Thanks to lazy journalism and slow news days, the questionable ultra running “study” recently published in Scientific American Magazine has caught the eye of major media and is making its rounds on the web.
Media companies such as CNN and Huffington Post have all jumped on the bandwagon with shocking headlines and overused scare tactics. Here are some of the stories:
The Original Scientific American Article, “Ultra Marathons Might Be Ultra Bad for Your Heart”
CNN’s coverage, “Extreme Endurance Exercise Carries Risks” … which contains the following quote:
“You can do light to moderate exercise as long as you want. We’re genetically designed for that kind of activity. We’re just not designed to run 26 miles at a time, or 100, or go on a full distance triathlon for 12 hours as hard as you can go.”
Huffington Post basic coverage, so regurgitated they didn’t even bother changing the title.
The Science Codex article: “Excessive endurance training can be too much of a good thing.”
Here is a short rebuttal from Runner’s World, which make some good points but doesn’t even begin to cover the bullshittedness of these articles.
And to redeem Huffington Post is this great reply from fellow runner and journalist Kenny Yum.
Last but not least, here is a reply from my ultra friend Jennifer over at Today’s Parent.
I’ve tried to narrow down what exactly it is that makes me irate about these articles. I came up with the following:
1. Shit Ass Journalism
This is so typical of overworked and underpaid journalists. We latch onto a hot or controversial headline, and we spread it like wildfire, regardless of its accuracy or relevance.
Because I’ve worked in busy media companies, I understand the pressures that come with churning out content, but I’ve always had a huge problem with regurgitating crap from other sources just so we can “get the story”.
We KNOW it’s crap. We KNOW it’s stupid. But we still put it out, because the other guy did. That’s what irritates me.
Make your own stories. Do some research. Argue the opposite. Spark some debate. Have an original thought. It’s stories like these that really drive me to freelance and editorial independence.
I believe that putting out content just for the sake of having a new link is always bad. Aim for thought-provoking, high-quality content. Don’t repeat what everyone else is saying. If you have nothing original or helpful to say, keep your mouth shut.
2. Disrespectful References About Micah True
It grinds my gears how, despite the fact that Micah spent so much of his time and energy into promoting ultra running, his death is now being used as a reason to NOT run ultras.
This is combined with the fact that there is no concrete evidence that ultra running caused Micah’s death. Some doctors even told Maria that ultra running may well have extended his life.
The last part that annoys me is the insinuation that it was THAT last particular run that killed Micah – “a short trail run,” as it has been described. The implication is that he ran so much, that this short trail run was ultimately more than he could handle. I don’t buy that.
I think that Micah ran great distances, and his body was conditioned to running. He happened to be on the trail at the time that he died, but who knows if he just as well might have been at home washing his dishes. Again, there’s no real way to draw those conclusions. So this is not proof against the entire sport of ultra running.
3. Making People Feel Justified About Crappy Lifestyles
Considering so few of the population is actually made up of ultra runners, why is it that this story has spread like wildfire?
Because sedentary people are sharing it. Because it makes inactive people feel good about their shitty lifestyles. Because next time they go to a fast-food drive-in, they can reason, “Oh, at least I’m not running ultras. That’s REALLY bad for me.”
Articles like these contribute to a larger epidemic. They are not targeted to ultra runners at all. They are targeted to the tell-me-it’s-OK-to-sit-on-my-ass-all-weekend crowd. Even though the article SAYS it encourages moderate physical activity, that’s not what people take from it.
Instead, this will be used as argument against long distance running. An excuse for staying home. A justification for a crappy lifestyle.
That pisses me off because we work so hard to encourage people to stay active. We know the life-change that can come from completing an ultra. The boost of self-confidence, the physical benefits, the stress-relief, and the love of nature. But articles like these present us as insane maniacs who will die early.
One of my Facebook friends Tanya summed it up well when she wrote,
“Many of us have received more life in our years rather than just years in our lives due to running.”
Ultra running is bad for my heart? That’s fine. You die your way, and I’ll die mine.