The Impacts of Running

A few years ago I was training for a marathon, and I was feeling great throughout my training. I had just run my best half marathon time while training a couple weeks prior, and I was excited to get outside to do a 12 mile training run. The run felt great, the weather was beautiful, and I was in the zone. Then at mile 10, without changing anything in my stride, a sharp pain went straight through my ankle and I could barely walk. As a runner, I still tried to power through and managed to jog about another half mile, until finally I gave up and limped the rest of the way home.

So what happened? The short answer is I stress fractured my ankle from overuse. The longer answer dives into the anatomy of the human body, the stresses that are exerted on it, and the limitations of what we can endure without injury. After my injury (and a second stress fracture a couple months later), I began to wonder what kind of forces act of the human body while running, and whether or not it’s good for us to run for longer distances.

Any time you take a step, your body experiences a force that is greater than what it experiences while standing. A typical jog/run will exert between 2 and 4 times your standing force on your body. This means if you weigh 100 pounds, a single impact during a run will cause enough force to make you feel like 400 pounds. Your body does its best to absorb this shock to your body. The muscles in your legs act as a shock absorber, and the stronger your muscles, the less impact you will have loaded straight to your skeletal structure. This is why it’s important to weight train your lower body. Having weak or tight ankles or calves could lead to stress fractures in the foot and lower legs, which is what happened to me.

Shock absorbing shoes and insoles can help reduce the impact on your body, and has been scientifically proven that it helps reduce injury, but there could be some downsides to this. When you put on supportive shoes, the support and shock absorption that your muscles are adapted to provide are no longer needed. This triggers your body to weaken those muscles, and if you’re not careful, if you lose support in your shoes your muscles may not be ready to support the impacts of jogging the next time you go.

Another common technique runners use is they will run on softer surfaces to reduce the impact on their bodies. Scientists from the University of Calgary wanted to test this and see if impacts on harder surfaces such as concrete caused more injuries than softer surfaces, such as running on grass. The results were fairly surprising. They discovered that there wasn’t a noticeable difference in injury frequency when running on a softer surface rather than a harder surface. This could be because the cause of injury is more centered around an individual’s muscular and skeletal structure, rather than the force of the impact.

If you’re a walker or a runner it’s impossible to avoid the impact forces of the exercise, but you can reduce them by wearing supportive shoes or insoles. Also, impact activities such as basketball, running, or dancing typically produce an increase in skeletal mass, and are good ways to increase bone density to decrease your chance of stress fractures. Perhaps the best way to keep yourself from a running injury is to keep your lower body muscles strong and loose. The smaller muscles such as the ones in your ankles and calves are perhaps the most forgotten and important when it comes to preventing impact injuries. So for my runners and walkers out there, make sure you are staying ahead of any potential injuries by training your lower body muscles. If not you may end up like me, doing every cardio session on a stationary bike for months while my ankles healed.

Thank you for reading! If you want to learn more about the science behind walking and running impacts, check out these two peer-reviewed articles that I referenced when writing this article:


Cold Weather Running Tips

Having grown up in north-central Illinois, there’s not much weather I haven’t experienced in some way or another. There’s also not much weather I haven’t run in, in some way or another. From blisteringly hot, humid days to the frigid “polar vortex” air that sweeps across the prairie, running is possible with the right know-how and gear.

As the holidays come into full swing, the two weeks you may be lucky enough to spend celebrating is plenty of time to incorporate some running into your life, no matter where you live. As I pack my bags for home and some cold weather running, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned about running when it’s chilly.

Drink Water!

You may not realize it, but when you’re running in the cold you’re also getting dehydrated more quickly than normal. You may not be sweating, but your body is using plenty of water to stay warm and keep your feet moving. Although it may seem unnatural to drink cold water on a cold day while you’re running, it is absolutely essential. I’ve found that a wearable water source gets the job done for me, while some people prefer to carry water bottles. Another trick is to put a bottle of water somewhere along your route (if you run a loop) and take a sip each time you pass by.

Layer, Layer, Layer

Those new thermals at the running shop may look really awesome, but there comes a point when the wind and cold cut through even the most hi-tech of fabrics. The best answer to cold weather is the old fashioned layering method. It’s all about keeping the heat in when you’re running, so combining multiple fabrics and clothing weights is a great way to make sure you’re insulated against whatever comes your way. Think sweatshirt over long sleeve athletic shirt, sweats over leggings and socks over socks.  The best part about layering is that if it warms up, you can take a layer off to avoid getting overheated.

Have a Plan

Winter weather can change quickly, so always tell someone you trust about your route during the winter month. Take account for the earlier nightfall and the cooler temperatures that accompany those hours. Cell phones have been known to malfunction in cold temperatures, further emphasizing the need for another person who knows where you’re going. Also, if you’ve never run in cold, start with a shorter run and build up.

Don’t Forget About the Hands!

So you’re all layered up, hydration backpack set to go, and you have….one pair of cotton gloves. A lesson I didn’t have to learn twice is cold hands make for a long run. Invest in a good pair (or two) of winter gloves so you can have toasty hands and return from your run with the same number of digits as when you left.

This is a guest post by Zackary A. Landers. Landers is an ultramarathoner who is always looking for ways to serve his community and help his friends on the path to better health.

Running: A Little Goes a Long Way

When I tell my friends I’m a distance runner, one of the most common reactions I get is a groan, and something along the lines of “you must be crazy to run that far/that much.” While my love of running has taken me to some of the sports’ longest races, I tell them that in order to reap the myriad benefits of running, you don’t need to do much of it. Incorporating running into your weekly routine can be easy and fun!

Today, I’ll look at ways you can incorporate running into your exercise routine and take a quick look at the Copenhagen Study, illustrating some health benefits of running just a few times a week.

Use running as a warm-up/cool down

More into lifting weights at the gym? Do you get bored on the treadmill? Running can still help you get more out of your workout. Running just two miles, even for the beginner, takes less than 20 minutes and gets your heart pumping before you begin your normal routine. This kickstarts your mind and body, helping you stay focused on your workout and burning more calories due to your increased heart rate. If you’re like me, after a while the run will motivate you to workout harder. If you’d rather save running for the end of your workout, running can be a great way to cap your workout. This way, you don’t have to worry about burning energy you may want to save for another activity. Plus, it feels great to walk out of the gym after a good hard run.

Run to/from the gym

If you’re not a fan of treadmills, this is an easy way to work running into your day. If it is safe and feasible, check out the Google Maps tool that allows you to get walking directions to your gym. This will keep you off busy roads and allow you to add miles easily. Plus, no need to worry about parking!

Use Media!

With a smartphone in every pocket and Wi-Fi at most gyms, there’s no reason to worry about getting bored on the treadmill. During the months I’m running on the treadmill, I may start a TV series I only watch while working out or find new artists to listen to while running. Having a show to watch makes a run a lot easier to look forward to.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

If steady-state cardio isn’t your cup of tea, try HIIT. This method of short bursts of very intense exercise will help you get running and burn tons of calories. It can be something as simple as ending a set of pushups and rolling directly into a 50 yard sprint and going back to your routine. Working these intervals will add a new dimension of intensity to your routine.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of the Copenhagen Study from the American Running Association:

The Copenhagen City Heart Study, which started back in 1976, makes use of the Copenhagen Population Register and is a prospective cardiovascular study that boasts subjects of both genders totaling approximately 20,000. The youngest subjects are 20 years old, while the oldest are now 93 and counting. The goal three and a half decades ago was to increase understanding of the causes underlying heart disease and stroke. Since then it has yielded some 750 published research papers and expanded to include other diseases ranging from allergy to sleep apnea. The central idea continues to be discovering associations with longevity, and now they have done so for different forms of exercise.

“Jogging” is the term of choice here because, surprisingly, the researchers found the strongest link with longevity among people who ran at a “slow or average” pace for just one to two and a half hours per week.

The average lifespan increase for male subjects in this population of exercisers was 6.2 years; for women the increase was 5.6 years. The subjects were asked to self-report their pace as either slow, average, or fast. While this seems a fairly blunt instrument to measure workout intensity, it does suggest that people who run at an easy-to-moderate effort, several times a week, for just 30 minutes or more see real health benefits. As little as two half-hour easy runs per week appear to offer measurable improvements in life expectancy. Five easy runs per week at this duration puts you in the upper reaches of this optimal zone—this is hardly overtraining.

The mortality of 1,116 male joggers and 762 female joggers was compared to the non-joggers in the main study population. The first data was collected between 1976 and 1978, the second from 1981 to 1983, the third from 1991 to 1994, and the fourth from 2001 to 2003. Results showed that in the follow-up period involving a maximum of 35 years, 10,158 deaths were registered among the non-joggers and only 122 deaths among the joggers. Analysis showed that risk of death was reduced by 44% for both male and female joggers. 

(, accessed 1DEC2016)

This is a guest post by Zackary A. Landers. Landers is an ultramarathoner who is always looking for ways to serve his community and help his friends on the path to better health.