As the spring thaw approaches, and as we gear up to ramp up our running, it’s time we’re all reminded of running’s rules of thumb: you know, that list of don’ts intended to guide sensible runners to success and longevity in our sport. But as the rebel gene seems to be no less prevalent among runners than among other segments of the population, these don’ts too often become the don’ts we flagrantly do anyway. The point is that we all run afoul of the law sometimes. And some of us—we know who we are—run a little further afoul than others.
The dont’s we do could be enumerated in a far lengthier list than the one found here. In my experience offenses to these rules top the runner’s rap sheet.
Don’t run too long in your shoes. Every running shoe, like every tire, has a recommended mileage rating. If this comes as news to you, then it’s a good bet that you’re an arch offender of this rule (pun intended). Drive too long on worn tread and one of your tires will suffer a blowout. Run too long in a pair of shoes and some part of your body will suffer a blowout. Sure some of us suspect that the whole recommended mileage rating thing is the second cleverest marketing trick in the book, right behind the rinse, repeat directive on shampoo bottles. For example, a devout ultra-marathoner who takes the mileage rating seriously goes through a pair of shoes about every three weeks. If you’re a running shoe manufacturer, this sounds something like cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. In the course of a year our ultra-marathoner is going to spend in excess of $1,500.00 on shoes, a trifling shoe-budget figure only if your name is Imelda Marcos. If you are waiting for your uppers to wear out before you give up on a pair of running shoes, then it’s safe to say that the lowers–the things that protect your feet from the pounding–gave out ages ago. At your next race look at what the competition is wearing. Among the clean day-glow colors you’ll spot a few old-school looks. Think that’s a new retro look? Look again. Those early-model Brooks have seen more mileage than a Chrysler K-car (the three still on the road). And no, running until your shoes look like they were abandoned by a hobo does not make you a minimalist, it makes you a…well, I’ll just stop there. If you’re not going to listen to the shoe manufacturers, at least listen to your body. If you’re achy and can’t shake the feeling, it’s time to trade up to something sold in this decade (at least this century).
Don’t increase mileage too quickly. There is a quantifiable rule that says that a runner should not increase training volume (mileage) at a rate greater than 10% per week. This rule is intended to keep our zeal in check and to spare us shin splints and other nasty effects of too much too soon. But try bringing this rule up to the runner whose cabin fever at February’s end sees quelling relief in a forecast full of 65-degree temperatures. “Say what?” she’ll scream uncomprehendingly from a quarter mile away. The call of nature is just too loud sometimes.
Don’t go out too fast. I’m talking about racing here. We’ve all heard repeatedly that negative-split (second-split faster) racing is the way to garner a PR in style. But how many of us are able to resist being pulled along with the first mile current? As for me, I’ve always thought that negative split-racing was a bit counterintuitive. In sports that are played with a ball it’s thought a very good thing to go into halftime with a big lead. Even when teams play so-so in the second half of such a contest, they often win on the strength of their first-half domination. Why shouldn’t the same hold true in racing? I leave this for elite racers to answer, since I’ve never been able to run a negative-split race in my life that didn’t involve a 5% downhill finishing grade. It seems I’m equally spent at the end of a race regardless of whether I’ve given 75% or 95% effort in the opening mile or two. I’ve heard this from other racers as well. And for those of us already on the fence with regard to this supposedly unassailable racing philosophy, there’s the occasional big running-magazine article that espouses the virtues of the positive split. I used to think such articles were just the aberrant ramblings of bored sportswriters giving vent to their inner contrarian. Now I’m beginning to think that theirs are the sane and refreshingly realistic voices (kind of like the voices of the defenders of that new Barbie who carries a few extra pounds).
Don’t run in the heat of the day. (Because June will be here sooner than we think.) Run in the morning. Run in the evening. Just don’t run in the heat of the day. That’s nice in theory. But I think it was Rudyard Kipling who observed that, “Only mad dogs, Englishmen and runners trying to reach their mileage quotas go out in the noonday sun.” Ok, that might be a paraphrase. Nevertheless, those of us with full schedules know that sometimes there’s no other option but to strike while the iron is hot. This is one instance where doing a don’t could get one into a lot of trouble. Make no mistake: the consequences of heatstroke are not to be compared with those of shin splints or plantar fasciitis. If the rebel in us must thumb his nose at a spiking thermometer, we at least ought to do our best Caleb the Camel imitation (without repeated verbal respects to a certain day of the week) while minding our electrolyte balance and slathering on the sunscreen.
Sure we may break the laws of running. But, like all criminals, we’ll eventually get caught.