Kristen and I got the opportunity to head back home this weekend, something we had been desiring for awhile. We hadn’t seen our families since Christmas and the only chances we had had to get out of SLO were on Poly Escapes trips (Poly Escapes is awesome but it’s still work). Basically we were just happy to be headed north, back to the land of childhood, canyons and cows. For me, Saturday was a lazy day with my parents. We explored the local hills and river trails on foot and mountain bike, and just had a really nice day of hanging out. I had a little down time in the morning and decided to do some research.
I enjoy searching around online (Google Scholar is awesome) and seeing what I can learn about various topics. I came across something that I thought was pretty relevant to me as a runner and just generally as an active, health-conscious person. There was a 12 month study done way back in 1997 at the University of Melbourne on “bone mass and bone turnover in power athletes, endurance athletes, and controls.” The study looked at trained power athletes (sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers), trained endurance athletes (middle- and long-distance runners), and control subjects (non-athletes), all aged 17-26 years. If you want all the specifics, click here.
What they found over this year-long analysis was that both power and endurance athletes had higher bone mineral density (BMD) than the control subjects in their lower limbs. On top of that, power athletes also had higher BMD in the lumbar section of their spine as well as their upper limbs. Endurance athletes did not. So what does this mean for a runner? Well, it means that while endurance specific training makes you a very efficient foot traveler, it also means that you are likely lacking overall body strength, not just in muscular structure but in bone structure as well (this becomes obvious when you see an elite endurance runner or cyclist, but is less apparent when looking at an elite adventure racer).
Personally, I do not see myself becoming a Jurek-level ultrarunner. I do however see myself working to become at least a “decent” runner, but also a “decent” cyclist, adventure racer, skier, traveler, or any other activity I might become interested in. And for those combination of pursuits, I think I could benefit from the strongest bones possible in my lower back and arms, as well as my legs. As life and training progresses, strength training makes sense to me. High mileage is of course necessary (and should be the focus) when preparing for a very high mileage race, but full-body strength training should not be neglected. Muscles = protection. Strong bones = reduced injury. Full body strength = versatility and adaptability in multiple pursuits (good when you have athletic A.D.D.). So if you’re just a runner, then cheers (seriously) to you and your incredible mindset and talents. But if you’re like me, grab some friends and get strong!
P.S.-Over the 12 month period, “modest but significant” increases in bone mineral density were seen in all subjects, athletes and controls. Does this mean that as we age (to a point), our bones continually get stronger? I hope so! That sounds wonderful:)