Sounds like a pretty obvious question, doesn’t it? But it’s one that continues to divide those of us with contrasting backgrounds (or, to put it a simpler way – those of us who run, and those of us who don’t). The regular runners will quickly come to the defence of the sport and say ‘yes, injuries do happen, but the benefits hugely outweigh the risks’. Then the non-runners will say something baffling like ‘I knew a man once, who used to run every day. Now he can’t walk because his knees disintegrated…’ Or some other dubious story, along those lines, spoken like it’s definitive proof.
I’m not totally sure how running has found itself with such a strong reputation, above other sports, for being a dangerous one to do long term, when there are so many runners out there still going strong well into old age.
ALL sports have their cases of injuries. Think you’re safe from injury if you play something gentle like golf? Or low impact sports like cycling or swimming?
These lower impact sports still contain potential for an ‘overuse’ injury, or ‘repetitive strain’, however unlikely. This is essentially a flaw appearing in any repetitive movement for long enough that it causes some sort of micro-tear, or inflammation etc etc…
Less impact decreases the chances of any severe tears, which make them perfect sports for rehab or cross-training work for runners, but if you go your whole life avoiding any activities with impact involved, that is a recipe for bone density issues later in life.
As runners, we often refer to small injuries as “niggles”. A kind of mild pain or discomfort that usually only require a couple of days rest for a full recovery; but the language is actually defensive, because we want to play it down to the people around us. As frustrating as injuries are, they are NOTHING compared with the agonising frustration caused from that sedentary acquaintance we all know, smugly telling us that running is bad for our knees. It’s bad enough when this sort of lazy statement comes from someone from another sport, who just doesn’t understand the long term benefits to the joints from running; but coming from a self-righteous couch potato, trying to drag everyone down to their level using dismissive, sweeping statements; this is both hilarious and frustrating in equal measure.
So maybe this reputation comes from the more serious examples of long term injuries in runners that unfortunately can happen, but again, ALL sports have these, and are usually more incidental than anything else. Slips and falls are the biggest culprits. Even if you don’t feel injured right away; weeks of running slightly over to one side to compensate for a bit of pain, can create a much worse injury from it (I guess, as runners, we can be stubborn when it comes to pain), or worst-case scenario, the fall results in the breaking of something, which can take us out for a long time. That’s a risk, unfortunately that comes with any sport if you’re unlucky enough.
The way I look at it is like this:
If you go swimming once a week, you dramatically increase your immediate risk of drowning, but in the unlikely event of a sink or swim type scenario, the odds then significantly swing in your favour.
Like swimming; the ability to run can potentially serve as a survival skill. Even if you don’t value it as essential, it’s certainly a useful skill to have in your armoury, for all sorts of situations.
There are very few occasions in this modern age when we need to run somewhere 26.2 miles away in a hurry, but it’s nice to know we could, if ever we find ourselves running late for the bus, for example.
Running is also a great management tool for all sorts of things like stress, depression, anxiety and even addiction in some cases. Many of us are aware now that exercise produces endorphins, which make us feel good; and running is a fantastic form of this, which can be used however we like. It can be a social endeavour, where the camaraderie boosts your performance, or it can be a more solitary pursuit, for those like myself, who prefer running alone in the middle of nowhere for that sense of mental clarity.
So, is running worth the risk of injury?
For me, it’s an absolute no-brainer. The pro’s by far outnumber the con’s, and I can also happily report that the runners I have worked with over the years with a sensible, progressive volume of training, plus conditioning and technique sessions to back it up have all suffered with far fewer injuries than most for it.
It’s a real shame there’s such a lot of scaremongering surrounding running as a sport, but hopefully, if more and more of us train smart and enjoy our running for longer; in a few year’s time, that same scaremongering will become a lot harder to do!