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Let’s Get Running - Paleo Running

Running is one of the first things people think of when they want to get fitter however it probably shouldn’t be. Running can be a fantastic health promoting activity, but and there is always a but. Running is quite difficult.

Tried Before - Couldn’t Do It

Given that you see many people running, you might reasonable ask why is running difficult? The answer might surprise you, quite simply as a species humans are not very good runners, compared that is with other animals. Take your typical domestic cat, if you could point it in a straight line it would easily outpace the fastest human over 100M and as for dogs, an overfed Labrador would leave the same human sprinter floundering some distance in its wake, When we are amazed by someone’s latest running performance we tend think wow that’s amazing, to be more accurate we should be thinking wow that’s amazing… for a human! So if you’ve tried to run and failed, don’t worry about it, you’re not the only one and there’s a good reason.

What humans are really good at is walking and jogging, it is our prowess at walking that has enabled the human race to reach and populate every habitable space on earth. Our unique bipedal upright structure has evolved to give us phenomenal economy of movement. A typical human walking gait utilises our tendons and facial tissues to absorb and recycle our walking energy, muscle involvement is relatively minimal. A typical walking gait on a level surface will be maintained by recycling up to 93% of our energy step to step, so we only have to input 7% of energy to maintain our momentum.

Over millions of years as humans evolved into one of the earth’s apex predator species, we didn’t achieve that by being great runners, rather it was because of our walking prowess combined with our ability to sweat. Our ability to dissipate heat exceeds that of almost all of our prey animal targets. 

Our ancestors learned to stalk a likely animal by jogging towards the animal to make it run away, the animal would then sprint off causing it to heat up it would then stop to recover. Our ancestors walked to close the distance and once again when caught up, jog towards the animal to make it run away again, once in a while if necessary we would add a short sprint to heighten the anxiety of the prey animal, but running is metabolically expensive for humans and on uneven ground the risk of falling and injury is increased so high speed running was kept to a minimum. This process would be repeated multiple times until the animal became heat exhausted and either collapsed or just gave up and awaited its fate.. 

Walk-Jog-Walk (Paleo Running)

The Walk / Jog / Walk repeating cycle is the absolute metabolic and mechanical sweet spot for the human anatomy, it’s what we are made to do. I advise anyone new to running to actually start with just walking, utilise nature’s gift. Quite simply if you can’t walk 5K what hope do you have of running 5K? Once you are comfortable with moderate brisk walking you can then add a short gentle jog, then resume walking and so on. Over time the jogging intervals can get longer. Not only does this process start the improvement in your cardio vascular (CV) system that most people associate with “fitness” but also the slower more hidden process of becoming mechanically stronger and conditioned. This conditioning will, in the longer term, enable you to run further and faster without injury. I call this protocol “Paleo Running”, basically we run like a Palaeolithic Hunter Gatherer, we walk a little, then jog for a while and when our fitness develops a little we include short sprints to harass the deer and elk. Maximising our metabolic efficiency, minimising energy and mechanical impact.

Running Isn’t An Elite Activity

There’s only one problem with the Walk / Jog / Walk approach, people are impatient. I think the impatience is mainly due to most people thinking that running should be easy, running is in fact a skill. If you look at martial arts, people have no problem understanding that punching and blocking are skills that need to be regularly trained and rehearsed. Of course everyone can punch and block instinctively, but even the most highly trained martial artists spend a lot of their training time, training very basic punching and blocking. Running should be approached in the same way, everyone can run, but it takes practice to run well with skill. Hopefully you might now appreciate that running isn’t as easy for us than you perhaps thought and a little careful preparation can really ease the process. Running is made up of three basic elements:

1. Cardio Vascular conditioning- this is the part everyone focuses on, basically; can I run without getting out of breath?

2. Structural Integrity - are your joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments sufficiently conditioned? Most of us need quite a lot of work in this area in order to avoid injury.

3. Running Skill - there is in fact a correct way to run and many wrong ways to run. Children, if left to their own devices, will run well but once we put shoes on them and put them on hard ground they will adopt bad habits that will last a lifetime. The exercises that develop Structural Integrity will also develop good running skill. Far more so than simply pounding the streets in pain repeating bad habits step after step.

Once you appreciate that running isn’t something that most people find easy and is often something people give up on, often after a failed couch to 5K attempt or similar. It is easier to forgive yourself and be a little more patient.

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