“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
In October 2009, I was an obese, 48-year-old couch potato who took a 30-minute walk with the goal of eventually running a marathon. I realized that goal this March, finishing the Shamrock Marathon. I’m now an avid road runner, and am training for my first ultramarathon, a 50K. In my first few months, however, I made almost every possible mistake with my training, and suffered the consequences. I resolved to learn from those mistakes, and learn everything I could about safe and productive training approaches.
You should always stretch out before a run
Many of the most respected runners and coaches advise against stretching before runs. Ultramarathoner Danny Dreyer allows post-run stretching but none before the run. Running author Jeff Galloway, endurance coach Philip Maffetone, and champion runner Stuart Mittleman, holder of the American 6-day run record, all advise that stretching makes you more likely to suffer injury, because you are moving your joints beyond their usual range of motion. What to do instead? Spend several minutes in warm-up / cool-down walks and jogs before every workout. These energize the specific muscles that you’ll be engaging most during a run, and with similar motion.
You should “carbo-load” the night before a race
Not if you’re interested in training your body to draw upon its vast fat reserves (and yes, even skinny people have them) instead of the skimpy carbohydrate reserves. And even if you do plan to run on carbs, carbo-loading is best done over the several days leading up to the race, not in one big pasta dinner the night before, which might well having you running to the bushes before you run across the finish line.
You should get the most cushioned shoes you can
Born to Run author Chris McDougall makes the case that over-built, over-cushioned running shoes have increased the rate of injury for runners. Unnecessary padding encourages harder heel strikes, which is bad for the knees, and sometimes even the back. Instead of buying the most cushioned shoe, look at the ones with the best fit, cushioned just enough to feel comfortable running on hard surfaces.
You should always wear sunscreen
Only if you are going to be out so long you are likely to burn. Sunshine is an excellent source of vitamin D. Also, it’s important to know that while sunscreens protect against the easily-treated basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, some kinds can actually increase the risk of the most dangerous skin cancer, malignant melanoma. According to Dr. Maffetone, a light tan is the best protection. For long runs in daylight, I use coconut oil as a light, natural protectant.
You need to train fast to race fast
Many runners make the mistake of always training hard. The sad fact is that overtraining cuts short many a runner’s racing career. Even fitness runners often run too fast, too often, and suffer unnecessary fatigue, injuries, and burnout. Optimal training is a balance of work and recovery. Train to race. Don’t race to train.
No pain, no gain
That is true (to an extent) in strength training. However, in running, pain is not generally a sign of gain, but of trouble. Ideally running should be pain-free, although at the end of long runs and races it is normal to feel minor “complaints” from the body for a short time. Ouchiness, however is not a good sign and should be addressed.
You should run the same amount every week
This is fine for running for basic fitness, but in preparation for races, a gradual build-up in duration and distance to the 2-3 weeks for the race (base-building) is better, followed by a sharp decrease in the week or two before the race (the taper).
Your perceived exertion is a good guide to how hard you’re running
Perceived exertion tends to rise and fall disproportionately after hard runs and soft runs. For instance, a day or two after a hard run, perceived exertion may high for even a gentle run, due to the body’s energy being used for recovery. And after rest days, perceived exertion may be lower for strong efforts. However, heart rate is a direct measure of actual work being done by the body. A heart-rate monitor can be an invaluable tool in monitoring the actual amount of work, and developing the aerobic system.
You can’t drink too many fluids during a long run
Yes, you can. Drinking too much can be as dangerous (or more) than dehydration. Hyponatremia is a dangerous depletion of sodium levels caused by the combination of sweating and excessive water intake. The important thing is to find the optimum amount of fluids for your body.
Running is only for the young
One of the finishers in the 2011 Virginia Warrior Dash, a grueling obstacle course, was an 86-year-old woman. There is no arbitrary age limit for running, or even beginning to run, if eased into intelligently and carefully. No one seemed a more unlikely runner than me the day I began. Now it’s a way of life for me, and I feel better than I did twenty years ago as a non-runner.
Note: Besides revisiting these topics in more depth in the blog, I am writing a book covering all this and much, much more, which will be available on this site in April 2012 (possibly earlier).