Running: Thoughts and Questions of a Non-Runner

It seems every publication I read lately offers advice on healthy habits, with exercising at the top of the lists. Persons of all ages now walk or run — competitively, for fun and/or simply for health reasons. In the past, the only folks I recall who ran seriously were track athletes. I’ll admit to walking and minimal running to stay in shape for senior softball.

America is well known for activities that briefly capture public attention on a grand scale for a while and then recede in interest. During the 1920s and 1930s, dance marathons swept the country, and in the 1950s spinning hula hoops was the rage.

Given the current grand scale of interest in running, there must be something very attractive to large numbers of people. Don’t take my questioning as suggesting that I am against running. I simply think it interesting to explore subjects that may not otherwise be considered.

My first question relates to health issues. I discussed running with my orthopedic physician (a runner himself), and asked his view on the prospect that many runners will become candidates for knee, ankle and foot surgery. He answered that multiple factors go into determining that prospect, including body structure, genetics and running behavior. Persons with excellent muscle and bone structure configurations are likely to be able to run for years without important deterioration. On the other hand, family genetics can contribute to accelerated bone and cartilage loss, shortening comfortable running years and making individuals at high risk for various surgeries.

Interestingly, I am told that runners in Kenya who run on earth have fewer orthopedic problems than those in other parts of the world who run on hard surfaces.

Beyond muscle/structure issues there are also metabolic risks associated with long distance running or running under extreme weather conditions. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted studies suggesting “the mortality benefits of running may diminish or disappear at mileage exceeding 30 miles a week.”*

In addition, running style, or the particular style with which a runner moves their body in striding, can produce negative impacts. In a race in which my doctor recently participated, he followed a woman runner up a hill and noticed a peculiar way in which she twisted her legs that was quite abnormal and could shorten her pain-free running days.

My doctor’s final observation involved pain. He said that once running becomes painful, that’s the time to stop and allow time for full recovery. If this doesn’t produce pain-free running, he suggests stopping and taking up some other type of exercise.

My second question is prompted by the old saw — “to understand something, follow the money.” There is a lot of money involved with the running recreation.

Road racing has become a popular means of raising money for charitable causes. Creating awareness of issues is also an objective. Hopefully, the majority of the money raised for charitable activities finds its ways to those causes. However, there are many fundraising support organizations whose charges are substantial and greatly subtract from the money reaching the targeted beneficiaries.

Individual situations vary greatly and, under the best conditions, firms and individuals cover the “overhead” costs associated with conducting the races and the full proceeds of entry fees and sponsorship donations go to the targeted charity. Reputable charity races have a website to which you can go for a report on income and expense, or a phone number that you can you call to get a report.

A friend heads a national charity organization that sponsors runners in races across the country. Costs she is typically required to pay for the runners her charity sponsors include: masseurs, professional trainers, registration fees, meals and product item costs such as T-shirts. Obviously, to produce a net positive return, the minimum sponsorship amount one of her sponsored runners must raise has to exceed the costs.

A closing note on another subject: The Frederick-New Market Gazette recently ended publication. It is amazing that a newspaper so chocked full with ads could not meet the profitability goals of its parent firm, The Washington Post. A positive side to the loss of the Gazette is that the circulation area will no longer have Gazettes thrown on driveways, left to be ground to pulp by cars. Unfortunately, it appears Gazettes will be replaced by ad packages.

*Source note: Helliker, K., Endurance Running and Other Bad Habits, WSJ, May 24,2013, pg. D10.

Editor’s Note: Rich Terselic is a member of the board of directors of the Villages of Urbana Homeowners’ Association.

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