With too much information floating around, it’s difficult to filter out what actually works
By Richard Benyo
Google “beginner running tips,” and you’ll get more than four million hits. Contrast this with the first running boom in the 1970s, when there was no Internet and runners got their information from books, magazines, coaches and friends with relevant experience.
While it may seem like a huge advantage to have a wealth of information online, too much of it is unfiltered. In pre-digital times, editors checked running advice in books and magazine articles, coaches had solid results to fall back on, and running friends learned from their own mistakes and passed along advice that was road-tested the hard way. None of the old grizzled runners envy today’s novice runner when it comes to sifting through the gigabytes of advice that is swirling through the ether.
In consulting with 14 experienced runners in researching my latest running book, Timeless Running Wisdom, a theme began to emerge, and it revolved around the word “too.” As in, too much. Everyone, from four-time Boston and New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers and Olympic marathon gold medallist Joan Benoit-Samuelson to women’s running pioneer Kathrine Switzer and ultramarathon legend Marshall Ulrich, seemed to agree about 10 key points:
1 / TOO MUCH STUFF
Running is the simplest of all sports, yet you wouldn’t know it by looking at today’s runner loaded down with iPods, heart rate monitors, gps devices, hydration packs, etc. Astronauts being shot into space go with fewer gadgets. Every piece of equipment you carry complicates an eminently simple sport. Simplify is the key word in long-distance running.
2/ TOO FAR TOO SOON
Patience is becoming an archaic word in today’s fast-paced society. Folks want everything instantly. In running, it just doesn’t work that way. Although a new runner can get the cardiovascular system into a semblance of shape in roughly two months, other body systems (especially the joints and ligaments) take more time; and realistically, the older you are and the more out of shape you are when taking up running, the longer it takes. Slow and steady increases in mileage with periodic easy weeks pay off better in the long run. Remember, when in doubt, do less.
3 / TOO FAST TOO EARLY
Every long-distance runner should know the name Lydiard. Arthur Lydiard, the famed Kiwi coach, set the ground rules for getting into shape and then improving – rules that literally every running coach over the past 50 years has borrowed and then modestly modified. Lay down a base of slow running before adding speed, and keep the speed work at 10 to 15 per cent of your weekly mileage. When it’s done properly, speed work can greatly improve a runner’s performance. But if not, it can make a runner’s career extremely short.
4 / TOO SOON THE MARATHON In past decades, experienced runners gradually worked their way up to the marathon, spending years running 10ks. Today, it seems as if at least half of the new runners want to run the marathon as their first – and sometimes last – race. Not to say that it can’t be done. It is occasionally even done well. But not often. The same way you wouldn’t want a pre-med student performing brain surgery, you don’t want to rush into the marathon without building toward it using shorter events.
5 / TOO NEW SHOES & APPAREL Never race with new shoes or clothes. It’s nice to sport just-out-of-the-box shoes and running clothes with the tags still attached, but they should be broken in during training runs, where if they have shortcomings or need adjustments, they won’t undermine a perfectly good race.
6 / TOO MANY CARBS
While carbohydrates are the fuel on which long-distance runners run, carbs also have calories, calories lead to weight, the more weight you carry, the harder it is to run well. The night before a marathon you may want to carbo-load, but you don’t need to carbo-overload. Remember that race cars are faster the lighter they are.
7 / TOO MUCH WATER
Somehow a decade or so ago someone started the rumour that if you were going to run long distances you needed to be waterlogged. Not so. Too much water is more dangerous than too little. Too much water can cause hyponatremia (low blood sodium), which can be fatal. But dehydration is usually a temporary condition and relatively common among marathoners. Remember that the Boston Marathon didn’t have official water stations until the mid-1970s and the runners weren’t dropping dead all over the place from dehydration prior to that. When you hydrate, alternate a sports drink with water to avoid hyponatremia.
8 / TOO MUCH BREAKFAST
Don’t eat right before a long run or a race. Don’t drink sports drinks right before a long run or a race. If you are going to eat or drink anything, make it bland and make it at least two hours before you start running or racing. Put off taking in sports drink and gels until you are at least an hour into your workout or race. You don’t want to start an insulin reaction just before you begin running and you want to train your body to depend on free fatty acids as much as possible once you get started.
9 / TOO FAR FORWARD
When you enter a race, seed yourself in the field at roughly the place you figure you’ll finish up. That will keep you from getting in the way of faster runners and will help you avoid being sucked out too fast once the race starts. Start conservatively, saving your best running for the second half of the race.
10 / TOO MUCH ADVICE
These days, self-proclaimed experts are all over the online world. But if everybody in running were such an expert, people would be running much faster than they are. Get your advice from sources (coaches) with results to prove their theories or from sources where the information has to be filtered through the cheesecloth of at least one editor. Before embracing a piece of advice, ask yourself how and why this might work. There’s no such thing as too much common sense.
Enjoy your running and keep it simple to reap the most benefits. Life is way too complicated as it is and running can be a welcome escape.