Cyclists, runners, and swimmers. Endurance Athletes. Skinny people. Freaks of nature. Health nuts. These are all synonyms, right? Most people assume the same things about all of those runners and cyclists out on the road. Trust me, after years of being ‘that guy’ in the office that runs over lunch and eats weird things like salads and avocados, I have heard it all. I would like to rid the world of all of the common misconceptions (or at least my small world) about us freaks that wear spandex and run for hours in the woods and get up early on a Saturday morning just to sit on a bike saddle for half of a day. Here are five of the most common things I have heard over and over again – and the truth behind them:
1. “You must not like your knees. They aren’t going to last long if you keep on running like that.”
People, come on. Humans are not built like cars. We are not made of metal and plastic and rubber. There is no ‘shelf life’ on our joints. We are biological beings. We are made up of trillions of cells and bacteria and mitochondria. The real reason people have joints replaced is because the joints were not used correctly or at all in the first place. When a human being or a cheetah or a dog runs, there is blood and oxygen and cells and all kinds of crap being flushed through the veins, arteries, muscles, and joints – there are cells delivering oxygen, cells taking away lactic acid and waste, cells repairing damage. Of course muscles are broken down and joints hurt, but the human body rebuilds. Have you ever broken a bone? Did you have the bone replaced? I hope not. The bone heals. The body heals. It gets stronger.
My knees do not hurt more and more every time I run. They get stronger. They learn to take the impact. I used to think running 1 mile was the most amazing thing I could ever do – and it was hard! But then I ran a little more than a mile. And a little more. It didn’t take long before I was running marathons. 26.2 miles. I have run marathons and ultramarathons, and I still have knees. They are stronger now than they were when I started running years ago. They will be stronger tomorrow than they are today. Don’t worry about my knees. Worry about your’s.
2. “You need to eat more! Look how skinny you are! Do you eat anything?!”
Yes, I literally eat anything. Matt Fitzgerald says it best in his book Diet Cults, “There is a popular assumption that, as a group, obese individuals consume the most food. In fact, competitive endurance athletes typically consume substantially more calories than even the morbidly obese, which is interesting, because endurance athletes are also the leanest segment of society. That’s right: the leanest people on earth eat the most food. How is this possible? Lots of exercise.” I am skinny and lean, sure – but I also consume over 3000 calories every day. I burn a lot of calories. Embarrassing as it is, I likely eat more calories in peanut butter alone before I leave for work every morning than most people eat for breakfast and lunch combined. I’m telling you: I eat plenty. I am married to a dietitian (a damn good one at that), so my calorie consumption is spot on. Every couple of months, I keep a food log and Giesla pours through it and evaluates it along with my training. This way, I can stay on top of my calorie, carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs. If I’m not getting enough calories, I can feel it during training rides. I will feel sluggish; my legs will feel heavy; and I will more than likely feel run down. I can only train well when I am eating right and eating enough. My body can only rebuild and get stronger when I am taking in the good stuff (fruits, vegetables, and beer…okay, not too much beer). The next time you see a lean dude running or riding, you can bet he eats like a monster.
3. “You ran a marathon? I can’t even run a mile!”
Really? When was the last time you tried? If I payed you a million dollars, I guarantee you would run a mile. Running is not easy. This is why most people don’t run. But everyone can do it. Our bodies were built for it. If you haven’t run in years or ever, of course it will be hard for the first two weeks or months. Maybe it will suck for the first year. When I started running, I hated it. I hated it for almost two years – it was hard. But it got easier, and it actually started to feel good. I actually started to get energy from running. And I don’t want to hear that all-too-common cop out of “I am too old.” My dad, at the age of 54 and having never run in his life, decided to do a half marathon. He went from zero running to a half marathon in a couple of months. He battled shin splints and a torn meniscus (he didn’t know it at the time), but he ran 2:06. Two hours and some change, at 54. With a torn meniscus. That’s badass. So yes, you can run. Please stop saying “I can’t even run a mile!” It may get laughs at the office, but runners all over the world get a ringing in their ears every time you say it. Stop it. The ringing in my ears is so annoying.
4. “You know, your heart only has a finite number of beats. When you run, you are taking time off of your life.”
This is simply not true. I shake down to my toes every time someone says this to me. There are so many things wrong about this statement, I don’t even know where to start. First and foremost, if this were true, I still would not care! I love running, and I love riding. I don’t want to spread out my days as much as I can and live the absolute longest possible life I can – rather, my goal is to live my life the way I want to and do what I want to and experience everything that I can while I am here.
That being said, here’s a quick explanation why this is not true. The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute. This means that the average heart muscle pumps somewhere between 60 and 80 times in a minute. Over a 24 hour period, the average heart will beat between 86,400 and 115,200 times. Because I use my heart and push it regularly, it is strong. My resting heart rate, and that of most endurance athletes, is about 40 beats per minute, so my heart beats about 57,600 times in a 24 hour period. So if our hearts really do have a set number of beats before they stop – I will live twice as long as the guy who has a resting heart rate of 80. And I will still be running and loving every minute of it. Saying that your heart only has a certain number of beats is like saying women can’t run – it’s old fashioned, it’s stupid, and I’ve been passed by enough women in races to know better. Get smarter, get your heart healthier, and shut up.
5. “You must have a lot of time to do all that running and bike riding.”
No, I don’t have a lot of time. I have no time at all. Between a full time job, a 2 hour-commute, house projects, a giant garden, family and social commitments, cooking dinners, and all of the automobile/house/plumbing/yard problems that pop up, I don’t have time. I have to make time. A very large portion of my training is completed between commitments. If I had a dollar for every time I rode my bike between a baby shower and a wedding or squeezed in a long run in the middle of a family party and meeting up with friends for a beer, I could hire someone to take care of my stupid garden. It is not always convenient, but it is necessary to squeeze a run in here or a ride in there and try to stay as consistent as possible through the week. I always have a bag with me full of running and biking gear – and I won’t even talk about how often I ‘clean up’ in a bathroom sink or throw on a suit in my car moments before a meeting or a wedding. Luckily, Giesla is not only understanding of all this, she is usually right there with me. We joke that we have changed clothes in our car more times than we have in our home.
The truth is that in today’s world, especially in the hectic, busy, over-committed country we live in – no one has time for anything anymore. But if you want something bad enough, you MAKE the time. Sometimes, the yard work gets delayed in order to fit in a long run. Sometimes, the shower plumbing is going to keep on leaking into a bucket, because I have to go for a three hour ride. It sounds ridiculous, and I fully understand that – but I am a happier, more balanced person because of it. And in the end, it’s my life. It’s your life. If you want something and don’t have the time to go for it, make the time. You will be grateful that you did. Just remember to empty that shower bucket every once in a while.
Before you leave a brash comment about how hard it is with kids, let me say one more thing. Some of the strongest endurance athletes I know have kids. I could talk about the doctor I met at an ultramarathon who was a father of four – who also does Ironmans. I could talk about Rich Roll, Michael Arnstein, or my friends and family members who have kids and still run marathons and half marathons and go hiking and biking, but this post would be gigantic. They tell me it is very hard, and that with kids, life is busier and more hectic than you can imagine. It makes training harder. But… it is very, very doable. I love the example they have set. To the moms and dads who still make time for running 5Ks and biking centuries and being an awesome example for your kids, keep it up – you are amazing.
Now get out and do yourself a favor – stop worrying about my knees,
start eating well,
make time to do something you love.
You will be healthier and happier because of it.