Born to Run? Really? Me?!

“If you don’t think you were born to run you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.” – Christopher McDougall

ImageA few years ago McDougall’s book, Born to Run, took the sports world by storm. It propagated the research-supported idea that unlike every other mammal humans are designed for long distance running. Our upright stature, leg length, and lung and heart capacities are all built for running.

We are running machines, the book said.

Yet only about 4% of our population runs regularly. And let’s be honest, when we do run, most of us feel anything but machine-like.

Maybe you’ve just started your marathon or half training and have found yourself thinking, “I’m just not built for running!”

So what’s going on here? Was the Born to Run author just pulling our apparently ideal running legs? And if not, how exactly do we tap into our latent internal running machines?

Well, one key is that the questions about our individual suitability to running can’t be answered from just one run (or attempt to run). Unless of course you have no legs or have some other chronic condition that prevents you putting one leg in front of the other, the “born to run?” question will take weeks, months and
years to truly answer.

Here’s what I mean:

1) Give it Three Weeks: Studies show that it takes your muscles about a week just to recover properly from a workout and then three to six weeks for your body to fully adjust to its new level of training.

So if you’ve gone from zero to jogging around the block every other day, expect things to only become significantly easier once you’ve been doing it for almost a month. The first few weeks of a new running plan will be hard grind, but if you anticipate this, you’ll know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

2) Then Give it Three Months: Be patient. It took you a couple of years to learn to run the first time (i.e. when you were still in nappies) and it’ll be awhile this time as well as your body makes sense of this new interest in running long distances.

Most people can safely go from running 5k up to a half marathon in three months. This allows for four of those three-week blocks mentioned above, which each introduce a new training intensity and give time for muscle adaptation before tackling the next stage.

So whatever you do, don’t make up your mind as to whether you’re a runner or not, until some point after 3 November (the Auckland Marathon day).

3) And Then Give it Three Years … At Least: After three months of consistent running, most should feel comfortable heading out the door for a 30-minute jog and may even be getting some sort of enjoyment from longer and faster runs as well.

But the truth is, three months of running is only scratching the surface. The changes that running makes to your body take years to fully show themselves. Weight loss, muscle definition, lung efficiency, heart strength, running coordination, and, most of all, the mental aspects of realising what your body is capable of—all this takes years.

I mean, when was the last time you heard of an Olympic champion who had trained for just three months?

In summary, to say simply that we are “born to run” is a little misleading. “We are born to train” is probably more accurate. And that training takes consistency to truly unlock your internal running machine.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about ways to boost that training consistency and to maximise the fun and benefit you gain from each and every run.

Happy running.

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