It makes sense that a sport that’s been around since the beginning of humanity would develop a healthy mythology. But if you believe in these five myths, your running will suffer. Your running enlightenment starts now.
Running Is Bad for Your Knees
There are plenty of good ways to hurt your knees. Skiing, mixed martial arts, tripping on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Running doesn’t make that list, at least not if you’re worried about long-term knee health and arthritis.
Runners are at some risk of knee-overuse injuries, especially tendonitis like runner’s knee, but a 2013 study found that runners had a significantly lower chance of needing knee or hip replacement surgery than non-runners. Why? Some researchers believe regular loading of the knee joint keeps the cartilage there healthy. And runners are also more likely to have lower bodyweight, a factor that’s closely related to knee and hip arthritis.
Bonking Is Bad
It’s never fun, but running out of fuel can make you a better runner. When done occasionally, with plenty of recovery afterward, many coaches argue that letting your body run out of fuel can improve marathon performance. Here’s how: In order to finish marathons on pace, runners must train to burn fuel efficiently. Bonking during a training run teaches your body to be judicious with how much fuel it’s burning, in order to avoid bonking the next time out. Doing this too often may compromise the quality of your workouts—it’s nearly impossible to run fast if you’re out of gas—but many coaches and runners believe that these types of workouts (sometimes known as depletion runs) can provide a powerful stimulus, especially when training for a marathon.
Trails Are Better for You (Because They’re Soft)
Trail running may keep you from getting injured, but it’s not because trails are soft and cushiony. Biomechanics have long known that surface hardness doesn’t make much difference at all: by subtly changing how we land, our bodies are pretty good at keeping impact forces constant no matter what we’re running on. In layman’s terms, that means most people unconsciously land a little softer when running on hard pavement, and a little harder when running on soft, pine-needle covered trails. But trails are still good. Many runners experience repetitive stress injuries, which result from doing the same motion, day in and day out, without enough recovery. Trail running requires constant dynamic movements and stride adjustments. That variation may lessen the chance of repetitive stress injuries, and may help runners develop strength and mobility that they would miss by running on roads.
A Lot of Running Is Bad for You
For this myth, we can largely thank a cardiologist named James O’Keefe, whose research has been covered extensively in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Fortunately, it’s also been well debunked, in Outside, Runner’s World, and even The New Yorker. The science on running a lot—60 miles per week or more—is thin, in part because so few people do it. But the best available evidence suggests that high mileage running is an overwhelmingly healthy activity.
Running Is Fun
Running is a lot of good things—it’s fulfilling, satisfying, challenging—and sure, running downhill is occasionally enjoyable. But most of the time running is just too hard to be fun, at least in the sense that ping pong or waterslides are fun. Finishing a good, hard run feels great, and cracking a couple of beers with your friends after you finish feels even better. But we’d be better off distinguishing that stuff from the running itself, which generally feels lousy. Sound like a silly, obvious myth? I’ve talked to way too many novice runners who’ve considered quitting the sport because running felt harder than they thought it should. So here’s my message to novices: Ignore how happy your running friends look on social media or in advertisements for color runs. Running is pretty hard, but setting out to do something hard and following through can be immensely satisfying. And that’s the point.