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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 27, 2008

Dear Mark: Running Across the U.S.

By Mark Sisson
29 Comments

Walking Woman on a Long RoadDear Mark,

My name is Katie, and I’m planning on running across the U.S. from Boston to San Diego starting this March! I’m 23 and have been an avid runner since high school. I train on my own now and am deciding whether to run 9-12 miles a day or kick it up to an average of 20 miles a day. I’d like to understand what the effects of the two choices would be. Under the 20 mile plan, I’d run long, slow distance with some walking. The 9-12 mile plan would be the same with less walking. If I’m going slow, would covering the extra 10 miles a day be harmful to my body? What is the risk of injury and long term health/bone problems if I did 8 months of 100 mile weeks compared to 12 months of 60 mile weeks?

Thanks, Katie, for your questions. While I absolutely applaud your ambition and dedication, I’m afraid my answer is going to rain on the parade. Although you may have a very compelling reason to go the distance (I’d love to know), I have to say that there’s no way this effort (either way you describe really) can be constructed as healthy. The only considerations left then are how you can mitigate the damage of your trek. Any elite/endurance athlete faces health compromises as I’ve described in the past, and your case would definitely be subject to some of the hardest of those health concessions.

Some key questions come to mind also as I think about your situation. What’s your running background (e.g. distance training)? Are you trying to break a record? If not, is there a necessary time frame? If not, could you extend the duration and just walk? I’m particularly interested in your training plan and the inevitable toll it will take on you before you even leave Boston. Let’s say you train 100 miles a week for 8 months. In this case you’ll run some 3300 miles (more than the trek itself) just in training. The training, logic says, could be more damaging than the event itself.

I also wonder about your plans for fueling yourself. If you walked the trek, you could go 30-40 miles a day and manage it on a lower carb diet with careful planning and some dietary “training” (so your body can rely on fats and ketones). Otherwise, you’ll likely need a hefty amount of simple carbs to get you through your trek. Working at high levels of exertion day after day, month after month (the ultimate chronic cardio) inevitably depletes natural glycogen stores and leaves you dependent on carb loading. Constant fueling with simple carbs, of course, boosts inflammation. The results? Loss of bone density and muscle mass, and increased susceptibility to just about everything under the sun. You asked about the risk for health problems. Check out my friend Art De Vany’s article that offers a detailed vision of what your body goes through in endurance training and events.

Everything from serious muscle damage, spine degeneration, kidney damage, and a shifting of biological markers that indicate cardiovascular stress, brain trauma and higher risk for cancer.

All this said, I understand there may be a reason compelling enough to convince you to move ahead with your plans (e.g. raise money for a loved one who has a disease). In good conscience, I have to caution you against the trek for health reasons that go far beyond usual athletic “primal” compromises. If other motivations keep you committed to the task, however, I’d urge you to take it slowly and use the PB to inform your diet and exertion plan along the way. In fact, this would be my ultimate suggestion to someone that wants to traverse the country by foot. Consider turning this into a truly Primal event. Imagine the goal is to migrate (instead of race) across the U.S., stopping periodically for push-ups and doing sets of sprints every few days along the way. This way you could stay on a high-fat diet to fuel your efforts and turn an unhealthy endeavor into something that is perfectly Primal. (And, it goes without saying, make sure you seek out expert medical observation throughout the trek.) Good luck to you, Katie.

As always, thanks for your questions, and keep ‘em coming!

Further Reading:

What Happens to Your Body When… You Haven’t Properly Trained for Your Marathon?

Chronic Cardio 1, 2

Sprint for Your Health

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29 Comments on "Dear Mark: Running Across the U.S."

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Son of Grok
Son of Grok
7 years 11 months ago
Maybe she “Just felt like running”. Sorry, I had to throw that little Gump reference in there as that is the first thing that came to mind when I saw the “Run across the U.S.” title. 😉 I am going to assume that you have good personal reason for wanting to accomplish this feat so I do sincerely wish you the best of luck! It sounds extremely taxing on the body though so once you have accomplished your run, hopefully you will call it good. If its one thing that I have learned from Mark (ok, that isn’t fair as… Read more »
Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later
7 years 11 months ago

Yikes, good luck with that Katie. You’re young so I am sure that with Mark’s good advice and a little time you will recover well from any damage from such a demanding event.

McFly
McFly
7 years 11 months ago

The travel-by-foot feat has always charmed me. It goes on the “bucket list” with visiting all 7 continents, learning a second language, and writing a novel. Though, seems like the accomplishment lies in the distance, not the speed. If you (or any other apples out there) are interested in a more Primal north/south route instead of the east/west, I’ve heard the Appalachian trail is a pretty amazing trek, it covers over 2000 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Holly
Holly
7 years 11 months ago

Mark- What about races/walks/runs for causes, such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure? How would something like a 60-mile walk in 3 days affect the body? If trained correctly, would that actually emulate a Primal lifestyle? Or would it still be too much and have negative affects on one’s body?

Donna
Donna
7 years 11 months ago

I’m very athletic and love to run. Years ago i was running too many miles and it started taking a toll on me. Running is great exercise but running too many miles was not. After cutting back from 9-10 miles a day to only 5 miles a day, i felt so much better. I just had to realize to pay attention to what my body was telling me. Running 5 miles a day is my limit. Every “body” has limitations.

Son of Grok
Son of Grok
7 years 11 months ago
This post has inspired me to pick up a primal activity from my youth. Backpacking. It doesn’t get more primal than that. Growing up we would do 30-100 mile backpacking trips every summer. My father still does this but I havent gone with him in years. Next year, I think I will have too. Forgoing roads, walking in the woods and mountains, drinking water right out of the ground , carrying all of your food and clothing in a pack and sleeping in the great outdoors. Actually, it is starting to sound like the ultimate primal actvity! Hey Mark, how… Read more »
Mark Sisson
7 years 11 months ago
Holly, a 60-mile walk in 3 days can be a totally primal, healthy, invigorating experience. In my upcoming book I talk about the concept of “renaissance fitness” which describes a type of overall fitness that allows you to take on any sort of challenge whenever you want…based entirely on how you train “Primally” from day-to-day. Low level aerobic activity, full-body-compound-exercise resistance training, and occasional sprints give you that kind of overall fitness. Just running 100 miles a week does not. Just lifting weights to body-build in the gym does not. Son and McFly, backpacking is very Primal. I remember doing… Read more »
trackback
7 years 11 months ago

You Know You’re A Low-Carber When…….

You know you’re a low-carber when:

You can’t remember the last time you were in the cookies/biscuits aisle of the supermarket
People look at you like you’re crazy when they see you ‘remove the bun’
You feel like an outcast at work outings th……

PB
PB
7 years 11 months ago

Is it safe for a young girl to run along deserted roads for days?

Mark Sisson
Mark Sisson
7 years 11 months ago

PB, I’m sure she’d have a support crew.

Amanda
7 years 11 months ago

Detriment to her health aside, what an amazing goal! I wish her the best of luck, and lots of caution on the wellness front!

Erin
Erin
7 years 11 months ago

I don’t know who has the time to do a cross country run. I can’t even take off long enough to drive across country.
I’m sure she’ll recover if it’s just a one time thing. Doing it every year would be stressful.

monica
7 years 11 months ago

I can relate to Katie’s drive to go the distance… her question reignites my desire to hike the Pacific Crest Trail…. wouldn’t want to run it though. =)

Mike OD - IF Life
7 years 11 months ago

“The training, logic says, could be more damaging than the event itself.”

The best take home point for anyone wanting to do endurance events. Nothing wrong with most events….it’s usually the overload of training that is 90% of the issue.

Walking all day probably requires 4000-5000 cal, I couldn’t imagine the calorie intake needed to run.

Katie V.
Katie V.
7 years 11 months ago
Thanks so much, Mark and others for your wise words and also encouragement. I learned so much, especially about the whole primal concept – amazing! Ok, so here is the real question. With all this advice, what DO I DO? Do I cover 20 miles a day on foot (running interspersed with walking) smartly…and can I recover afterwards? Or do I cover 20++ miles a day by a combo of things (run, walk, sprint, bike, hike)? The latter is basically the same, just the addition of the bike covers way more miles. I am still going to do this, I… Read more »
Son of Grok
Son of Grok
7 years 11 months ago

My personal recomendation would be for you to go back to the 9-12 miles per day plan and walk it. 9-12 miles is very do-able walking per day. But I am no expert. If walking is an option with occasional sprinting, I think that would be ideal. That might defeat the prupose of your “Run” across America though. As Mark stated earlier, we still don’t know your motive, intention, time frame. More details would definity help!

Katie V.
Katie V.
7 years 11 months ago
Hi everyone! Yes yes yes. More details are good;) So, I have wanted to run across the country ever since I was in high school, because I am passionate about running and it has shaped me in so many ways. More importantly, I wanted to do it for a cause and have it be mission-driven. I was searching for that cause, and it hit me last year when I was working with high school youth. I am doing this run to inspire people to LIVE THEIR DREAMS, and to LIVE more each and every day. This run is a way… Read more »
Steven G
Steven G
6 years 8 months ago

I know this was a long time ago, but I’d love to hear how the event went, and if you were able to complete it. Any chance of an update?

Ape Man
Ape Man
6 years 3 months ago

Her name is Katie Visco and she finished the run in Dec 2009. It took her 277 days (avg: 11 miles/day). She says the typical day was more like 15 miles, mostly running with a 1-2 miles of walking. She injured her knee near the end, and had to walk the last 2-3 wks. Doesn’t sound like she followed any of Mark’s advice – she mentions eating a lot of cliff bars and sandwiches every day.

If you want more info, she has a Web site – just google her name.

Donna
Donna
7 years 10 months ago

Hi Katie,
I like your determination and i wish you all the best of success!

Sue
Sue
7 years 10 months ago

Hi Katie!

Hope my comment gets through this time and not bounced like the last one. Best of luck on your amazing adventure. Have you looked at the Crossfit Endurance website?

http://www.crossfitendurance.com/

They train people for endurance events (even ultradistance races) using Crossfit principles of high intensity interval training rather than the traditional long slow distance. Might be useful to you especially training up for your trip.

Good luck!

trackback

[…] from the WTF files (here, too), prepare to be unprepared, distance running just isn’t healthy (sorry), make sure you remain active if you cut calories, more beer + less activity = weight gain […]

Doug k
7 years 10 months ago
Katie, 20 miles a day can easily be done by walking. About 2-2.5mph is a decent backpacking pace, carrying 30lbs over uneven ground at altitude. So you should able to walk 3-4mph, which gives you around 5-7 hours of walking a day. Intersperse a bit of running to go faster. Run/walk is what most ultramarathoners do, and it’s definitely the best approach. See http://planetultramarathon.wordpress.com/2007/08/12/old-time-walk-and-run/ The running snobs call the run/walk Gallowalking, after Jeff Galloway (an Olympic marathoner) who advocates run/walk for most marathoners. http://www.jeffgalloway.com/ Pay no attention to the running snobs, none of them are as fast as Jeff. I’d… Read more »
marilyn zorn
7 years 10 months ago

sorry this isn’t about marathons, but about the coconut article. How I wish that I could enjoy coconut again (like I did when a child). I am so allergic to it that I get vertigo in a minute after ingesting.

trackback

[…] training rather than volume), Andrea achieved her goal of completing a marathon, avoided the unhealthy continued oxidative training required in traditional distance training, avoided the usual unhealthy high carb requirements of […]

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[…] readers may remember my post about Katie and her goal to run across the U.S.. Every Gym’s Nightmare goes one step further with a post about a man who ran around the […]

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[…] should be able to run a 5K under normal circumstances – I don’t think so.  The body, as Mark has pointed out before, may actually be built for bursts of speed and unbelievable strength (think The Hulk and the […]

trackback

[…] should be able to run a 5K under normal circumstances – I don’t think so.  The body, as Mark has pointed out before, may actually be built for bursts of speed and unbelievable strength (think The Hulk and the […]

Samantha
Samantha
3 years 4 months ago

Hey, I ran across the country 33 years ago. I’m OK. Just thankful to have shifted to a much better paradigm- paleo/primal. My achilles tendons are trashed, though.

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