Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why We Run

Bernd Heinrich, Maine Running Hall of Fame

There are many who believe if Thoreau were alive today he would be a distance runner.
Of course we will never know. We do know however, that there is an author today who does combine the best of a careful observation of the natural world with reflections on his life as a runner-- Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich is a professor Why We Runemeritus of biology at the University of Vermont and is the best selling author of a number of excellent books about nature, some of which also include his experience and research as a runner. One of the books, "Why We Run " is part biography of Heinrich's running career-- four American records and one world record in ultra races, and part natural treatise on why humans were made to run.
We recently talked to Dr. Heinrich about the benefits of running and why we were meant to run. Heinrich: "Humans were made to be physcially active. We were built for running. In fact, hominids were built to outrun nearly every other animal over long distances."

Dr. Heinrich was asked his thoughts on running as exercise for children: "Running is a great exercise for children-- it provides discipline, and gets kids used to a routine, which is good. Children and young adults who are runners and physically active are more disciplined and are better at time management. There are both physical and mental benefits derived from being a runner. Running is active recess, it refreshes. It also gives a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. "
"Kids have to set their own running goals. Running gives a feeling of contrast-- when you push through the discomfort of exercise you have a greater appreciation for the feeling of being at rest. I do think kids have to want to run for their own internal reasons-- you can help them set goals but the ulterior motives of others are not a good reason to motivate them to run."
"For myself, I've found running a great problem solver, if I am stuck on a problem it helps me arrive at a solution, and it also enables me to concentrate after a run. I guess it is like yoga where the mind is released while you are exercising. "
Heinrich has been running for over 50 years, and currently runs about 6 miles a day. His daily running gives him the stamina to perform his outdoor research for his studies on the natural world. Speaking of stamina, Heinrich once shaved over an hour off the US record for 100 miles (12:27:01). He is one of only two members, along with Joan Benoit Samuelson, of the Maine Distance Running Hall of Fame who have owned a world record.
Winter WorldIn his book "Winter World" he writes about the physical stress of inactivity: "We require mechanical stress of exercise on our skeleton to maintain bone structure and functions...The real culprit of osteoporosis and muscle mass loss is physical inactivity...One in three Americans over fifty is completely sedentary. Therefore, our muscles deprived of exercise, become resistant to insulin...and so we risk the onset of adult (Type II) diabetes. We've adapted as long-distance predators as I've elaborated on in "Why We Run"... inactivity adversely affects every organ system in the body...The stresses of inactivity mimic the aging response. (According to the Paffenbarger study) every hour of vigorous exercise as an adult was repaid with two hours of additional life span."
Heinrich was also a very successful Maine high school and college (University of Maine) runner.

In his ultra marathon career, he was twice named Ultra Marathoner of the Year. Bernd Heinrich Four American records, one world record  Photo by Leo Kulinski Jr.

He was asked about his fueling preferences during his record setting runs, all of which came after his 41st birthday. "I couldn't get enough saliva to swallow energy bars during a race, so I drank a lot liquids and even ate baby food which was easy to digest." Heinrich is currently finishing the companion book to "Winter World" called appropriately enough "Summer World".
We eagerly await this book which will be out in April. Summer World by Bernd Heinrich

No comments: