For the first time that I can remember I was solicited by a friend at Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells this past weekend to put out another blog that wasn’t about dating (a true shocker right?!). There’s been a lot spinning in my mind these last 6 months as I’ve been reflecting over time away from formal triathlon training. One thing that stands out is the purpose and place of running in my life. Some of my fondest memories and friendships have been tied to the sport, but it hasn’t been without sacrifice.
Time away has allowed me to question, is there a better way?? If you can take the time to read below my thoughts on pro’s, con’s and personal reflection I’d love to hear your response on this topic I feel so many of us can relate to..
There are plenty of obvious benefits when it comes to running –
Great bang for the buck – It’s a great cardiovascular intensive workout which allows for copious amounts of calories burned in a short period of time. Where as a long bike may routinely constitute 4-5 hours, most rarely run longer than 90 minutes and you can do a lot in as little as 30 minutes.
On-the-Go Option – When it comes to triathlon and entry barriers it’s clear where the obvious winner is. The financial hit of cycling can be insurmountable to those without the means (not to mention the growing risk of sharing the roads) and swimming, though relatively inexpensive in equipment can be tricky finding pools, much harder with open water logistics (access and safety). Running can be done literally anywhere, any time of day and any time of year (based on level of dedication).
Competition – Races provide multiple options, generally from 5k to marathon, at a reasonable price, year-round and across the country. The after-party justifies the effort and the community is generally warm, welcoming and fun loving. You don’t need an exclusive stage to compete at the highest level, the opportunity to PR or qualify is indifferent to the venue’s prestige, be it local 5k or Boston Marathon, etc. There are even fun offshoots to dabble with such as Spartan Races or the Beer Mile (an annual favorite of mine).
Now let’s get into the not so obvious disadvantages –
Injury – The act of running is incredibly corrosive. When it comes to triathlon I’m convinced 85%+ of issues stem from running related problems, particularly overuse injuries. When one does find themselves hurt swimming and cycling are familiar fallbacks (it’s rare that an injured person is limited to just running). It’s hard to think of anyone that’s been competitive into their 30’s that hasn’t had to overcome or continue to endure some form of injury, especially as you go up in level or distance of competition.
Body Image – We’ve been seeing Lauren Fleshman’s New York Times article all over social media recently however issues with body image tied to running have been a familiar theme to women for perhaps as long as running has been around. Less spoken about but still present is the effect it has on guys as well. I believe running caters to a specific body type and in order to be the best you need to conform or pick a different sport. The effects on a woman’s body are more physically obvious but the mental impact on guys to be super lean is still there.
Longevity – I’m not very clear if running is an indefinite gift or one with a timeline attached. Perhaps we haven’t yet given it enough study to see how the sport is meant to be practiced on the human body over long stretches of time. The one thing that’s clear is that like most sports there is an inherent understanding of diminishing returns. There is no way to get faster forever and whether it ends up being in your 20’s, 30’s or perhaps 40’s, there is going to be a natural point of slowing down.
My personal reflection –
Body: I have always enjoyed lifting weights and building strength with the growing understanding that it doesn’t make sense to endurance sports. Worse the miles have kept my legs lean while my upper body grows creating an off balance ‘bird legged’ state that is often joked about but surreptitiously gets to me. Taking the time off from running has allowed my body to grow incredibly with exponential strength gains, upper and lower. To add to that my back pain has gone away, my calve injury has become a thing of the past and I find myself feeling generally better (less achy) all around. I like how I look, I like how I feel and I enjoy the compliments. 6’1” 160lbs is not normal, in fact it’s considered the lower 10th percentile. Today, 6 months removed from running I am creeping up towards 180, and that makes me happy.
Consider the body type of endurance athletes, the more weight you must carry the greater the benefit of keeping lean –
I have had some friends tell me they run better heavier, but we are not on the same page talking 5lbs compared to the stark difference between long distance and sprint runners for example (straight from the internet so please take with a grain of salt)–
Do you feel that the sacrifice to body for elite competition is justified? Does body image in this state get to you?
Mind: Is competition still worthy without running? As it pertains to triathlon , in my experience the aqua bike is generally something people do while injured, on their way back to running. The aqua bike is less than triathlon and so is the accomplishment. When I consider switching to aqua bike I see the potential of the same degree of fitness with virtually the same level of competition and at the same time much less injury (see above) and the ability to compete at a healthier and more favorable BMI, and for perhaps a longer duration of time. All that said, and with a rational argument in favor, I still have a deep emotional response to watching a triathlon, having spectated at Ironman Indian Wells this past weekend, thinking I’d be forfeiting something special, lowering myself for handing in my chip at T2.
I’m not sure if my fastest days for running are in front or behind me however I know there are not many easy cycles left in this body when it comes to adapting to different activities (agility in soccer, efficiency in endurance and mass in strength). The human body is amazingly versatile however our ability to sculpt it goes down shockingly when entering into our 30’s and beyond. As crazy as it was to pass off soccer, my first athletic endeavor on great love, I am at piece with it. I wonder if the same opportunity is not there with running. There is the option to continue to race the run but in a heavier, slower state, but every ounce of my being tells me I would not enjoy running if not at my best.
How do you weight the value of accomplishment when it comes to aqua bike in triathlon? Is it less than triathlon?
I hope that if any of this resonates you will consider reaching out to me as I continue to ponder at a cross roads in my athletic career. I value the input of everyone in this voyage, be it at the highest level or just trying to make time to stay fit. I know that it is more about the journey than destination, and find it is best to ask questions along the way.