I remember a time in my life when I thought that running was THE ultimate form of exercise. If I could master running long distances, then I would “arrive” as an extremely fit person. My sense is that this attitude is still out there, but it isn’t entirely accurate.
I spent a lot of years running various distances from 5Ks to 10Ks, and half-marathons. I enjoyed it, and finishing races within my time goals gave me a sense of accomplishment. But as I got older, I began to notice that running was taking a toll on my body. Of course there were the nagging injuries over the years, mostly plantar fasciitis (the kiss of death for runners), and random calf, hamstring, and knee issues. Less expected was the weight I was gaining, despite running for hours. How could this be? I also noticed that my level of fitness was what I would call one-dimensional. I could run, sprint, and do great speed drills, but after trying a new “non-running” workout program, I found that my balance and flexibility were horrible. My stamina for lifting weights and doing intense cardio wasn’t great, even though I had been cross-training. What was the deal? Running is THE best exercise, right?
When I don’t understand something, I research it. A lot. I discovered that running long distances can inhibit thyroid function. That wasn’t good, considering I only had half of a thyroid and a thyroid disease. Specifically, running reduces the amount of t3 hormone, which is responsible for our energy, metabolism, weight maintenance, and feeling good. Long distance running also increases cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Yes, running for long periods of time is stressful on the body! A body in a stressed state holds onto weight, especially fat. It’s a survival mechanism, so these two factors combined certainly could explain why I was gaining weight with running. In addition to the weight gain, I had a significant increase in my appetite, which triggered disordered eating patterns of binging…guilt over said binging…and restricting food as a result. (I will save those details for another post, but it is worth mentioning here.) Clearly, running was not my friend.
Given this knowledge, I had some choices to make and some questions to answer. If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider asking yourself:
- What are my fitness goals? How does running fit into these goals?
- What priority do I place on other aspects of fitness such as strength, core strength, balance, and flexibility? How does my current performance rate in these areas?
- Am I running in order to get fit or am I getting fit in order to run?
After answering these questions for myself, I decided that running was something that could be a “side dish” rather than the “main course.” I really valued being a well-rounded athlete in terms of strength, cardio fitness, balance, and flexibility. When I spent most of my time running, it took away from these other aspects of fitness. I found a program that addressed all of these areas and decided to take a break from running just to see how my body would respond. It was a tough transition at first. Despite running half-marathons, I found myself struggling through a 30-minute high intensity interval (HIIT) cardio routine. It was ugly, but I stuck with it. In time, I improved in all of these areas and found my level of fitness to be more multi-dimensional. My body also started to let go of the signs of stress and overtraining that I had been experiencing while running.
I still run occasionally, but I train daily so that I can do whatever I’d like to when the opportunity strikes, whether it is running, rock climbing, mountain biking, tennis, basketball, etc. This is what works for me. Everyone is different.
Please don’t misunderstand; if you are running and it is working for you, that’s great! However, I’ve met many people, especially women, who have become discouraged with running. It doesn’t have to be a source of frustration; you just might need to be intentional about your fitness goals and listen to what your body is telling you. In the end, do something because you enjoy it and your body thrives doing it. Life is too short to beat yourself up. Happy Training!