Saturday, February 8, 2014


Last week I touched on the ambiguities of  ultra running and made the contentious point that as a sport it's not particularly healthy, though you need to be super fit to do it. I received quite a few emails asking me to explain in more detail what I meant by this. Now obviously it's a lot healthier than sitting at home by the TV eating pizza and chips but all things are relative.
  So to be fit, lean and healthy what sport do you do? There are a myriad of choices and obviously it helps to choose the one you love the most; however, for this article let us consider what the average person assumes is a 'runnable' distance and an effective 'doable' speed when it comes to running for fun and running for fat loss.
Apparently Usain Bolt has never run more than a mile, ever, whereas Killian Jornet considers a 4 hour trail run, whilst climbing 3000 feet, a short morning jog. Now these guys are specialists and at the elite of there sport and we are all free to make whatever choice we want but if we want to be lean, healthy and fit, what do we do?
   I had a client who couldn't run 50 yards without feeling sick and nauseous. He had to stop and walk after just a few seconds, he was clearly not fit or healthy but he wanted to be. He was also nearly 50% body fat and had been diagnosed as clinically obese. If we take, (let's call him Dave) as the most extreme example, what can running do for him, in fact what did running do for him?

   In the USA more people are exercising and specifically running than ever before and yet obesity levels are rising at an alarming rate and the UK is not far behind. I just read today that nearly 70% of the UK population are overweight or obese. Why? Well the answer is simple - Too many people are eating too much of the wrong food.  Remember that nutrition is the key and no amount of running is going to make you slim if you eat poorly ... and unfortunately a great many people eat poorly. To put it bluntly if you think you eat a healthy diet but are overweight, you don't.
   However let us assume for the moment that you are aware of healthy, clean nutrition and you practice it everyday; what is the best exercise you can do, from a running perspective, to help you to achieve your goal?
    Below is a list of the good and the bad of long distance running, anything from a half marathon to a 100 mile ultra mountain marathon.

Long slow distance running (Me)

1) Increase in cardiovascular health.
2) Decrease in resting heart rate. Fitter due to aerobic conditioning.
3) Improves emotional well being and mood.
4) Release of negative energy due to endorphin release.
5) Teaches the body to burn a limited amount of fat for energy enabling you to run longer.
6) Flushes out harmful toxins.
7) Full body workout.
8) For beginners in the first few months, you burn fat.
9) Strengthens the heart, bone density and muscles.
10) Running in nature.
11) Increase endurance capacity.
12) Mental strength.


1) Repeated extreme exercise or long-distance racing can cause a build up of scar tissue on the heart which can lead to the development of patchy myocardial fibrosis in up to 12% of marathon runners. The effects of “chronic exercise” can also include premature aging of the heart, stiffening of the heart muscles, and an increase in arrhythmias and atrial fibrillation. However to put this in perspective an article in the New England Journal noted that of 11 million participants in marathons and half marathons across the USA in a 10 year study only 59 runners suffered a cardiac arrest. That's one death in 260,000 runners and half the death rate in non runners, and less than swimming. Basically the main danger is for endurance athletes who run over many years.
2) Many hours of training can have a negative effect on other commitments.
3) Risk of overtraining and therefore injury.
4)The best health outcomes are actually found far below the exercise levels of even casual endurance athletes. A 15-year observational study of 52,000 adults found that the highest degree of survival and health was found from running less than 20 miles per week, in runs of 30 to 45 minutes over three or four days, at about an 8 to10 k per hour pace. The benefits decrease at amounts greater than that.
5) Catabolism of lean muscle mass, if not adequately supplemented.
6) Build up of free radicals.
7) Increased cortisol due to stress of running long distances and as a result an increase in fat.
8) Boredom.

Yes there are obvious contradictions but nevertheless these are the facts. Now lets look at running short distances. Anything from 40 metres to 800 metres.
Sprint training and body conditioning in torrential rain (no excuses)


1) Improved body composition ( compare a sprinters body to a marathon runners body)
2) Shorter training times (Can be as little as 4 minutes, though normal training time is 20/30 minutes)
3) Can be done anywhere.
4) The number one exercise for fat loss due to EPOC.
5) Increase in Human Growth hormone (slows down ageing process).
6) Feeling energised (due to endorphin release).
7) Less chance of  repetitive stress injury.
8) Healthy cortisol release.
9) Increases lean muscle mass.
10) Increased fitness and health.
11) Easier to practice good running form.
12) Increase in endurance capacity.
13) Reduces blood pressure.
14) Improves mental health lowering the incidence of depression.


1) Possible injury in untrained runners.
2) Perceived difficulty i.e. Mentally harder.

Now there are overlaps of positives for all cardio training, as you would expect but the negatives are clearly minor in sprinting and the positives are obvious; strange then that most people choose to do long slow jogging. The reason must be because it is perceived to be 'easier'. If your goal is fat loss and improved body composition but you prefer to jog then my advice would be to go for a run and then do interval sprinting during your run, say 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow x 8 and then continue on with your jog, at least this way you get the best of both worlds.

And what of Dave who couldn't run at all? As I mentioned in a previous blog he lost 17 kilos and 18% body fat and gained 6 kilos of lean muscle mass in 12 weeks and can now run 100 metres in 15.6 secs and 400 metres in 1 min - 29 secs. He did weight/resistance training 2 times per week and sprint training 3 times per week (and ate clean 80% of the time). In 3 months he never did one long slow jog and never ran more than 800 metres .......... and that is how you shed fat fast ... and, in a balanced, healthy, effective way.


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