Every time I take part in a running event, I learn more about running and runners and I’m still enjoying it thoroughly. I would consider myself a novice-to-intermediate level runner, so I’ve got plenty to learn and a long way to go before I would dare to call myself any kind of authority. But… I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about running and runners over the past year or so.
For all around good-naturedness, it’s tough to beat runners – and their niceness is amplified when they’re in groups.
I’ve got a theory on this. I know I tend to feel pretty darn good after a run, and on special days, during a run. It’s the runner’s high kicking in and it’s awesome. Now, imagine enjoying this natural high every day – and the only side effects are improvements in your health, and an intense excitement over really good running socks. You’d probably be in a great mood more often than not. A person in a great mood is more likely to be nice to the people around him or her. So, I believe, it goes with runners.
As for the amplified niceness in groups, it is usually pretty pleasant to discuss your interests with another person who enjoys the same interests. The large groups of runners I have so far been exposed to tend to put each other in a state of controlled joy. They’re surrounded by hundreds of other people who are ALSO excited by really good pairs of running socks! (Non-runners tend to find sock-enthusiasm to be rather bizarre.) Runners also seem to love slinging suggestions for equipment to try or avoid or training tips or tips on where you can find a really good trail to run. It’s just a wonderful environment to be in.
The proper equipment makes a WORLD of difference.
Running is a simple exercise – you just get up and go, right? Well, yeah, pretty much. Except that without the right shoes, socks, and (if you’re a woman) sports bra, you can really do a number on yourself. Worn out shoes, or shoes not really intended for running, can be the root cause of anything from discomfort to blisters to knee, hip, and back pain. The wrong socks will bunch up or hold moisture which can give you blisters you wouldn’t believe way faster than you’d imagine. The wrong sports bra (or no sports bra) can be a nightmare, too. Bounce is the enemy here… It can make you self-conscious and I’ve read that it can actually damage the tissue that keeps your breasts from drooping. (Dear God, no.) Not to mention the fact that bouncing over any significant distance can cause pain.
Like any hobby or sport, the good equipment can be hard to identify for the beginner – and it can run up a serious tab. For shoes, if at all possible, go to a local running specialty store. They should have someone available to take a look at the way you run and recommend the best shoes for you. (It all has to do with the way your foot hits the ground. It’s very common for your heel to hit the ground to the left or right more often than dead center. That throws off your stability and can cause you problems down the road. Lucky for us, there are shoes that help stabilize if not correct for your personal tendency.)
For socks, I suspect that it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. One thing, though – do NOT use cotton socks. Cotton socks are death on a runner’s feet. They hold moisture like Scrooge McDuck holds onto pennies, which translates to blisters, pain, and unpleasantness.
Sports bras… I had a serious problem tracking down a sports bra that worked for me. The genetic cards I was dealt left me… almost epically proportioned in this particular area. If you ever feel like feeling utterly ridiculous, hit up your local sporting goods store, collect one of each type of sports bra in your size, go to the fitting room, put each one one, and jump up and down a couple times to see if everything stays in place. I ran through armloads of sports bras this way before I found one that actually worked. (Possibly the only thing more ridiculous than the jumping up and down process is jumping up and down again because you can’t believe that everything IS staying in place.) Champion Action Shape, ladies. Champion Action Shape. I’ve run over 100 miles since last September when I started tracking my mileage (no idea how far I went before that) and I’ve never had to deal with bounce-related pain. (I have occasionally had chafing issues, but nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing that couldn’t be taken care of with a Band-Aid or some Body Glide.) Since then, I’ve tried the Champion Double-Dry Marathon sports bra, which seems to at least as good – maybe better. The damn things usually run about $40, but if you keep an eye on the Champion web site, they’ll sometimes run a Buy One Get One Free sale. Twenty bucks isn’t too much to pay to protect those particular assets, says I.
Running is more mental than you might think.
Like any good sport, running is easy to get started with, and yet provides many facets to master. It’s not enough to head out and put feet on the pavement. You have to figure out what your personal limits are and how you can best push those limits. You have to challenge yourself to keep going when you think you’re toast. Just how fast should you go to run the whole five miles? To you really *have* to walk or can you keep going? Can you get yourself out of bed in the morning to squeeze in that run?
It’s self-discipline, and it might just be the most difficult part of running. That difficultly makes it a very satisfying when you make it though. Crossing a finish line you never thought you’d cross…it’s just incredible.
Nutrition and hydration really are important.
I’m a stubborn idiot about a lot of things. If I don’t want to hear it, I pretty much won’t. It’s an unfortunate personal flaw, and so far, I’ve only been able to find one bit of silver lining… When I DO wise up and listen, I usually really appreciate the benefits because I’ve already put myself though some flavor of hell.
After I finally let the voice of experience sink in, I learned that fueling up properly before, during, and after a run makes a significant difference. I’ve tinkered, and so far, here’s what works best for me for a long run (10+ miles): lots carbs the day before (I like pasta the best for this), a SMALL meal 30-60 minutes before the run (1 cup of cereal or a Luna bar works for me), Gu 15 min before and every 45 min during a run, and protein and one or two beers after a long run. Oh, and water. Drink as much water as you can for the day or so before. During the run, if Gatorade is available, grab that – otherwise, water. And after the race, Gatorade and water. Lots of it.
I followed this for my first half marathon in November 2007, and it worked great for me. I was pleasantly surprised to be mostly recovered in only three days. I was even fairly mobile during my three days of recovery.
(I can’t remember what the reasoning was for the post-race beer at the moment. I just remember that it made a lot of sense at the time, and it did seem to make a difference. Plus, good beer was available!)
For anyone who’s never heard of the stuff, let me tell you that gel shots can be a godsend. They provide a remarkable energy boost without putting any bulk in your stomach that’ll make you cramp up or puke. My preferred gel shot is Gu. I’ve tried all the flavors except chocolate mint, plain, and the coffee one and have liked them all. The texture is bizarre and maybe even a tiny bit disturbing, but it’s worth it. Not all gel shots are created equal, however. I’ve tried the PowerBar brand strawberry and vanilla and found them to be hideous. The Cliff Shot strawberry was OK… it was a little tart, but palatable. To use them, you’re supposed to eat one 15 min before a run and every 45 min during the run. They run about $1.25 a pop, at least in my neck of the woods, so I tend not to use them unless I’m going to be going running more than 6 or 7 miles.
One more note on hydration. During an actual race event, there are angels in human form on the trail that hold out water and/or sports drink for the runners. I’ve seen people run by full tilt, snag a cup, and down it without breaking stride. I believe this to be some kind of X-Men-esque superpower. I’ve tried it multiple times always with the same result – soaking wet face, neck, and shirt, and at best only a sip passing my lips. For us mere mortal runners, I think it’s best to walk through the water stops so that we can actually get some much needed hydrating fluids into us. For those of you with the god-like ability to sprint and drink at the same time…run on, you crazy bastards – I wish I were one of you. Kudos.
It’s actually better to run when it’s cool to cold outside.
This one’s probably at least a quarter personal preference. It’s a lot easier to put suit up for run in the cold than it is to strip down to run in the heat. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to shell out the dough, Under Armour ColdGear is amazing stuff. I’ve run in 30 degree weather in my ColdGear mock turtleneck and tights (and baseball hat and gloves) and been perfectly comfortable once I got going. So far my only cold-weather running side effect has been a tendency to cough for a while after I’m done… must be all that cold air getting deep into my lungs. If ColdGear is out of the question, I’ve also had good luck with yoga pants and regular tights for pants and a tank top and long sleeve shirt for top (layering seems to be the key there). My taste in running pants runs toward spandex…while not the ultimate in fashion, it does eliminate chafing and therefore the need to slather myself in Body Glide. (Nothing against Body Glide – it’s great stuff – I just feel a little odd lubing up to run and like to avoid the necessity if I can.)
(Now that I think of it, there’s another benefit of being in a large group of runners. Everybody else is wearing spandex and nobody thinks its weird.)
There are lots of running resources online.
The two I use the most are MapMyRun.com and HalHidgon.com.
MapMyRun.com does exactly what it says. It uses Google Maps to let you map out your run and figure out exactly how far that run is, which is pretty handy. I don’t know how I’d figure out the distance of more than half of my favorite runs otherwise. Before I heard about this website, the best I could do was drive as close to the trail as possible and estimate based on the odometer readings. Not terribly useful if I wanted to use the bike paths that criss-cross the area I live in.
Another benefit of MapMyRun is the ability to search for runs other people have chosen to share. You might be headed off for a visit somewhere, but want to get a 4 mile run in while you’re there. You can use MapMyRun to find out if there are any 4 mile trails blazed for you already. Pretty neat.
HalHidgon.com is where I go for my training schedules. I used the free Novice training program for my first Half Marathon and had a great experience using it. I liked it so much that I went back to the site for my training schedule for my upcoming half marathon. There’s loads of information on the website as well. Very handy.
Other great sites include Runnersworld.com and Active.com… there really are too many to mention. But look for them – they’re out there!