Is Distance Running Bad For You?

by Anne

is distance running bad for you?

Hi, I'm Anne, a 45-year-old who has newly discovered my love for running. I started three months ago when I participated in a fun run during which I planned to walk but ended up running for most of it.

Now, I run 4 1/2 miles three times a week. I tend to finish a mile in 13 minutes but my fastest time is 11 minutes per mile. I want to keep improving my endurance and speed, but I constantly hear concerns from loved ones about the long-term damage my knees might endure.

Recently, I ran without eating or drinking beforehand. Afterwards, I felt dizzy and nauseous, which I believe came from dehydration. I'm trying to avoid that in the future. My main question is: how much running is too much running?


Answer by Dominique:

Hello Anne,

It's wonderful to hear about your passionate dive into running! As a start, let me assure you — running is a great sport that provides numerous benefits. I'll split my answer into sections to tackle each of your concerns separately:

1. The impact of running on health
2. The fear of injury
3. Balancing distance and safety
4. The importance of hydration and nutrition

The impact of running on health

is distance running bad for you?
Let's clarify any doubts about the effect of running on health. There's a long-term study that started in 1984 which focuses on long-time runners.

Over time, the findings revealed that the runners not only appeared younger for their age, but they also reported feeling better and being healthier than non-runners. As the years have gone by, there is clear evidence that they live longer as well.

I remember an intriguing article from Runner's World from maybe a decade ago featuring a runner in his late sixties who looked as though he was mid-forties. That picture has stuck with me till this day.

A lifetime of running looks good on you! Don't you worry. Far from being harmful, regular running can have many positive effects on your overall health.

The fear of injury

is distance running bad for you?
Now, for the concerns raised by your friends and family about injuries. While it's true that running, like any other sport, has risks of injury, and a few people with pre-existing health problems may not be suited for it — the benefits of running far outweigh these potential challenges for most people.

The key lies in injury prevention. You can ensure this by not overdoing it and giving your body the necessary rest it needs. And don't ignore any persisting aches or pains, take a break before things get worse. And if they get worse, get them checked out.

A few pages I'd like you to read are:

Running Injury Prevention

Strength Training for Runners

Balancing distance and safety

Coming to your specific query about running distance - the key thing is to take it slow and steady. Increase your mileage gradually. This allows your body to adapt to the increased demands. A sudden increase might cause harm, but a gentle, steady transition can lead to great improvements.

I have come back from periods of running less or from the occassional injury. I run 30-50 miles a week nowadays and feel comfortable doing so. But you don't get there from 0 to 50 in one week. It can take weeks and months to slowly build up. It is a process, adding a few miles to runs here and there.

Over time, what used to be a long run becomes a short run. What used to be unfathomable, becomes your standard long run. You can achieve a whole lot, just by staying consistent in your running routine and taking a long term perspective.

The importance of hydration and nutrition

is distance running bad for you?
Finally, on the subject of your recent experience after running. It does sound like classic symptoms of dehydration and under-fuelling.

I hardly ever run without having breakfast. Even when I run early in the morning (e.g. 6 am) to beat the heat or get a longer run in before work, I still have breakfast beforehand. Even the best cars need petrol in the tank, before they are taken for a drive. Same with your body. Fuel properly and you shouldn't have these issues.

I hope this puts your mind at ease and equips you with the right information and motivation to keep going. Running can be a very safe and healthy hobby. Take it easy, build up slowly and you can run for decades and decades and feel better for it!

Kind regards,

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