Thursday, 2 August 2012

Running and Running History

Running and Running History 

Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE

What is running?

Here's the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of running: to go steadily by springing steps so that both feet leave the ground for an instant in each step. That's the key: both feet are in the air at once. During walking, one foot is always on the ground. Jogging is running slowly, and sprinting is running fast. I'll discuss both jogging and running in this article.

What's the history of running?

Human beings started walking and running some 4-6 million years ago when we evolved and rose from all fours. Ten thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers like the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, ran 15-75 miles a day on the hunt. But it was Pheidippides (490 BC), an ancient "day-runner," who put running on the map. Pheidippides is purported to have run 149 miles to carry the news of the Persian landing at Marathon to Sparta in order to enlist help for the battle. Scholars believe the story of Pheidippides may be a myth (if the Athenians wanted to send an urgent message to Athens, there was no reason why they could not have sent a messenger on horseback), yet the myth had legs (no pun intended) and was the genesis of the modern marathon. It was the first running of the marathon (26 miles 385 yard) in the modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens that commemorated Pheidippides' historic run. Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, track and field, including running, took a prominent place in the field of sport. By the late 1800s, children in school were competing in running races. In the 20th century, it was the famous black sprinter Jesse Owens who, in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, shattered Hitler's dream of proving the superiority of the Aryan race by winning gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and the 400-meter relay. More American were spectators of running than they were participants during the era of Jesse Owens, but that has changed in the past 35 years. Runners like George Sheehan, Bill Rodgers, Jeff Galloway, Alberto Salazar, and Grete Waitz (winner of nine NYC marathons from 1978-1988 and inspiration to all women to get out there and run!) promoted running through their athletic success, and now running is solidly a popular activity for exercise as well as for sport.

What are the health benefits of running?

The benefits of vigorous exercise are well described. The American College of Sports Medicine Position Statement on Exercise is a document chock-full of studies proving that vigorous exercise yields plenty of health benefits. One of the major points of the position statement is that there is a dose response to exercise; that is, the more you do, or the harder you do it, the more benefit you accrue. But this point is not to discount moderate exercise. You get plenty of benefit from moderate exercise, it's just that vigorous exercise seems to accrue even more benefit. The ACSM report makes it clear that "many significant health benefits are achieved by going from a sedentary state to a minimal level of physical activity; [but] programs involving higher intensities and/or greater frequency/durations provide additional benefits. For example, it was shown in one study that individuals who ran more than 50 miles per week had significantly greater increases in HDL cholesterol(the good fat) and significantly greater decreases in body fat, triglyceridelevels, and the risk of coronary heart disease than individuals who ran less than 10 miles per week. In addition, the long-distance runners had a nearly 50% reduction in high blood pressure and more than a 50% reduction in the use of medications to lower blood pressure and plasma cholesterol levels."

What are the fitness benefits of running?

Cardiorespiratory fitness (aerobic fitness or "cardio") is the ability of your heart to pump stronger and more efficiently and your muscles to use oxygen more efficiently. As you get more aerobically fit, your heart will pump more blood and oxygen with each beat (this is called "stroke volume") and your muscles will extract (or consume) more oxygen. For instance, if you have 100 oxygen molecules floating around in your bloodstream, a conditioned muscle might consume 75 molecules, whereas a deconditioned muscle might only consume 30, or even fewer than that. In fact, elite distance runners can be as much as three times more efficient at consuming oxygen than sedentary individuals. Running improves your aerobic fitness by increasing the activity of enzymes and hormones that stimulate the muscles and the heart to work more efficiently.

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