Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Running Won’t Get You There

by Tyler Perkins | October 26, 2021

running shoes piled into a trash bin

For the vast majority of my life, I would have considered myself a runner – the awfully slow, ungifted, lumbering sort – but a runner, nonetheless. At 17, I joined my high school’s cross-country team to prepare for my enlistment in the Navy where I planned to try my hand at Naval Special Operations training. (Disclaimer: No, I’m not claiming to be an ultra-secret ninja soldier of any kind, I did not complete the training.) So, I leaned into my natural physical attributes and trudged along on the Junior Varsity team at 6’3”, 205 lb with a blistering 25-minute-ish 5k. I. Was. Ready.

Fast forward a year or so into my enlistment and after countless training miles, where I routinely had the slowest pace, and was last to finish, and after plenty of the military’s favorite physical training exercises, where my performances were also generally sub-par, there I was: slightly faster with a 23-minute 5k, lanky, and sporting a more toothpick-esque neck than ever before. Even after having experienced mediocre performance increases while running and doing calisthenics, I would spend my free time trotting my regular 7 to 10 mile run around the base and, if I was feeling particularly froggy I might bust out a few pushups.

Around this same time, I found myself in various technical schools with plenty of idle time. For reasons I can’t immediately recall, I got the hare-brained idea to start a random strength training program, very likely the first google search option I could find. Although this was not a particularly ideal program and was geared more towards bodybuilding, it was still the first time I had ever squatted a barbell or performed a deadlift. Throw in a couple wrist curls and calf raises and in short order I had gained 20 pounds and was getting complimented on my “guns.” Being a 20-year-old male occasionally has its perks.

As I started adding slabs of lean, toned muscle mass, I quit running. Not due to any critical analysis, but primarily a lack of time and the occasional compliment from the female persuasion kept me off the road and in the gym.

Then the hammer dropped; The bi-annual Physical Training (PT) test crept up on me and it was only days away. I was screwed. I hadn’t done any pushups or sit-ups, and I sure as hell hadn’t run a single step in weeks. So, I knocked out a couple pushups and ran around the base a little bit hoping it might be enough. Well, the day of the PT test came and I, historically a middle of the pack performer, pulled the best PT test score in the entire squadron cleanly out of my ass. How this happened I had utterly no clue. I mean, I hadn’t even run or done any bodyweight exercises at all! Total luck, I guess.

A few weeks after my “lucky” PT test, I decided to try my hand at my first official half marathon. I toed the line, took off, and roughly an hour and fifty minutes later (I understand this is not a truly competitive speed, but for me, it was a miracle) I came through the finish line and discovered I had placed first in my age group. “Well, I guess all of those years of running have finally paid off!” Being a slow learner, I still had yet to make any connections between my newfound speed and athleticism and getting stronger.

I continued to use my new superpowers and began running and winning some small-time local 5ks, running my personal best at around 19 minutes, weighing roughly 225 pounds, and leading group runs for my Navy squadron. I had become stronger than I had ever been, and faster because of it, but as I became a better and better runner – not running – I decided the best course of action was to change what was working and run more. So naturally, I ditched the strength training, and doubled down on time and distance.

Again, not too bright. I began to run double-digit miles most days, then go to the gym at night, sit on a stationary bike and ride for 2 hours. And of course, this program started to produce some truly amazing results: I started getting slower, weaker, and worse of all, I started getting injured. I had the usual runners’ complaints, tweaked ankles, hurt back etc. But the most significant injury I acquired was an ACL blowout on a group run that laid me up for weeks.

Still, I made absolutely no connection between any of my training choices and the outcomes they produced. I continued running for years (at distances up to and including marathons and an ultramarathon) getting progressively slower year after year, never again coming even close to placing at a race of any distance, accumulating injuries, gaining piles of bodyfat, and never being able to achieve the level of fitness I had reached during that short period of time when I had started that rudimentary strength training program. I was always fighting to regain that feeling of physical excellence, but every time I vowed to “hit it hard” I would lace up my running shoes, shuffle down the road, and wonder why I could never get it back.

At this point I got out of the Navy, worked various jobs around the country, and was fatter and more useless than ever. In comes Starting Strength. Flipping through my mental rolodex, I still can’t remember where or when I first heard about Starting Strength, but I do know that from the moment I started following it, the lightbulb for this slow learner went on. I found the article Why You Should Not Be Running, and all my years of confusion and frustration were cleared up in a 5-minute read. I became an anti-running, pro-barbell, door-knocking missionary overnight.

In a matter of a few short months following the Starting Strength training model, I began to notice some very positive changes. Not only was I actually adding 5 pounds to every lift, every workout – just as advertised – and bringing my squat, deadlift, press and bench up to numbers I had only ever imagined, my body started growing muscles I hadn’t seen in years. A set of respectable, strong hamstrings started to develop where previously lay concave, deflated nothingness. Where I previously had weak, sloping shoulders now sat a decent set of traps. My lifelong pencil neck was filling out nicely, and my man boobs morphed into something resembling a strong chest.  

Discuss in Forums

Starting Strength Weekly Report

Highlights from the StartingStrength Community. Browse archives.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.