You Don't Have to Run Marathons to Be Healthy

I haven't run more than 2 miles in just under a year. So why would I run 13.1 miles with absolutely ZERO conventional training?

Good question. Because I'm a complete idiot? That's debatable but not the reason I will present. 

It was an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen and how I would feel running that distance after only doing heavy resistance training, moving slow a lot (walking), and very short, intense interval training sessions - aka moving in ways that resemble natural human movement patterns.

The conventional training plan for these races is to run and run and run and run and run and run then go run a race. Running at a breathless speed is stress on the body - FYI.

And unless you're not built to run 20 or 30+ miles a week (and some people are), it is not a natural movement pattern for humans to run that much...ESPECIALLY when the majority of people who train conventionally for these races sit ALL DAY EVERY DAY. The stress that chronic endurance training creates can quickly move from beneficial stress to harmful stress.

There is also a common misconception that the only way to lose weight and get healthy is to train for and run long endurance races which creates a negative caloric balance. 

That is absolutely false. Read this and this for more on why calories don't mean as much as we all think they do. 

Does that mean you should never do a long distance race? Not necessarily.

Does that mean I think those things are the devil and should be eradicated from the face of the planet? No way. I think anything that gets people to consider getting off the couch is a good thing -- as long as you understand why you're going to go through something that will put a massive amount of stress on your body. If you're not careful, you'll be just as unhealthy as someone who just sits and watches Bethany all day.

Basically you can't have your cake and eat it, too. You can either be as healthy as you can possibly be -- or you can do multiple, long-distance, endurance events. 

You just have to understand that running marathons (for 99.9% of all humans) does more harm in the long run than good -- pun intended. 

If you love to race and love to run and love the training -- then by all means, DO IT!! That goes right along with the "Enjoy Life" pillar of the Simply Human Lifestyle.

But just understand that, just like everything else in life, there will be consequences down the road. Again, there is a very small sample of the human race (pun intended) that can handle this type of thing with NO consequences. 

My friend, John, fits that description. Most elite marathoners fit that description. They're just built different. It's like not everybody is built to be an NFL lineman. That is a very small percentage of humans. But they are out there. So if you're someone who has been running marathons for 20 years and are completely fine and these thoughts make you mad, they shouldn't because I'm not talking to you.

For the rest of us. running and running and running and running after sitting all day and wearing "casts" on your feet all day and eating non-human foods, will eventually lead to osteoarthritis or ligament tears or hip issues or feet issues or back issues or knee issues, etc...

So, I wanted to see what would happen if I "moved like a human" for six months then went out and slowly jogged 13.1 miles.


I felt great for the first five miles averaging about an 11 minute/mile pace. For reference, I have run a sub-1:30 half marathon three times which is a 6:50ish minute/mile pace. So this pace was excruciating slow from a mental aspect. I didn't break a sweat and never even got close to breathless. 

But I enjoyed myself. I took pictures at every mile. I stopped and talked to people. I took pictures of funny stuff I saw along the way. I could have CARED LESS how fast I was running.

By mile 5 my quads started to feel fatigued which was expected. My fastest three miles were 11, 7 and 8 respectively. That was a surprise. 

I walked for a minute or two after taking a pic at each mile marker. 

By mile 12 my legs felt like they used to after training for a marathon and at mile 22 of the marathon: heavy and tired. 

I stayed on my mid-foot the whole time. My feet were sore by the end but nothing acute. No sharp pain anywhere in any joint on my body. That was a sign that my feet have gotten very strong after really focusing on going barefoot as much as possible and wearing My Happy Feet socks whenever I can. 

Side note -- running in the 2:30 half marathon and 5:00 marathoner group, I saw a TON of foot and knee problems like feet pointing out, valgus knees, plodding on the heels instead of midfoot, huge clunky running shoes, was making me cringe thinking about all the miles those people had put in with those same tendencies. I ran in my 2 year old Brooks Pure Connects that are pretty worn down. 

A few people towards the end when I was walking yelled out "c'mon almost there! pick it up!" and I was thinking, "I don't care about finishing strong -- I'm just out here having fun -- leave me alone!!"

I finished in 2:24 - just under an 11 minute/mile pace. My legs were very tired and my knees were a little sore but I felt fine. I didn't need any fuel on the course after having some MCT oil and avocado before the race. 

I kept it oxidative the whole time and the oxidative system generally gets 70% of its energy from fat sources. 

So basically, because speed wasn't an issue for me, I feel today like I used to after about a 17 or 18 mile run, and I didn't have months and months of chronic stress on my body leading up to the major stress event. I had fun and will be fully recovered in a few days. 

Obviously, this is very anecdotal. I'm not saying you should go out and run 13.1 miles with zero training. This was just my experience. And it showed me that I don't have to be chronically stressed in order to run a long way.

And speaking of natural movement patterns, who's to say that once a year a human living in a "natural" state wouldn't have to travel 10-15 miles in a single day? So you could argue that running a half marathon once or twice a year would be something you could include in "move like a human". 

Want to run a marathon or half-marathon? Great! 

Just make sure to know the answer to the question: why do I want to do this? before you begin. 

Subscribe to the Simply Human Podcast on iTunes

Listen to the Podcast on Stitcher