The past decade has seen a continued growth of distance running as a mass participation sport. The major city marathons continue to attract many thousands of entrants with aspirations ranging from sub 2:30 to simply completing the distance in whatever time it takes. Perhaps more dramatically, parkrun has grown from a local weekly gathering of a few club runners in south-west London to an event that attracts many tens of thousands of individuals at hundreds of local parks, not only in the UK but world-wide, on Saturday mornings to run 5Km in times ranging from 15 min to 45 min before getting on with their usual weekend activities. Over this same period, the ubiquity of internet communication has allowed the exchange of ideas about running in a manner unimaginable in the days when distance running was a minority sport pursued by small numbers of wiry, tough-minded individuals whose main access to training lore was word- of-mouth communication.
Not surprisingly, within this hugely expanded and diverse but inter-connected community there have been lively debates about many aspects of running, with diverse gurus proposing answers to the challenges of avoiding injury and getting fit enough to achieve one’s goals. Pendulums have swung wildly between extremes. My impression is that the fire in most of the debates has lost much of its heat as the claims of gurus have been scrutinised in the light of evidence. However, definitive answers have remained elusive. What have we learned that us useful from this turbulent ten years?
There have been 5 major topics of debate:
1) Does running style matter and if so, is there a style that minimises risk of injury while maximising efficiency?
2) Are minimalist running shoes preferable to the heavily engineered shoes promoted by the major companies?
3) What is the optimal balance between high volume and high intensity training in producing fitness for distance running?
4) Is a paleo-diet preferable to a high carbohydrate diet?
5) Does a large amount of distance running actually damage health, and in particular, does it increase the risk of heart disease.
In all five topics, debate still simmers. I have scrutinised the scientific evidence related to all five of these question in my blog over the past seven years, and I hope I will still be examining interesting fresh evidence for many years to come. However whatever answers might emerge from future science, in our quest to determine the answers that will help us reach out running goals we are each an experiment of one and now is the point in time when we must act. I think that the evidence that has emerged in the past decade has allowed me to make better-informed choices in all five of these areas of debate than would have been possible ten years ago. In my next few posts, I will summarise what I consider to be the clear conclusions for the past decade of debate, what issue remain uncertain, and what decisions I have made with regard to my own training and racing.
For me personally, the greatest challenge as I approach my eighth decade is minimising the rate of inexorable deterioration of muscle power, cardiac output and neuro-muscular coordination that age brings. Therefore my approach to these debates is coloured by the added complications of aging. Nonetheless, my goal is not only to continue to run for as many years as possible, but also to perform at the highest level my aging body will allow during these years. I hope that the conclusions I have reached will be of interest to any runner aiming in to achieve their best possible performance, whatever their age.