For five very long months [after injuring herself during a grueling half marathon], I basically couldn’t do anything that put demands on my body. I grew frustrated, became slightly depressed, and turned to food for solace, ultimately gaining 20 pounds. I couldn’t find anything to replace the feeling running gave me or the message I hoped it sent to my family and friends (and myself). That is, until I discovered a new way of working out that didn’t involve endlessly pounding the pavement. I started taking fitness classes—no, Richard Simmons wasn’t there, and they weren’t anything like the cheesy group aerobics you think of—and I fell in love. I went to a boxing class and learned how to throw a punch. I tried my first outdoor bootcamp class, and although I felt like crying halfway through, I made it—and have never felt more empowered. I started going to yoga and discovered that I was more flexible than I thought. Taking classes helped me realize I didn’t have to run a certain amount of miles per week to stay in shape. I didn’t need to have medals hanging from my dresser to show my dad that I cared about my health (and that I cared so much about him too). And even more than running, classes gave me a mental clarity that I needed: For one hour (and one hour only) every day, I had permission to just focus on being active and happy.
I think this is a very nicely written personal essay. I may love running, but I don’t try to sell other people on it. If I’m asked questions about running, I’m certainly happy to answer and to share my reasons for why it’s the best physical activity for me, but I try to be mindful of the fact that my experience is not universal, and what works for me may not work for someone else.
The typical “lifter who trashes running” doesn’t seem to have that kind of “live and let live mentality.” It’s all kinds of pseudo-science about how muscle burns more calories than fat does so you should forget about running and just lift weights,* or skip distance running and just go HIIT.** The craziest thing about it is that all you have to do is look at elite distance runners to see that the “running makes you fat” claim is so obviously wrong.
* It is true that muscle burns more calories than fat; a medical study found that the group of participants put on a weight training program ended up with the same weight as the control group, but lower body fat, and a resting metabolic rate about 7.7% higher. Sounds great, but my RMR is probably around 1500 calories for the day, so a 7.7% increase would be … 116 calores. I burn that in a little more than a mile of running. Plus, I do lift weights in addition to running, so I wouldn’t even be in the control group.
** Of course, many runners who are trying to maintain or improve their speed regularly engage in interval reps, which are a form of HIIT. In any event, since some recommendations are for 20-30 minutes of HIIT, you have to push really hard. And that means you can’t do too many of these in a week without risking injury. Plus, another study about the effectiveness of HIIT found that the volunteers refused to keep going after the test period because the workouts were too grueling.
Anyway, I’m happy that the author of the personal essay found something that works better for her than running does. Those classes aren’t for me, but her story may help someone else who doesn’t like running find some exercise that they do like. Meanwhile, those of us who love running can continue to do what we love. It’s win-win!