TOJs, Runner's World and Glamour Girls

I've read "Runner's World" for a long time. I've read it so often that with each new issue my brain sees a predictable pattern in the content. I probably started reading it for the same reason that a pudgy young woman reads in a glamour magazine - that someday I can be like the person on the cover. But that was then and this is now.

I'm convinced the same late twenties/early thirties man or woman body is featured on the cover of every issue. They just Photoshop on a different face, stick it on a different background. Every month you can expect that skinny, lanky runner's body, originally shot by a photographer who was crouched down and shooting slightly up to make the body seem longer and larger than life.

That cover photo is not by accident. It's the perfect runner's body described in the book Runner's World Runner's Body: How the Latest Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer and Faster by Ross Tucker, Jonathan Dugas and Matt Fitzgerald. Of course, almost everyone who runs will never look like the people who grace the covers because, as the book points out, elite runners look like that largely because of genetic factors that influence both their shape and the mix of slow and fast twitch fibers in their muscles.

The headers on the cover tease with the same false promises you find in a glamour magazine, too. That inside you will find the secrets of how you can do lots of things faster - run, lose weight, train in less time. You will be able do lots of things more easily and with less pain - train for a marathon, strengthen your core, run your personal best. But, what any athlete knows, there is no quick and easy way to do anything. Real progress takes a long time time, constant discipline and some discomfort. No way to escape it! And, after all that work, you still may not ever break 2 hours in the half marathon.

"Runners World," like all magazines, is formulaic. There are always the magic tips - "7 Ways to Avoid Indigestion as You Run" or "12 Tips to Beat That Lazy Slacker in Your Mind." The diet advice is always the same: eat carbs, proteins, and fats, with very minor proportion changes before, during, and after running. I'm pretty certain for years I've seen the same same recipe for skinless chicken breasts with the only change being one is sprinkled with basil and the other with curry. To their credit, they find some variety with all the different places you can go to race and the stories of people who run.

I guess I continue to read it because it sometimes has an inspiring story or tidbit of information, but "Runner's World" seems less and less pertinent to my interests as time goes by. You don't see many TOJ's in its pages or articles about the challenges of aging runners. Plus there's a lopsided emphasis on race performance versus the sheer joy of running.

Most importantly, more and more evidence from exercise science points away from distance running as the gold standard of a healthy lifestyle. To this TOJ, distance running is just another aerobic option to be included in a well-rounded approach to exercise and fitness. Contrary to a recent best-selling book, we weren't born just to run, which is why most of us don't look like skinny distance runners any more than we do sumo wrestlers.

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