Running Up That Hill

“One Running Shoe in the Grave” screams a Wall Street Journal headline:

In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

I won’t be throwing my New Balances on the bonfire anytime soon. “8 miles per hour” is an awkward phrase — runners gauge their pace in minutes per mile — concocted to mask how few people this second study applies to.

Eight miles an hour is a 7:30 pace, which is a good clip for most. To give you an idea of how few runners that is: In this year’s New Haven 20K (12.4 miles), only 379 of 2,373 finishers ran a 7:30 or faster. That’s 16 percent. In the 5K (3.1 miles), 410 of 3,548 finishers ran 7:30 or faster. That’s 12 percent. The remaining 84-88 percent of those racers, meanwhile, can expect to reap “significant mortality benefits.”

There’s not even an impairment here — the study simply showed no benefit for anyone running at sustained high speeds.

From this rather dull news peg the story then slides into the horrors of extreme sports like Ironman racing, which should shock the same folks who don’t realize pro boxers and NFL players sometimes experience brain trauma. Yes, elite (generally regarded as the top 10 percent of the field) and/or professional runners and triathletes often sustain injuries like “cardiac abnormalities,” increased risk of stroke, and a host of orthopedic ailments. That’s why it’s no country for old men. But the hebephrenic headline and tone of the article are misplaced, as are the “See? I told you so!” opinions of many of the commenters extolling the virtues of an inactive lifestyle while they rub the pizza grease on their bellies.

I’ll keep running up that hill, and if you run, so should you.

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