Is Long Distance Running Bad for You? -How to get better at running long distance

Is Long Distance Running Bad for You? -How to get better at running long distance

The benefits of long distance running have typically been attributed to better overall health outcomes in modern society, such as: 


  • Healthy joints

  • Improved heart health

  • Increased muscle mass and weight loss

  • Improved mental health and anxiety


It is also quite an easy and cost-effective way to include exercise into one’s weekly routine to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. 

In this article, we will go over why these benefits are not as easy to obtain as it would seem. We will also provide information to hopefully answer some common questions such as: Is running long distances bad for your joints?, what is the healthiest distance to run?, what is good running cadence? and how do I know if I’m running too much?. We will go over some particular drawbacks associated with the benefits listed above, as well as tips that Functional Patterns recommends for running long distances.


Dealing With Joint Pain

In recent times, many people are finding that running pain-free consistently is difficult to maintain, primarily due to joint pain or discomfort. This is especially disheartening since running is one of the big four movements that make us uniquely human, and we should be able to run effortlessly since that is how we survived for the past ~300,000 years.


Joint Pain

Photo by Kjpargeter

At Functional Patterns, we have found that joint pain is most often the result of a lack of integration and too much isolation when running or training for overall health. What does this mean? Simply put, people are often training their bodies in ways that don’t represent what humans did for so many years as we evolved. These movements have been refined down to standing, walking, running, and throwing.  

For example, one of the first exercises many young males learned to do was the bicep curl to build their arm muscles and make their t-shirts tighter. However, many don’t realize that the bicep is just one muscle along a whole line of muscles of our deep front arm line connecting from our chest to our thumbs. This deep arm line allowed us as humans to throw objects at other animals to hunt or defend ourselves in paleolithic times. In the context of running, our deep front arm line is what allows our spine and ribcage to move through the air and propel our bodies through space. Just look at all the fastest sprinters of our time and look at the development of their arms. In modern times, we mostly use our deep front arm lines to text on our smartphones and rarely use our arms while running.


Guy running


If we ignore this integrative approach to training, then symptoms of pain in our joints will typically appear and hinder us from running distances that we’ve been training months or even years for.


Too Strong of a Heart?

What muscles get toned from running? Well, most would say our glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. But what about your heart? Researchers have found that chronic excessive endurance exercise from cycling, rowing, and even long distance running can lead to development of a larger than normal heart. As with any other muscle that has to work, and gets bigger and “stronger” to adapt to the workload, so does the heart. 


This enlargement of the heart may leave tiny micro-scars in the heart and cause it to beat in an abnormal rhythm which could lead to heart strain, heart palpitations, or even heart attacks.


Chest Pain

Photo by jcomp


This doesn’t mean that we should avoid training the heart at all; we should be looking at training the heart as a system with the rest of the body. If we tend to exercise in a way that trains the muscles of the body in an isolated fashion, our organs may lose the stimulus to work efficiently to support the demands of the body. For example, if the muscles of the body are not being utilized correctly during a long distance run, the heart may need to work harder in order to compensate for the lack of involvement of the muscles. You may commonly see this in many marathon runners where their physique lacks muscle while a sprinter looks muscle bound.


At Functional Patterns, we prioritize training the body as a system to avoid these dangers of overstimulating one muscle, one organ, or one system as we try to integrate as many variables as possible at the same time.


 10 Week Course FTS


If this lack of integration between the muscles and organs can cause the heart to become abnormally large, could this happen to other organs or systems of the body as well?


The Trouble with Testosterone

Depression has been on the rise lately, and many people are using running as a means to improve their mental health and anxiety. Researchers have also found that there seems to be a causal link between depression and testosterone in both men and women. So if people are using long distance running as a means of improving their mental health and combating their depression, one would expect that their testosterone levels should be increasing along with the distances they run, correct?


Photo by Andrea Leopardi


Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how much distance one should run in order to maintain an optimal level of testosterone to promote a healthy mind. One study looked at the testosterone levels of chronically trained, high mileage runners and found that there was a negative correlation between testosterone levels and running volume. In short, the more distance these individuals ran, the less testosterone was found in their blood.


This could lead to severe negative hormonal effects, such as elevated symptoms of depression, that could potentially get worse if the individual does not get their daily runs in, which can then land them in a cycle of coping that is difficult to even recognize, let alone break out of. Low testosterone can also have an effect on how an individual maintains muscle mass or loses body fat as well.

Woman holding Scale

 Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko


A Dull Axe Requires More Strength

So how should we determine how much or how far to run? Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is my body even ready to run? This article has thus far provided nothing but doom and gloom and removed the air from one’s motivated sails. Don’t worry, you just need to make sure the axe is sharp before you begin to cut down the tree, as you must prioritize your body’s biomechanical efficiency in order to tackle such an endeavor.

Sharpening Axe 

Photo by C D-X


The first step is to make sure your training respects the fundamental movements that humans evolved around, such as standing, walking, running, and throwing - The FP Big Four. By addressing your biomechanics first, you are likely to see the following benefits:

  1. Negative injury rate

  2. More efficient running cadence

  3. Shorter mile times and longer distances

  4. More sustainable muscle mass growth and organ health

  5. Greater strength and endurance in scenarios outside of just running


Let’s break these down how these benefits would support you in your long distance running endeavor. 

  1. A negative injury rate would allow one to run and train as much as they would like without being impaired by injuries or joint pain. Functional Patterns can teach one to listen to what their body is telling them, such as when they have run too much. Sometimes just giving the body what it needs instead of what it wants can allow it to avoid common injury faults. 

  2. A good running cadence is often suggested by running coaches to minimize risk of injury. By focusing on FP, you would learn to sequence your movements more efficiently and therefore naturally apply the number of steps per minute that your body can allow. Simply applying a cadence that is arbitrarily suggested may force a body to compensate elsewhere in order to meet that cadence and may increase the risk of injury in the future. 

  3. By fixing your biomechanics and improving a more efficient cadence, your mile times may be shortened. If your efficiency improves, you will get faster at running long distances, as you would be able to achieve maximum speed with little to no wasted effort. It is with wasted effort that injuries become more prevalent when running longer distances.

  4. When we run more efficiently and sustainably, our bodies tend to produce more sustainable muscle mass and organ health. If we use our muscles as an integrated system, our organs don’t have to work so hard to compensate for the lack of muscle contribution. This can prevent the overdevelopment of the heart and underdevelopment of the muscular system, as seen in many long distance running physiques. 

  5. Standing, walking, running, and throwing have been the most influential movements of our species. Anthropologists suggest that our muscles, which we work so hard to develop and maintain, were formed due to the refining of these four fundamental movements. If this theory is true, this may be the reason why we see so many spectacular displays of physical feats in the common age of social media. If one can perform the fundamental movements well enough, we should be able to excel in movements beyond just standing, walking, running, or throwing.



To summarize, the benefits of long distance running may include:

  • Healthy joints

  • Improved heart health

  • Increased muscle mass and weight loss

  • Improved mental health and anxiety


However, running long distances with poor biomechanics can have some drawbacks, such as joint pain, an enlarged and dysfunctional heart, less than optimal testosterone levels that may lead to increased depression and anxiety, and difficulty maintaining muscle mass or losing body weight.


So is long distance running bad for you? 


The answer is not so simple. By recognizing that the body is composed of many systems working together, we must also train the body as such in order to efficiently make use of those benefits from long distance running. By doing so, we tend to see additional benefits such as:


  • Negative injury rate

  • More efficient running cadence

  • Shorter mile times

  • More sustainable muscle mass growth and organ health

  • Greater strength and endurance in contexts outside of just running


By applying Functional Patterns accurately, one can listen to their own body and fulfill its’ needs to regenerate from training whether you’re a seasoned veteran or just beginning your journey to run longer distances.


Gait cycle results by FP practitioner Louis Ellery and client Matt Renshaw at Functional Patterns Brisbane 





  1. MacKelvie KJ, Taunton JE, McKay HA, Khan KM. Bone mineral density and serum testosterone in chronically trained, high mileage 40-55 year old male runners. Br J Sports Med. 2000 Aug;34(4):273-8. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.34.4.273. PMID: 10953900; PMCID: PMC1724199.
  2. McHenry J, Carrier N, Hull E, Kabbaj M. Sex differences in anxiety and depression: role of testosterone. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2014 Jan;35(1):42-57. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2013.09.001. Epub 2013 Sep 24. PMID: 24076484; PMCID: PMC3946856.
  3. Patil HR, O'Keefe JH, Lavie CJ, Magalski A, Vogel RA, McCullough PA. Cardiovascular damage resulting from chronic excessive endurance exercise. Mo Med. 2012 Jul-Aug;109(4):312-21. Erratum in: Mo Med. 2014 Mar-Apr;111(2):135. PMID: 22953596; PMCID: PMC6179786.



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