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?

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