Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why running is important

Don’t avoid it… it’s good for you.

For such a fundamental thing, the ability to run seems to be an all too popular Achilles heel. And I’m not talking form or speed. Not everyone is going to look like Usain Bolt when they go from A to B, but they need to be able to get there. The limited proficiency in this area for most people, and even most Crossfitters, is piss poor, and it shows up in more than just 5 k runs.

Mostly this is do to lack of experience. Running is not rocket science but it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s repetitive. People tend to avoid it for one or all of these reasons when they should be seeking it out. Recently I had to endure a period of 3 months without steady running due to ankle injuries: the effect was severely noticeable. I felt more out of breath and less able to concentrate during WODs than I had before. My muscular endurance was still decent, but my comfort threshold had fallen much lower. I realized that running had been a much bigger part of how I trained than I originally thought, and that if I wanted to continue to improve it would have to become an even bigger one in the future.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. First, philosophically, running is one of the most basic means of human survival. Our ancestors had to cover distance at speed if they were going to successfully hunt, travel, or survive predators and, even though this is less of a necessity now, something about it still rings true. I don’t want to ever find myself in a position where I cannot go from here to there simply because modern technology has failed me and my natural engine isn’t up to snuff.

Second, physiologically, the response is amazing. The different types of “tired” I’ve felt during various runs is staggering. There’s interval sprinting, long distance endurance, hill climbs, running with objects, dragging weight behind, pushing a prowler, running on sand… the list goes on. Going for a run can mean any number of things, none of which involve a treadmill, and all of which challenge the body differently. Stairs feel different than hills, 10 x 100 meters feels different than 1000 meters straight. There is plenty of variety and all of it is beneficial. In fact, I find that when I’ve been doing a lot of heavy running (trails, stairs, and carrying weight especially) I breath better in non-running WODs. This is because running teaches you how to get air when you’re tired. You inevitably find a rhythm between your steps and your breath that you can efficiently maintain while working at near max capacity. This knowledge comes in handy when you hit a metcon where your ability to keep breathing is what slows you down.

Last, psychologically, running teaches you how thin the walls are between optimal and sub-optimal performance. Lifting weights you often reach a point where you literally cannot do another rep, where your muscles have actually failed and there is nothing you can do about it. At this point, your mind gets a break. It’s off the hook... on vacation. This can’t happen in running. You can always take another step therefore your head never gets a rest (incredible ironman Youtube footage notwithstanding). To get better in this discipline you have to improve your toughness. Period. And that flows over into everything else you do. I can remember the things I had to tell myself to keep running when I competed in a series of 5 mile trail races in Virginia. I say the same things now when I’m dying through a workout with deadlifts and double unders. I remember times when things went wrong, like inhaling dust or tripping up along the way. I draw on those kinds of experiences when I am failing miserably under the rings or practically drowning in the pool. Bottom line, going on hard runs in less than optimal circumstances teaches you to find ways not to quit, and that is invaluable.

Sometimes we can get too creative in finding ways to be fit when the most effective means are the most simple.


  1. Great motivational article !
    I've always struggled with the running issue I even got to the belief that I cannot run. But this time has come to an end.
    Thank you very much for sharing your incredible lifestyle. Your workouts and challenges are very motivational, thinking of what you do always makes me go through my workouts and make them intenser.
    So big thank you for all of the above
    and best of luck


  2. Run baby Run!!!

    DOUBLE Exorcist Stairs in DC yesterday. Nothing like heat, humidity and 100 steep steps.

    Nice post.

  3. Blair - I love the comment about gymnastics and coordination needed for the fittest people. I too have noticed that more and more elite crossfitters looks more than lifting-machines than dancers/virtouses nowadays. We need a blend of both! This post is also good - I think we might have a longer history of running in europe? Possible because of football tradition?

  4. with football I mean the sport where you actually have a ball, and use yer feets. Not that other thing where you run a few yards and then rest. ;-)

  5. best argument i have seen in awhile for incorporating running into a training program. Like how you described how the adversity of running helps foster the discipline necessary to train through a WOD.