If you are reading this article, chances are you are someone who is interested in finding a little inspiration or insight based upon either curiosity about, or a passion for running.
The casual observer or non-runner might see running as something very basic, as simple as placing one foot in front of the other and repeating, as often and rapidly as possible. But to put it simply, running is not so simple.
In truth, running is a very complex and confusing science, and whether your goal is to run for improved health or to compete seriously, there is a great deal to be learned from the wisdom and experiences of the experts.
Yet, even in a technological age where scientific research and medical science has provided so many answers, there are still almost as many mysteries regarding running that neither science nor medicine can agree upon.
The most glaring example of these mysteries is the barefoot vs. shod-runner controversy that continues to perplex the modern runner ever since the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougal’s book, Born to Run (See: http://www.chrismcdougall.com/barefoot.html). A central theme of McDougal’s work is that man is a natural born runner who was born to run naturally; or to put it more directly, man was born to run without having to rely upon expensive $125 shoes.
While McDougal states his thesis with articulate and reasonable arguments, the fact remains that there is very little scientific research to support his assertions. The bottom line: scientists really do not know whether it is better or more efficient to run barefoot or in running shoes (See: http://sweatscience.runnersworld.com/2012/02/barefoot-versus-running-shoes-which-is-surprisingly-more-efficient).
Another controversy that neither scientists nor doctors can agree on is whether or not stretching—before or after running—is beneficial or harmful (See: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/flexibility). And to take this argument even further, the experts do not seem to be able to agree on whether or not an athlete should use static stretching or dynamic stretching. But again, the bottom line is: no one really knows for sure.
What we generally can agree on when it comes to running is that there truly is nothing new under the sun, yet there is so much more to be learned. And rather than relying upon the experts of science and medicine, perhaps the best sources of expertise are the practitioners and coaches associated with the sport.
Nearly everyone has a favorite running associate from whom they can glean information and find answers to running related questions. For some, it is a trusted and experienced road warrior, to others perhaps it is an old high school or college coach. But nearly everyone agrees that there are certain trusted sources that even the most experienced and knowledgeable runners can turn to. These are the innovators of running and racing, who gave us so much in a relatively short period of history; the true pioneers who turned their own fascination and passion for running into a study that all of us can benefit from.
Among these great legends are names such as Arthur Lydiard, the late New Zealand coach who churned out long distance Olympic running champions like Blue Bunny churns out ice cream (See: http://www.lydiardfoundation.org/pdfs/al_lecture.pdf); and Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon coach often credited with inventing the modern running shoe, which led to the founding of Nike (See: http://inside.nike.com/blogs/nikerunning_news-en_US/2009/06/01/who-was-bill-bowerman). And then, of course, there is Jim Fixx.
Today’s runner perhaps owes more to the works of Jim Fixx than most who know his whole story are willing to admit. Fixx is perhaps best known as the author of the bestselling book The Complete Book of Running, which, when published in 1977, helped launch one of the first running booms in the U.S. Fixx was 35-years-old, weighed 240 pounds, and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day when he took up running in 1967. After his book was published, Fixx had dropped sixty pounds, kicked the smoking habit completely, and convinced an entire nation of the health benefits of running and how it would lead to a longer life expectancy for those who regularly partook in it (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Fixx).
Sadly though, what Fixx is most remembered for is the fact that after gaining all this notoriety and attention for the health benefits associated with running, he keeled over during one of his routine ten mile runs one day and died at the rather considerably premature age of 52 (See: http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=4082).
Today, we celebrate many of the ideals espoused in Fixx’s book, because by and large, they remain inspirational and informative. As Fixx’s own untimely death proved, none of us are immune from the ravages of death, and when there is a pre-existing health risk—which indeed was the case with Fixx—we are not guaranteed any particular surplus of years. Sure The Complete Book of Running is filled with misconceptions and unproven notions about running, but at the same time, it is filled with insights and brilliant conclusions that were seldom espoused before Fixx brought them to light.
But what makes Fixx one of the great innovators of the sport of running has as much to do with his unfortunate death as his perceptive writings. Since his early demise, sports medicine has come to study and comprehend so much more about the risks associated with sudden death in athletes. The subsequent recent publication of marathon great, Alberto Salazar’s book, 14 Minutes, serves as a reminder that our health is not something to be taken for granted. Despite his seemingly perfect health, Salazar collapsed from a heart attack at the age of 48 and was clinically dead for fourteen minutes before being revived.
If we learn nothing else from the innovation of Jim Fixx, it should be that regular check ups are something every aging runner should take very seriously, regardless of how well or how young he or she feels; and when it comes to running innovation that is the bottom line.