The “week of lists” continues as I dive into my fitness hobby of choice: running. I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said so instead I’ll just point out some of the things I’m personally getting mixed messages about thanks to the vast array of clinics, books, magazines, websites, and anecdotal advice from fellow runners. If there is a metaphorical ‘fence’ for any of these, I’m pretty much on one side of each contradiction — so make up your own mind and don’t listen to me. I’m just ranting about:
1 : Cotton
Perhaps just chalk this one up to out-of-touch race organizers, but the practice of giving racers who’ve signed up for a race — costing, nowadays, usually a $50+ fee — a “free” t-shirt — a cotton t-shirt — that they encourage runners to wear WHILE running, baffles me. After the athletic-wear companies have pampered us with ongoing advances in technical fabrics, those light-weight, chafe-free, moisture-wicking garments of running magnificence, there likely is no way I’m wearing a cotton-polyester blended, be-logoed t-shirt on ten klick fun run. Ouch. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for advertising.
To run every day or to not run every day? Some say yes. Others? Ooooh, rest, they say. Don’t push yourself. Running every day, we’re told, leads to injuries… which I suppose makes sense. I don’t know where to look for research on this, so I just tried it out — for a while — and ran every day. And then I got a lot faster and stronger. But that’s me… just my story. And it was hard work. There are lots of schools of thought on running every day, I guess, and most of them say “don’t push yourself” — and all the while the elite runners are going hard and strong three-six-five. I mean, I think maybe you need to work up to it but don’t discount it entirely… or at least talk to a doctor first?
3 : Technology
I go flipping through a typical assortment of running magazines and this struck me on a recent issue of [Magazine Name Not Really Important]. On one page there was an article about the over-use of technology in running. On the facing page there was an ad for some new GPS watch. On the next page there was an article about putting your heart-rate monitor away and just listening to your body. On the facing page, there was an ad for a new running watch that tracked heart-rate. And so on… this went on for a few pages. Now, either the editor was asleep at the wheel, or the guys writing the copy don’t agree with the guys paying for the copy. Just saying. Which is it? But I do like my GPS watch.
4 : Stretching
I’ve taken about fifteen running clinics in the last four and a half years and every instructor quotes a different bit of advice on stretching. First it was the controversial practice of “cold” stretching before a run versus “warm” stretching after a run. Then for a while I had an anti-stretching evangelist teaching a clinic who claimed he’d never stretched in the last five years and encouraged us to avoid it too. Then there was the pro-yoga folks who’s answer to everything was “you need to do yoga.” And now I’m with the uber-stretchers who spend half-an-hour after a run doing these impossible-to-emulate deep stretches on the pavement in front of the clinic store, getting their clothes covered in dirt and dust and leaving sweaty-bum-prints on the concrete. I’m confused. So I usually just do a few quick standards and go home.
5 : Over-training
This is sort of like the “run every day” question of earlier — but a little more subtle. Over the years — but more so lately — I’ve encountered a whole series of well-meaning advice-givers who are all up on the perils of “over-training” in running. Don’t push yourself. Set your pace to this exact speed. Don’t go too far. Rest when you need to rest. You’re going too fast for THIS particular training day. STICK TO THE PROGRAM. Actually? It’s the Gospel According to John (the Running Room folks know of whom I write.) It’s not John’s fault, of course. It’s just his program. A good program. And he’s built a business around it. But there is a cadre of folks who treat it like the bible of running — and those who, well… not so much… and with more under-their-breath four-letter-word replies than I’ve included here.
6 : Racing
“If you’re not training for a race, why are you running?” The mantra from so many sources is GOAL-setting, and in running the ultimate goal is a race, right? Well, that’s what you’d believe too if you paid attention to the ads, the pamphlets, the clinics, the… this… that… everything. I have mixed feelings about races. They do tend to make you run faster and give you a medium-term goal, sure, but at the end of any race you’re stuck with this one-off time, a single-run assessment of your ability on that given day (as opposed to a collection of training runs — TRAINING runs — that measure progress over a span.) And, to boot, you never end up running with friends — the running buddy thing always evaporates when the gun goes. It’s just you and the road. Often, I’d rather keep it social, actually, and do a leisurely jaunt around the neighbourhood. Forget the races.
7 : Shoes
And then there were shoes. The only topic that comes up on virtually every single long-ish run I’ve ever done: shoes. New shoes, shoe fit, shoe brand, shoe style, the tightness of your laces, support versus motion control, training shoes versus barefoot-style shoes. The only topic I dread more is male-nipple-chafing. I mean, I’m not surprised shoes are so controversial: there’s money in shoes and it’s the one piece of equipment EVERY modern runner needs at some point — and according to the “experts” multiple alternating pairs with tracked mileage for maximum injury protection. I have lots of shoes. I have a brand. I even have a preferred style. I’ve bought into the hype, I guess. And speaking of that, I should really go shoe shopping here soon…