Given the current climate of unbridled, often-fantastical rhetoric, I felt inspired to embark on a fact-checking mission of my own – albeit a running-related one.
Running myths are as old as running itself. Back in the 1970s, when Katherine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, it was a commonly accepted belief in the medical community that running would cause a woman’s uterus to fall out.
While uterine prolapse is a bona-fide medical condition, running is not a cause. Can you imagine if it were, considering that women sometimes outnumber men in road races? Jumping over a trail of prolapsed uteri on the course would be de rigeuer, pun kind of intended.
Anyway, let’s nip some whoppers in the bud right now before they get as out of hand as my imagination.
MYTH #1: YOU MUST THE TREADMILL AT A 1% INCLINE TO SIMULATE OUTDOOR CONDITIONS. I’ve always felt like a slacker for not raising the incline on my regular treadmill runs. This study proved that stepping up the incline only matters if you are running at a pace faster than 7:09. Learning this was a myth made me feel like less of a wimp.
MYTH #2: RUNNING WILL RUIN YOUR KNEES. We’ve all heard this one before – mostly from people who do not run or from lapsed runners who feel the need to explain why they stopped. Turns out, the opposite is actually true. Many studies have proven that runners are less likely to develop osteoarthritis than their non-running peers. The most recent study has a decent sample size.
Turns out knee pain can be caused by being overweight: each pound you weigh is like 4 pounds on your joints. Being overweight is linked to arthritis. Most runners are lean. Interpolate. It’s fairly logical.
MYTH #3: THE HEEL STRIKE IS THE WORST FOOTSTRIKE. If you’re a heel-striker, take heart: you are not alone. Several studies with large sample sizes confirmed that most runners are heel strikers, 94% according to this study (Of course, I have to be different: I’m a forefoot striker, which comprised <1% of runners in this study.)
All footstrikes have benefits and drawbacks.
Fact is, regardless of whether you are a forefoot, midfoot or heel striker, your body absorbs the impact of running somewhere. Any runner can develop impact-related injuries, though in different areas of the body depending on where the brunt of the impact is absorbed.
Yes, midfoot striking is easier on the knees. Runners with Achilles issues or plantar fasciitis are better off with a heel strike. Forefoot strikers, like me, absorb more force at the ankle. Changing your natural footstrike not only feels weird (think of trying to write with your non-dominant hand), but it can also result in dangerous consequences. DIY footstrike switches can cause a cascade effect of bad-form habits and related maladies. So basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Work on strengthening your core and stabilizing muscles, instead. If you’re still determined to try to change your footstrike, please do it under the watchful eye of a licensed physical therapist.
MYTH #4: INCREASING VOLUME ALONE WILL MAKE YOU A FASTER RUNNER. I’ve heard this from friends and also from some of the athletes I work with. Intelligently increasing your volume (no more than 10% each week, with a cut-back week at least every 3 weeks) can certainly help improve your aerobic capacity. This can help you run a bit faster. But if improving speed is your main goal, it’s not the most efficient use of your time or your energy.
Adding volume won’t make quick leg turnover a habit. It won’t hike up your VO2 max like intervals will. It won’t help you develop the mental and physical toughness needed to sustain fast speeds over long periods of time like regular tempo runs will. If you want to become a faster runner, quite simply, you need to practice running fast.
MYTH #5: YOU HAVE TO BE SUPER SKINNY TO BE A FAST RUNNER. This one is not so black and white. But it’s important to discuss since many women, and even male runners, can get obsessive about their weight. Yes, leaner runners tend to be faster for several reasons: string beans are more efficient at delivering oxygen to the body, are better at dissipating heat, and just have less mass to tow around and fight gravity. Matt Fitzgerald points all this out in greater detail his pivotal book, Racing Weight
You’ve heard of the term “skinny fat” – a skinny person who has no muscle tone. Muscle weighs more than fat. Muscle powers movement. Muscle protects your organs and stabilizes your joints and bones. Muscle = bueno.
Many elite runners and running bloggers have recently “come out” to share their stories about weight. Some explain how they achieved PRs not when they were super skinny, but rather when they were lean, well-muscled, and well nourished.
Personally speaking, I can attest. I achieved several PRs in 2016. Though I’m lean for my height and am on the low end of a healthy BMI, I was not at my thinnest last year. But in terms of strength training, I put in more hours of quality work at the gym than ever before – a big deal for me, because strength work is not my favorite pastime. I honestly think it helped me power through to achieve those PRs.
Check out these posts that show how you don’t have to be super skinny to be fast:
Life’s too short to eschew (yuk-yuk) good food. Eat foods with ingredients you can pronounce. “Sin” once in awhile. Enjoy your meals; they’re supposed to be pleasurable. Food is another tool that can help you become a better runner.