In Victorian times people believed that sports like running were bad for women because “excessive jumping will cause the uterus to be dislodged”. This seems laughable to most of us now, but this particular myth continued to circulate even as Kathryn Switzer was running the 1967 marathon.
Now is the time to put five other long-running myths (pun intended) to rest and move on to more challenging questions like, why are Trix only for kids?
Myth 1: Running is bad for your knees.
Since 45% of all running injuries involve knee pain the belief persists that running is inherently bad for the knees. However, the majority of knee related issues are a result of weak hips, tight muscles and overuse.
Researchers, such as Dr. Michelle Wolcott from the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine, note numerous studies show that weight-bearing exercises, like running, help prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Repetitive motion is required for the cartilage around the knee to receive oxygen and nutrients; running is one way to provide this stimulus.
A 2008 study by Stanford University found no greater appearance of arthritis in runners vs. non-runners, regardless of their total running mileage for the year.
Myth 2: Carbo-loading during race week for peak performance.
The original theory of carbohydrate loading developed from a 1967 military study of recruits under exhausting exercise conditions whose diets were first depleted then restocked with carbohydrates. In such extreme circumstances, it is no surprise to most of us that they began to perform better after receiving increased carbohydrates.
Since then additional studies have shown that after a week of carbohydrate loading the amount of glycogen in muscles was no greater than at the beginning of the week. Put more bluntly, athletes who spent a week adding bagels and pasta to their daily regimen received no performance gains. In fact, nutritionists suggest that the over indulgence in carbs may make athletes feel more lethargic and bloated leading up to race day.
Myth 3: Change your stride to stay injury free.
Thanks to Born to Run, barefoot and minimalist shoes have become a booming market in the US as runners flock to it for injury prevention. The concept behind the shoes is that they will teach runners to land on their forefoot instead of heel striking, preventing jarring to the body and injury.
On the surface the research makes sense and for those who have suffered repeated injuries looking at a change to form is advisable. However those without ongoing injuries may not need to spend both physical and mental energy trying to retrain their body. A large Army study found no difference in performance or injury rates between the two groups of runners.
The American College of Sports Medicine also released a new study showing that changing stride may reduce knee impact, but create stress in other areas such as the foot and ankle. Runners who change their stride without understanding the way it will affect their muscle usage are likely to create new injuries.
Myth 4: Injury is unavoidable.
Hang around a group of runners long enough and you’ll hear about an injury each of them as sustained. Worn a bit like a badge of honor these discussions perpetuate the idea that running hurts and always leads to injury.
Michael Conlon, owner and Physical Therapist of Finish Line PT, says most runners experience injuries because they don’t do any preventative work. Instead of learning about their weaknesses or spending a few minutes each day on exercises that will improve stability, runners focus solely on the act of running as a means to improve.
If you probe most rehabilitated runners on their new routines, you will find this to be entirely true. After an injury, they include daily strengthening exercises for hips, glutes and core. Finish Line PT prefers to see runners before they reach the DNF stage and provides these video guided exercises to help any runner learning to strengthen and stabilize their body.
Myth 5: Everyone hits The Wall.
"The Wall" has become as ubiquitous to running as Yasso 800’s. Runners feel that each is a rite of passage with the marathon, but the truth is hitting the wall doesn’t have to happen.
The “wall” is loosely defined as the point in the marathon when everything goes from “I can’t believe I’m going to do this” to “I can’t do this”. The body has run out of glycogen and every step begins to feel like a cement block has been tied to your leg.
Amanda Loudin, marathon coach and longtime runner, has seen firsthand that those who follow a racing and fueling plan can avoid The Wall. This requires not allowing race day emotions to push the pace early on, using up needed glycogen, and continuing to take in adequate fluids and nutrition for the full 26.2.
MIT scientist and marathon finisher Benjamin Rapoport took a more analytical approach to defining when a runner would hit the wall by developing a calculator to determine the necessary fueling needed by individuals to avoid glucose depletion. His study and calculator provide evidence that following the advice provided by Loudin runners can complete the marathon without bonking.
Additional reading: 7 carbohydrate loading mistakes