Saturday, 25 September 2010

3 Reasons Mountain Running Won't Destroy My Legs

You may have noticed I've been doing a lot of fell running recently. Big ones. Tough ones. A few of the posts have mentioned sore legs, feet, knees and other body parts.

In Scotland last month, I briefly met an older guy who'd been a top performer in the Ben Nevis race in previous years. He was struggling up the stairs at the bed and breakfast where we stayed.

"You'll have knees like me one day," he said, paternally.

Then, in a recent forum post I came across, a runner was explaining how bad his knees had become from years of mountain running.

So I have been thinking about this a lot. I do not want 'bad' knees or legs. Part of being Paleo is being in tune with our ancestral past and therefore living in a way which is optimal for our bodies. Optimally-used bodies don't start giving up at the age of 60.

I think there are three reasons this won't happen to me.

1. Recovery.
2. Diet.
3. Style.


Many runners, especially the faster ones, seem to run a lot between races. "I managed to get a couple in" is a phrase often heard from someone seen at a race the previous weekend. As though it's an obligation.

I think we were designed for more episodic, traumatic runs. Perhaps a long hunt or sudden move across the mountains to a new camp. We would then have rested when we got the chance, rather than feeling obliged to do yet more activity.

There is a line, different for each person, where the volume of running exceeds the ability to repair. The sweet spot is where your body has just finished a full repair when you next traumatise it. I doubt whether the training regime of most runners in the top 25% is on the right side of that line.

By mainly running only races, I will remain on the right side. I am certainly listening to my body, and right now it tells me I need at least another couple of weeks without any significant leg trauma. I will duly oblige.

I am happy not to be one of the faster runners - I think that is an important place to get to. The law of dimishing returns can make striving for ever more improvement a depressing long-term strategy for the mid-pack amateur athlete.

These days, my priorities have shifted towards enjoying the mountains, avoiding being timed out, and following the correct route. I am choosing longer and longer distances, which means a lower heart rate and therefore more of a Paleo-friendly workout.

Six years ago I was finishing much farther up the field, but I was training hard, running hard and only really getting pleasure retrospectively from the experience.


Another factor may be diet. High volume cardio training is often fuelled by a high carb diet, which can mean a lot of grains. There is evidence that grains aren't good news for the joints.

Could my Paleo diet further protect me?

The phrase I used earlier might actually say:

There is a line, different for each person, eating a given diet, where the volume of running exceeds the ability to repair.


Mountain running, which is almost exclusively the type of running I do, takes place on a more random terrain. This means runners are less likely to get the kind of specific oversuse injuries road runners can expect.

Nevertheless, many fell running shoes have big heels just like normal running shoes. A heel strike on any terrain will create more force through the legs than a forefoot strike and therefore promote more injury.

If I successfully apply the pose running technique (I am still working on this) in the context of mountain running, it should also avert the threat of leg deterioration.


sbrt said...

Some interesting thoughts there.

I came to fell running with damaged/painful joints. Unfortunately endorphins and ego still get the better of me.

Methuselah said...

Stephen - what damaged them in the first place? I've always felt that if nothing else, at least running on the fells spreads the load thanks to the randomness. If yours were bad from road running, perhaps the fells had some benefits?

sbrt said...

I think some of it is genetic. Some of it is from injuries falling out of trees crashing, motorbikes etc also a gung ho attitude to training.(I am getting better at listening to my body)

My Mountain marathon partner is 62 and has Rheumatoid arthritis which he controls will meds and diet. He has my deepest respect.

Methuselah said...

I have one or two friends who have also competed against the backdrop of a failing body and I never cease to marvel at it. I think they are made of different stuff. I guess Joss Naylor is the ultimate example.