Monday, February 3, 2014

The Problem with Run Groups

Let me say off the top that this is not meant to talk anyone down from running clubs, running in general, or aerobic exercise.  Whether you prefer "high intensity interval" training, "metabolic resistance" training, old-fashioned weight training, kettlebells, bosu, bootcamps, spin class... well, you get the idea.  Regardless of what it is that you do, what's important is that a) it's not going to hurt you, b)  you enjoy it, c) it's active and d) it's the appropriate exercise selection to your goals (meaning, for example, don't expect yoga to significantly improve your 10k run time).

That being said, it's important to keep in mind that running is a fairly advanced activity from a biomechanical standpoint, and not everyone is meant to log long (and for the sake of definition, I'm actually going to say that anything over 5km at a steady pace is "long") runs on a regular basis.  There are some who are born with the innate running gene and they can simply start running, increasing their distances over weeks and, despite the quality of their run stride or program, they excel.

But these are the outliers.  And at the other end of the spectrum are the people who do everything right, but in spite of this, they wind up unable to run because of injury (I'm not speaking about the type of injury that can happen to anyone - like rolling an ankle stepping off a curb).  And then there's the middle of the bell curve - the people who simply start running and, without a proper movement and strength foundation, wind up with small, nagging injuries that impede performance or completely curtail the training altogether.

And that's what leads to my frustration.  Many run groups are lead by, at best, people who were good runners (though not necessarily coaches) or, at worst, people who fill the role for no reason other than they're a positive and encouraging personality that's willing to show up every week.  In either case, it's rare that these leaders have the education, practice and coaching ability to develop the fundamentals necessary to improve your running safely.  So, lacking this ability, as people keep showing up, sometimes not losing the weight they wanted to, sometimes hitting plateaus in their performance, and sometimes developing chronic injuries, the group leaders just keep high-fiving,  encouraging and, ultimately, offering consolation when the individual hits the point where they simply can't run.

It would be nice if these run groups would recognize this weakness in the service their providing and come up with a solution from the outset, rather than having a physiotherapist, chiropractor or sports med doctor on speed dial.  It might be as simple as understanding the basic biomechanics of running so that they can take a proactive approach to referring out, or even having ongoing training for the leaders to help them institute a decent dynamic warm-up/movement preparation into the program.

I always refer back to Diane Lee's quote when someone tells me that they're going to start running:

You don't run to get fit.  You get fit to run.


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