Is there life after running?

I know lots of people in the sports and fitness world who only do one thing. Sometimes it’s because they hold a view that you only need to do their one thing. They think this one activity is good for everything: balance, cardio endurance, strength, flexibility, you name it.

I hear this from people who run, who do yoga, as well as from weight lifters, cyclists, and cross fitters. For what it’s worth, I think cross fitters have the best case here. Just yoga? Just running? Really?

When I was a teen and into my twenties it was all cardio all the time, especially for women, though not for me.

I think of this view as exercise monism. Monism is a view in ethics according to which there is only one ultimate value. (See the Value Pluralism entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia for lots more explanation.)

But mostly exercise monists don’t have a theory, the explanation is closer to home and more understandable. They love that one thing to bits (my partner and sail boat racing) or they’re really good at just one thing. I lean a bit that way with cycling in certain contexts. I’m not even remotely a triathlete. I like bike races with wee bit of swimming and running thrown in as a warm up and cool down.

But then what happens when that one thing lets you down?

I’ve met lots of injured runners on cycling holidays, trying hard to like riding a bike. I mean if you can’t like bike riding when there’s a van with snacks following along, a hot tub at day’s end, and a person to inflate your tires to the correct pressure every morning, you’ll never like riding. (For more about my dream holidays, see Cycling holdays, Part 2: Organized tours in which other people carry the stuff.)

I don’t think it’s that  runners are more often injured. Rather, my view is that older runners have made running a life long habit and they’re pretty hard done by when running comes to an end. My own running career was short lived. I did a year of 5 km races, then a bunch of 10 kms, but when I tried to increase my distance I ended up with stress fractures twice. That took me out of all physical activity for 6-8 weeks a time and I won’t risk it again. Now I just jog with dogs, and I can run 5 km slowly without any problem.

The least successful former runners I met cycling were retired marathoners, a professor and a lawyer couple, heading into their 60s. She was very fit and lean but couldn’t keep up with the group uphill. She liked to keep her heart rate at a steady pace and cycling is all about the go hard intervals and then recover. It was clear for the whole trip that they missed running.

The most successful former runner I’ve met on the bike is a former extreme runner, an ultra marathoner, who’d had both hips and knees replaced. Liked to ride long distances (of course) and he seemed to be enjoying the change of pace.

I’m an exercise pluralist. I love lifting weights, and running, and cycling, and soccer, and Aikido, and now rowing….

Are you a monist or a pluralist when it comes to exercise? What’s your one thing? Do you have a list of things you’d like to try next?

7 thoughts on “Is there life after running?

  1. Runners are forced to give up running because of their exercise monism indeed! Crossfitters are exercise monist too in that every thing is fast, heavy and there is little to no regard of bringing proper balance to the body through focusing on strengthening remedial muscle groups or doing supplementary functional exercise. I speak about exercise monism often at running clinics. I also strength train runners so they can run as safe as possible (which is kinda an oxymoron considering how damaging anything over 5k is on the body). If you want to run forever you must build muscular balance in the body through lifting weights and doing specific mobility and flexibility. Even through this approach I would argue all runners have an expiry date. Aimless lifting weights with no rhyme or reason in regards to the amount of reps, sets and tempos (like crossfit) will also further these imbalances. Also for every muscle that needs to be strengthened like hamstrings and glutes (in the context of running) there is an opposing muscle that needs to be stretched like psoas, TFL and IT band. For more on how to run safely and the truth about aerobic training check out


  2. I disagree with Shawn in the assertion the CF is always heavy and fast. At least in the box I go to, there is a mix of fast workouts and slower, “skill practice” workouts where the goal isn’t to have the highest score, but to master every movement well. And many of the gymnastics-borrowed movements require mindful, slow movement or even stillness (ever try a 3 minute L-sit from the rings?) Also, the lifts in the strength portion of our group classes do have tempo recommendations, and rep/weight RXs. The RXs in the met con portion are based on % of max rep and are bringing more of a cardio element.

    I’ve never been able to get into one activity enough to ever become a exercise monist. While running is meditative and calming (although a bicycle accident means my knee will not allow me to do long distances anymore), when I met more hardcore runners and walkers at the Running Room, I felt very much like I was communicating with people from another culture. I sometimes feel that way when speaking with yoga enthusiasts, circus students, polers or crossfitters. I love all these activities, but while I can respect the enthusiasm, it’s still appears foreign and almost cult-like to me.

    1. My CrossFit experiences have been like yours, a mix of instruction and speedy, hard interval stuff. Love the variety.

  3. I love too many things to be a monist. The most I’ve gotten it down to was yoga and walking. Now I’m happy with yoga, running, weights, and swimming. I can’t imagine cutting any of these. But timewise I’m not really in a position to add anything new unless I consider cutting something out. So we’ll see how I enjoy crossfit when I finally go check it out.

    1. CrossFit involves lots of weights so it’s, these days, my weight training.

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