2016-10-28

There Are Two Kinds Of Runners

Sometimes it seems as though there are two kinds of runners in the world.

I read a lot of articles about “advice for running.” Judging by the sheer quantity of such articles, it appears that a large segment of the population wants to “start running,” but doesn’t know where to begin. I’ve written my own unique take on this, through various posts over the years. Before I get to the “two kinds of runners” I’ve been thinking about, let’s quickly review my core advice to new runners:

Advice To New Runners

Run Instead Of Jogging

One look at the definition of “jogging” on Wikipedia should make clear why I advise people against jogging. Jogging is like running, only at slower speeds and with worse form. You might not be ready to run fast, but bad form is sure to produce chronic running-related injury.

Instead of jogging, you should practice running from the very first moment you pick up the sport. Don’t adopt the silly postures of a jogger, just put your shoes on and go. You probably won’t have perfect form when you start out, but at least you’ll be on a path toward better form. Jogging, by contrast, forces you to condition yourself to bad form. Don’t do it.

Don’t Walk/Run; Run Until You Can’t Run Anymore, Then Walk

Also, don’t run/walk. Walk/running was invented to help people cross a finish line when it was unlikely that they had the physical conditioning to finish the race the ordinary way. That in and of itself should raise a red flag in your mind: If you’re not in good enough physical shape to complete a test of running ability, then you shouldn’t take that test in the first place!

The reason why walk/running doesn’t work is because it teaches you how to stop when you’re tired, instead of continuing on. If you want to run a mile, but you get tired and have to stop running every other block, why would it make sense to develop a training strategy in which you stop every other block? No, the key to running the full distance is gradually increasing the distance over which you can run without stopping.

So, instead of walk/running, I recommend simply starting with something easy and do-able, like 3 minutes of running, and then spending the rest of your workout walking. The next day, do 4 minutes of running, and then walk the rest of the way. Then 5 minutes of running, then 6, and so on. In as little as 30 days, you’ll go from nothing to being able to run a full 30-minute workout. Much better.

Accept The Fact That Running Is About Overcoming Adversity

I can’t tell you how often people have said to me, “I wish I could run, but I just can’t. It hurts.” If pain avoidance is of great importance to you, then running should fall low on the list of things you attempt. You may as well hang up your sneakers right now and go to the beach. Running involves overcoming the urge to stop – the same urge that many call “pain.”

If you’ve never done much cardiovascular conditioning before, then your lungs are going to burn when you first start running. As you improve, the burning will go away right up to the point where you start running faster, and then it will come back. Breathing hard and pushing yourself makes your lungs burn. That’s just what it does. Your heart will pound in your chest. This is not always a pleasant sensation. Sometimes it, too, hurts. As you become a better runner, the pounding will lessen for the same level of activity, but as you push yourself harder, so, too, will your heart beat harder. This is the nature of cardiovascular exercise. Accept it.

But running also works out several muscle groups, and if you haven’t worked those muscle groups out recently, then your muscles are going to be sore later on. That’s because working out your muscles involves literally tearing them down and causing your body to rebuild them in a better way. Tearing your muscles down hurts. It just does. It burns initially, as your legs are filled with acid, and then it aches later on as your muscles try to recover. But this is exercise – it comes with the territory. Drink a big glass of water and put your big-kid pants on.

And finally, in some rare cases, some people just haven’t figured out how to put one foot in front of the other without a jarring impact with each foot’s landing. This is a form problem, caused by that person’s erroneously engaging in jogging as opposed to running. See above.

Two Kinds Of Runners

Now that we’ve been through a brief recap of my philosophy toward taking on the sport of running, I’d like to discuss a pattern I seem to have noticed among people who run.

Some runners enjoy the process of throwing themselves into a new running challenge. For example, on one of my running routes, I get to run over a big, long, steep downhill portion. This is a lot of fun because I get to run very fast with minimal effort. If I run the same route in reverse, I’ll have to run up that same hill, which is obviously much more difficult. Some of us look at a challenge like that and think, “That’s going to be really, really hard… THAT’S AWESOME!” Another group of us would refuse to even consider running up a big hill unless they absolutely had to, and they’d hate doing it every step of the way.

When I was a young runner, my friends and I used to like to challenge each other to seemingly ridiculous running-related tasks. We’d take our most-hated workout and encourage each other to do it twice in a row. We’d carry each other up staircases while running. We’d make a joke of extending our workouts 50%, 75%, 100%. When some of us would cut through corners when turning  on city streets, the others would shout, “You’re only cheating yourselves!” In short, anything that made running more difficult, and more painful, and more of a workout was something that we took on eagerly, with a laugh.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that we who did this ended up being the faster runners; nor should it surprise you to learn that those of us who approached running this way are still running a lot in our thirties and haven’t put on a lot of excess weight. Those who spent their time mainly avoiding hard work and socializing-while-jogging have ultimately not stuck with running in the long term, and were never really good at it to begin with. One has to wonder whether they ever even enjoyed it.

It’s tempting to say that only one of these two groups is “the group of real runners,” but that isn’t true. Anyone who runs is a runner. The reason I choose to delineate between the two groups is because their disposition toward running is wildly different. When you read HuffPo articles about walk/jogging, you’re reading an article that is intended for people who have to plead and bargain with themselves in order to run. They’re articles for people who have a low tolerance for pain and adversity (at least as far as running goes), and who are not innately driven to challenge themselves on their own.

Such HuffPo articles might be a great benefit to that group of people, but it’s important to remember that there is another group of runners out there. That other group is comprised of the people who enjoy making their runs extra-long, or extra-difficult, or extra-painful simply because the challenge appeals to them. They’re the ones who always talk about endorphins, and about how much they love running.


So, if you’re a member of the “easy does it” group, and you’re imagining that one day you’ll morph into the other kind of person, then my advice to you is to adopt the strategies and proclivities of that group. If you find you enjoy it, you’ll stick with it. But it’s equally likely that you won’t end up being one of those crazy-runner-types, and if so, you may as well admit that to yourself. It’ll make you happier.