Every month I visit the CNN website for a glimpse into what movies and television shows are going to be added to Netflix and Amazon Prime. In years past I typically gravitated towards film, but I’m finding that television shows – those off the air and still current – are equally compelling. Strong production value and the “To Be Continued” language at the end of a show have contributed to this, though I’m inclined to think that the ability to watch multiple shows without pause is why. This phenomenon is aptly called binge watching, and its popular. According to an article from Cinema Blend, author Kelly West cites a Netflix survey that defines binge watching as “watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.” 73% of the respondents agreed with this statement.
An atypical work schedule precludes me from watching one episode after another, but I have managed to cobble together full seasons by viewing episodes on a sporadic basis. So it is with running. My runs are unique as each subsequent day presents a different type of workout and a different pace. There are also days that I completely forego the run and instead opt for the gym. In short, I’m not a binge runner. Is this real though? Do some runners actually binge run?
Though many people interpret the word binge through the lens of perpetual television viewing, I have no affinity for the word in light of the stigma that surrounds it from a food standpoint. Oddly enough, if I were to substitute the word indulge for binge, the perception has a way of changing. Who doesn’t like the occasional indulgence, be it a Hershey bar, McDonald’s fry, or pint from the likes of Ben & Jerry? With moderation, indulgences are okay, but too much can lead towards an unhealthy binge.
Like too much food, can running become excessive? Can running become a binge exercise that drifts into dangerous territory from a health standpoint? I suppose that depends on who you pose this question to. Steve Prefontaine, the legendary University of Oregon runner, is credited with these words: “Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” Or ultramarathon runner Grahak Cunningham: “Running strips life back to the bare essentials. When we challenge ourselves, it breaks down barriers. It brings us back to our essence and peels away the layers of ego we surround ourselves with.” Finally, distance runner Julie Isphording: “Run often. Run long.” The synopsis among these athletes is concise. Keep running. Keep pushing yourself. When should efforts be pulled back though?
Some will argue that marathon mileage is excessive, that it’s unnecessary wear and tear on the body. But the millions of finishers would disagree with this position. What does the research look like? A 2015 CBS article highlights a study from the British journal Heart. In summary, researchers discovered that years of excessive exercise can thicken the heart tissue and “create the possibility of dangerous irregular heartbeat and even sudden death.”
These words are sobering, but the article goes on to note that the benefits of training for a marathon may outweigh the risks. Furthermore, people pursue running beyond the scope of cardiovascular wellness. In the words of the late Dr. George Sheehan, “Out on the roads there is fitness and self-discovery and the persons we were destined to be.” Running is discovery and the chance to be part of a larger community. And who doesn’t long for belonging?
If, according to the article in Heart, exercise has a diminishing point of returns from a health standpoint, why do the streakers continue to streak? Why do marathoners continue to train for the next 26.2 race? Why did Dean Karnazes complete 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days in 2006? Why did Ryan Hall start and finish the World Marathon Challenge? Why do I wish to venture into the waters of an ultramarathon?
The CBS article paints a vivid picture. People are living a sedentary lifestyle and spending too much time in a seated position. And we are prone to indulging in food too. Running, then, is a most remarkable remedy, though it too can become excessive, i.e. addictive. In an April 2015 Runner’s World article, author Nicole Radziszewski highlights this behavior. “There’s a fine line between being a dedicated athlete and being addicted to running, but experts have come to recognize exercise addiction as a legitimate problem – akin to alcoholism, binge eating, and other addictive disorders.”
The idea of nonstop running seems good at first glance since it lifts the mood by way of endorphins, but too much mileage will eventually give way to injury. Accordingly, reducing mileage, taking days off, and reframing the mind will provide a much-needed respite from excessive (or even addictive) exercise, and thus stave off one more area in life that, in excess, is not beneficial. Therefore, run – but not too much.