Running as a Continuum: Why What You Do Today Will Matter in the Years to Come
As runners, it’s so easy to be shortsighted. We tend to focus on training for the next big race or clocking that elusive new PB, and often forget that running has so much more to offer. And while short- and medium-term running goals are wonderful to have, it’s also good to take a step back and keep sight of the bigger picture.
Yes, running is a sport of instant gratification (hello, endorphins!). But, perhaps even more satisfying, is its ability to reward consistency and discipline in the long run. And by that we mean years and even decades of consistent, but also clever and disciplined running. Intrigued? Here’s what you can expect in return for a lifetime commitment to running.
Long-Term Training Gains
Well-known Canadian-American game show host, Monty Hall, famously said that he was an overnight success, but that it took him twenty years. And while his words were aimed at his television career, they’re also perfectly relevant to running.
Bob Kennedy, arguably one of the greatest US distance runners in history, is quick to acknowledge that running is a long-term process. Says Kennedy: “Running is a continuum. It builds on itself. And it doesn’t build on itself just from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, it builds on itself over years”.
Alan Culpepper, seven-time US champion and two-time Olympian, agrees. Talking about the process of building aerobic fitness, he says the following: “Just keep building those aerobic enzymes, year after year after year”.
So what kind of long-term training adaptations can you expect after years of consistent running? Frankly, the list is just as long as it is impressive. In short, it involves a whole range of different physiological adaptations, including adaptations of the skeletal muscles and bones, metabolic adaptations, and adaptations of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. And while discussing each them here falls outside the scope of this article, some of the anticipated adaptations are as follows:
- An increase in muscle size
- An increase in muscular endurance
- Strengthening of muscles, tendons and ligaments
- Increased stability and flexibility in joints
- An increase in bone width and density
- Increase in size and strength of the heart muscle
- Increased cardiac output, i.e. the volume of blood pumped by the heart per minute
- A lower resting heart rate
- An increase in the number of capillaries in muscles
- Increased blood volume
- Increased red blood cells
- An increase in strength of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles
- Increased number of alveoli (tiny air sacks in the lungs)
- Increased volume of oxygen delivered to the body
- An increase in the volume of carbon dioxide removed from the body
And the list goes on.
It’s therefore not hard to see that each of these physiological changes requires time and consistent training. It’s also clear that, over time, each of these adaptations can and will contribute to turning you into a more efficient athlete.
Long-Term Health Gains
But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the long-term training perks that running has to offer, it also delivers some highly appealing long-term health benefits.
According to Professor Wendy A. Suzuki from the Center of Neural Science of New York University, “the longer and more regularly you exercise through your life, the lower your chances are of suffering from cognitive decline and dementia as you age”. Now that’s worth clocking a lifetime of miles for, right?
According to Suzuki, this phenomenon can, in part, be explained by the fact that exercise boosts the “birth” of new hippocampus cells in the brain. Now the hippocampus of the brain is, in large part, associated with the formation of long-term memories. And, for those who consistently engage in physical exercise over the years, a steady number of healthy, new hippocampal cells build up in the brain.
But wait, it gets even better! Because the long-term health benefits of running include so much more than just mental health. Consistent, regular exercise (approximately 30 minutes five times per week over an extended period of time) may also help prevent the following:
- Type II diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
And, if you do get cancer, studies have found that running can improve your health, comfort and happiness while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
So do something today that the 70- or 80-year old you will thank you for: Get out there and run!
Food for Thought
Next time you circle the date of a goal race in your diary, remember that you’re training for so much more. And if you’re ever tempted to throw caution to the wind and over-train or skimp on recovery days, stop and remind yourself that a lifetime of consistent, sensible training will benefit you most in the long run. Yes, chasing PBs are exciting and fun. But do it in such a way that you’ll be able to benefit from your efforts in years to come. Train hard. Be consistent. Rest enough. Fuel your body with wholesome, nutritious foods. Because one day, in your senior years, the reward will be sweet.
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