Saturday, October 29, 2011

From the Archives,pt.4--The Trojan Horse Syndrome--Betrayal From Within

The following is an article from The Stotan News first published in 1998. The subject is as relevant today as it was when it first came out. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, an early exponent of what some call "jogging", later published a book that warned of the potential dangers of running. Back then, he made the statement that if you ran more than 15 miles a week you were running for reasons other than fitness. It was easy to dismiss those statements for a few reasons; the first being, he's an author, and all authors are hoping to sell as many copies of their book as possible so sensationalism sells.However,when Richard Benyo, ultramarathoner and past editor of Runners World and current editor of Marathon and Beyond agreed with Cooper's bogus assertions by publishing an article to that effect, I had to respond.Here goes: " Just when you thought it was OK to go out and do your weekly 20 miler here comes yet another running moderation scare. This one however is from a most unlikely source. It comes from writer,veteran ultramarathoner Richard Benyo. In the editorial of the May/June issue of his Marathon and Beyond he cites unproven speculation by Dr. Kenneth Cooper that 'Too much exercise could lead to excessive production of free radicals which could in turn open the way for certain cancers and heart disease.' The seven reasons Rich provides are some of the weakest and flimsiest you'll ever read. Briefly they are: 1. Dr. Cooper believes it therefore its got to be true(editor:honest). 2. Benyo spouts his beliefs about evolution and that 'primitive hunting man' had a range of 8 to 10 miles per day from the tribe's center hence running any longer than that is unnatural. Hey Rich, existence of a primitive hunting man is at best pure speculation. 3. All running is not necessarily good running. I thought Rich might have gotten to the point on this but then blows it by saying bad running is mileage. 4. 'No two people are made the same', got that one right! 5. Run too many miles and an overuse injury sets in, rest too little and burnout occurs. So let me guess, do I rest more and listen to my body or run 3 days a week like Jeff Galloway now advocates(Jeff for a time heavily pushed the dangers of mileage,he may still for all I know). 6. Bill Rodgers used to get sick often before a major marathon. He'd have flu-like symptoms. Rich! Rodger's illness was a classic sign of burnout. It's common knowledge he ran 120-150 miles per week with intensity of effort,his illness was the result of this type of training. Training too long and too hard will cause this,Rich finishes this section by saying, 'when you breakdown in training the more susceptible you are to whatever comes along, from flu bugs to cancers.' What? Let me see,from overtraining you'll either get the flu or cancer,how absurd! 7. Benyo names two runners who had run the Western States 100 miler as well as other ultras and had died prematurely in an attempt to justify his running is unhealthy theory. Hey Rich, I've known people who've died in car accidents after drinking alcohol, am I gonna stop driving? That wouldn't make sense,neither does your premise. He almost touches on the real reason but again misses the mark on why (possibly) some runners have encountered cancers,heart problems,and other serious illnesses. To understand what the real reason might be I refer Rich and others to a book written in 1976 by a former runner and medical doctor named Ernst VanAaken. His book the Van Aaken Method describes the consequences,performance-wise and health-wise, of running too hard and too frequently. He says that suppressing the immune system and weakening the runner are just a few of the things that happen. Van Aaken goes on to give a convincing argument in favor of strengthening the athlete by doing large amounts of aerobic runs and then running intervals much below the speed and quanity recommended by today's 'experts'. He gives Harold Norpoth as a prime example of the success of his training system. So Mr. Benyo and Dr.Ken, it's not the running that 'may' cause certain health problems,it's the intense training and racing month in,month out,year after year that may(once again,show me the real medical evidence) cause serious health problems. I mean, isn't it logical,hard interval work and hard racing are very stressful? Racing too many marathons or ultras coupled with hard training is too much,period. We don't realize that because our bodies allow us to abuse them year in and year out we think that it must be OK to do so. Do I need to remind some of you that we are not machines? To Rich Benyo I say this, quit putting misinformation in the minds of unsuspecting readers. You have a responsibility to your readership and with this editorial you have failed them badly. To the illustrious Dr. Kenneth Cooper,first you told us it was good to run,then you reassured us after Jim Fixx's death that running was still a good form of exercise,now you are potentially scaring people off from running. In my opinion it appears you have tapped out things you can say about running, may I suggest another area with the unlimited opportunity to provide conflicting information and advice,have you considered writing a nutrition and diet book?" I remember writing a letter to the editor at M & B totally refuting what Rich had written,I was happy that they chose to print it. I also recall making it a point to not renew my subscription to that magazine. Van Aaken was right,when done correctly, running is an extremely healthy form of exercise,Dr. Cooper and Benyo totally blew it on that one,they should have both known better.I decided to reprint this article because even today you will see certain "experts" warning you of the various "dangers" associated with running. Tomorrow I'll try to inject a little humor on the subject by printing a response by a couple of people who bought into the premise that running is potentially bad for you.


  1. Well said! One other point to keep in mind is that the half dozen or so deaths that occur in marathons each year is a sensational but incredibly tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of runners who run marathons each year without any health problems whatsoever.

  2. I never cease to be amazed at what the media choses to write about these days when it comes to recreational running. It's either the death like you mentioned,or something like the "former" crack addict who's running marathons every weekend or the double amputee that just finished his first marathon in 7 1/2 hours.Although I admire people like these who have overcome huge obstacles through running,what about those hundreds of thousands of people who have found a richer and more healthy life through their involvement in running? They also have stories to tell but you rarely hear about them.