

Perhaps its because a good friend of mine ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 100M, his first 100 miler, or because I am in reflective mode since this will be the first time in three years that my wife and I won't be running the SF Wipro Marathon. But, when I came across this blog on PLOS, it really made me think about endurance running  in general.

photo:empower-sports.com
Some of the time, when I mention that my wife and I do endurance runs or mention when my buddy runs ultras, I find that I get the usual responses like "You will blow out your knees or ankles" or that "running long distances damages your  heart," Typically this is followed by an example like Micah True dieing from heart disease, or the latest runner who died at  marathon (not very many from a percentage of those who run).  The one I like the most is that Pheidippides died after running the first Marathon.  Who is Pheidippides?  You can find out in more detail here; however, he is supposedly the first person to run the 25 miles from the battle of Marathon to Athens to let the Greek Senate know that the Persians had been defeated.  Once he arrived and delivered his message he promptly died.  Now, what people miss in the story, and what is brought out in the PLOS blog, is that Pheidippides had run a combined 160 miles, over mountainous terrain, as well as fought in the battle in under 3 days BEFORE running 25 miles to his demise.
The greatest challenge faced when discussing endurance sports is that people generally judge the sport by their own context.  And lets face it, when you compare today's system of things to that of someone who lived 60 years ago, people really do not tax their bodies to the level that they were created.  For most, their time is spent sitting at work, sitting in a car coming home, and sitting relaxing in front of the TV or computer before going to bed.  Imagine, if you you exercise the recommended 30 minutes a day, you are only exercising your muscles 2%, an hour a day and you are only taxing your muscles 4% of the day.  Compare that to how people worked prior to the invention of the TV and the car and you can see that from a context standpoint why people question endurance sports.

It really comes down to conditioning. Basically we condition our bodies with the activities we do.  So, done in measured amounts, an increased level of activity over time improves the endurance of a person.  Back in the day, when people had to walk from village to village to get anywhere, or like the Kenyans who run from village to village, people had conditioned there bodies to cover those distances without any trouble. So to properly condition yourself requires measured and balanced training. A good way to do this is by downloading a running schedule, such as the one found on Hal Higdon's site or Marathon Rookie. If followed, you will condition your body to run an endurance run without over-training or under-training.

Now I am not saying that there is no limits to what our imperfect bodies can do, there are.  However, most of us set those limits, either by the choices we make with our time or nutrition we take in. If we are married or have families, there are additional limitations with our time to balance.  We want to be healthy for them but we do not want to take time away from them either. We also may have medical issues that we have to deal with and be realistic of what those are.  However, if we self-limit ourselves, we will never know what we can do.

So as I look back at my buddy's accomplishment with his first 100 miler, I look in awe at that accomplishment.  This is something I will not try because I have limited myself to no more than 50K's, but that is just me.  I also know, and am amazed at folks who you would not characteristically consider the endurance running type; however, continue tirelessly and successfully at it.

So instead of using Pheidippides as an excuse not to run an endurance run, why not set it a goal, pick a good half or full marathon training schedule, and give it a try.  See what good conditioning can do.

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