Neil Featherby: How healthy is running and why you should be checked out before you start

With the current running boom and recent events whereby two of Norfolk’s top runners collapsed whilst racing, I have been asked by several people who run and of course those who don’t just how healthy running is.

Running is certainly one of the most popular ways to keep fit – the sheer numbers we see running at all times of day confirms this.

Then there are the parkruns for which the numbers are just getting bigger by the week with people of all ages, shapes and sizes taking part.

As for competitive events, be it a road race, off-road ultra or indeed a tough mudder, they are oversubscribed within days.

So just how healthy is running?

Having spent most of my life as a runner I think it is fair to say I do have a problem by way of addiction what with not having had a day off running since my very early 20s. People used to warn me as to what they thought were the hazards of my obsession and whilst on the outside I may not look like a good advert for others to take up this activity, I like to think what is going on inside is all working okay.

My weight is virtually the same now as it was when I was in my 20s, my joints all seem in good working order and apart from hair loss, a few wrinkles and unfortunately a slowing down of my pace, not a lot else has changed.

Anyway and whilst what happened last month to Pete Duhig and Andy Kett is another story, I decided to ask a few deep questions to running guru, Chas Allen, who really does have the knowledge and qualifications to answer just about any question asked when it comes to fitness and health.

Needless to say, to do it real justice it would need a double page feature to get fully at it as Chas really does have some strong feelings about the subject.

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His first concern is about the large numbers of people who just throw themselves into exercise without having gone through some safety checks in the first instance. Particularly those who are overweight and haven’t done exercise since leaving school or those who are looking to change their lifestyle completely after spending years doing all the things that aren’t conducive to being fit and healthy.

A few years ago, the first thing anyone was told if over the age of 35 was to go get yourself checked out by your GP before even considering taking up any form of exercise which is going to place specific stresses upon the body.

However, many people who we come into contact with at Sportlink who are just starting out and are well beyond the age of 35 have very rarely had any form of check-up or medical.

It’s fantastic that people of all ages are keen to have a go and why not? I am 100pc behind this all the way and if you feel you can run then do it, and do it before it is too late, but at the same time I do believe a quick safety check should be undertaken first.

Whilst being regularly asked as to what has caused this current boom in running, for me it has to be down to the popularity of the parkruns.

However, Chas also brought up another most relevant point and that being social media where so many of us like to talk about what we have done and what we are going to do to such a large audience which fires up the imagination of others too. Or perhaps thoughts of if he or she can do it, then I most certainly can too. More to the point, if they are doing it, then I need to be seen to be doing it too.

Whilst social media might be a good way to encourage others to go running, keep fit and of course take on challenges, care still needs to be taken before just putting on a pair of shoes and rushing out the door for a run or indeed entering a race which is beyond the current level of fitness and perhaps ability to undertake such a challenge.

Needless to say once the thrill of all the likes and praise of the Facebook post telling the world what they are about to do is over, it then brings the added pressure of having to live up to it.

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Whilst it is human nature to enjoy a pat on the back for our achievements and perhaps be seen to be as good as the next person, climbing a mountain if done correctly may take several years to get there.

A few years ago races demanded proof that you were capable of completing a distance and whilst this is still so with some, there are others that allow people to enter in good faith that they are capable.

Chas also pointed out how we are all different in respect of our constitution and body shape.

He said: “It’s not just a case of being wary of those who have gone from inactivity to running marathons and beyond all in the space of 12 months. We also need to take on board that some people are just more natural and adaptive to types of exercise than others and whilst your friend or colleague may have taken to running like a duck to water, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should put extra pressure on your body trying to keep up with him or her. First and foremost, it is about staying healthy and leading a lifestyle that not only makes us feel better, but hopefully adds a few extra active years to our lives.”

Going forward, Chas feels that the clubs should definitely have a set of rules which each club member should abide by when it comes to medical health checks.

In other words an annual MOT for all those who want to run for which UKA should perhaps put together some sort of scheme which will help to implement this. Needless to say there is a huge number of runners who don’t belong to clubs, but this is where the duty of all those who promote, advise, or indeed express opinions be it in magazines or newspapers such as this column help to get the point across.

If in the long term this helps to ensure that certain ailments can be detected early on, then surely this can only be a good thing.

At the same time if this also helps to encourage more people who take up running to join clubs or indeed seek professional advice from the likes of Chas Allen to fully experience the benefits of running then absolutely brilliant!

With regards to Peter and Andy, they are both very experienced athletes who have been running for years at a very high level. I don’t think for one moment that running caused what happened to them. However, and if nothing else perhaps, the points made in this week’s article are at least worth considering.