13 things runners should avoid at all costs
January 19, 2014
Over the past 15 years I have learned many things that have benefited my running experience, but I have also discovered several things that are best avoided. Avoid typically at all costs. In an effort to give back to humanity I am graciously offering the following list of 13 things (I figured a historically unlucky number was appropriate) to save you from enduring the pain, discomfort or humiliation that I have gone through.
- Counting your chickens before they hatched. In the 2008 RNR AZ I had trained the best I ever had before and was having a great race. At mile 16 I decided to stop holding back and increased my pace. At mile 20 I happily skipped the wall. Never in my previous six marathons had I felt so strong this late in a race. I was about sixty yards short of the 24 mile marker when I started to have an inner dialogue. “Maybe a marathon wasn’t tough enough any more. Maybe I needed something more challenging. I was going to PR by a bunch and was feeling great. Maybe an ultra should be my next race.” Then about twenty yards shy of that 24 mile marker I was rudely reminded what a marathon was and I hit the wall. Hard. It happened that fast. The final 2.2 miles were absolute hell. My speedy pace was replaced by a death crawl. Had there been a priest around I would gave converted to Christianity on the spot to get me to that finish line. Or Buddhism if it happened to be a Buddhist priest. I ended up with my best time but I gave back 5 minutes in that final bit. I learned that a marathon is 26.2 miles and not a yard less, so my advice to you is to not celebrate until you are across the finish line.
- Not choosing your running partner wisely. Jeff is my running buddy and we have run races of all distances, trained in every condition and generally supported each other for over a decade. But my running buddy is also a ruthless bastard. Running Detroit in 2005 I was hurting around mile 16 and he got me past that. Then around mile 20 he helped me again when I graciously accepted some Gummi Bears from a kid passing them out to runners and realized it was a bad idea with no water to wash them down. I helped him when he was starting to fade down the final stretch. We were doing what running buddies where supposed to do – we were supporting each other. Back in 2005 you finished on the 50 yard line of Ford Field and when you entered the stadium just past mile 26 there was a four story steep drop to the field level. At this point Jeff gave me a the arm restraint pushback usually reserved for mother’s holding their kids back as she slams the brakes in traffic. Then he took off in a mad sprint leaving me a couple of yards behind chasing him. We had run shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride for 26 miles and then he just dusted me without an ounce of regret beating me by a couple of seconds. The lesson learned was friendship only lasts until you see the finish line, then it is every man or woman for themselves.
- Throwing a handful of Milk Duds in your mouth as you head out the door. This probably applies to anything you can buy at the movie theater and you would have thought I would had learned my lesson in Detroit, but Jeff forced me to take another lesson from that race. Before heading out on a run the other day, I saw a box of Milk Duds sitting on the counter and I couldn’t resist. I poured a reasonable amount into my hand, probably 15 or so, and then popped them into my mouth and out the door I went. Something to know about Milk Duds is they first redirect all your saliva to allow you to swallow them. Then it returns in a constant flow of thick syrupy mud leaving you spitting again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Not the end of the world, but certainly not pleasant either.
- Practicing peeing your pants. This wasn’t actually me, but rather one of my not-to-be-named Running with Ragers. She or he (but it was a she) had missed qualifying for Boston in a previous marathon by a mere 2 seconds. Determined not to let that happen again, she or he (but it was she) showed up at the final long run and announced her or his (but it was her) plan of practicing peeing while running. The rest of the Ragers applauded her dedication to qualifying but assured her this was a game time only activity that required no practice. So preparation is key to a good race, but exercise discretion.
- Starting a long training run horny. Ok, this may be TMI, but this is good advice. When you are out running for 3 plus hours it is often a good time to process things. Spend that time trying to accomplish something mentally. Think how you can be a better partner in your relationship or develop a new strategy for client you having problems with at work. Plan your kid’s birthday party. Heck figure out the last digit of Pi. Just do something with resolution. However if you start a run horny, it only gets worse and worse. And worse. No more discussion necessary.
- Not taking care of business before you head out. Once I was in Denver and went out for a run before some meetings. As most runners do, I have a pre-run routine that takes care of certain necessities, but when on the road routines often get messed up. So off I went to run an easy six around downtown Denver at dawn. I had a Garmin and my plan was to just wing it; run basically out for 3 miles then backtrack to keep from getting lost. Well because there is a thing called Murphy’s Law, at roughly the farthest point from my hotel nature started calling. I began looking for a coffee shop, hotel or restaurant anyplace that would have a bathroom. Yet I seemed to find myself surrounded only by offices other closed businesses. So I veered off my path only to discover a lovely old neighborhood. While I am sure the residents were very nice people, I somehow doubt they would have appreciated a 6 AM knock on the door asking to use their bathroom. Soon my causal search was replaced by a pretty focused one. I was also well off my route by now and I was relying on my innate sense of direction at this point. It wasn’t long before my focused search escalated to a panicked one. Needless to say, I found a coffee shop that was open but of course I was not the only one needing the bathroom. Murphy’s Law after all. I discovered the meaning of “just in the nick of time” that morning. So if you are ever thinking you will just hold it until you are done with your run, don’t. It is a bad idea.
- Wearing a CamelBak shirtless on a hot summer day. A few years ago I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon which requires long runs in the Phoenix summer. When the lows are in the 90s you do pretty much anything and everything to be as cool as possible. This includes starting long runs at 3:30 AM, to strapping on a CamelBak with 32 ounces of Gatorade to pretty much anything else you can think of to stay cool. One morning I decided I was going to skip the shirt and just wear my CamelBak. I discovered that sweat crystalizes on your body as you run and when there is no shirt to buffer the coarse material of a CamelBak you then discover what sandpaper feels like rubbing against naked skin. If you have not had this wonderful experience it makes chafing a desirable alternative.
- Running tights. if you have a Y chromosome. I bought running tights when I first started running and quickly realized why they are called tights. They are tight. Guys simply shouldn’t wear something that tight. Girls look fantastic in them, guys don’t. No guy, no time, no way. I soon found relaxed fit tights and they rock. If you have junk, don’t wear tights. Nothing else needs to be said.
- Thinking you are bad ass. A long time ago when I was much younger and thought I was pretty cool and a good runner, I came up with the notion of shaving my hair into a mohawk for a marathon. I was sure I was going to PR and I thought I would look like a bad ass running with a mohawk akin to one of my heroes, Joe Strummer. The only problem is you have to respect the marathon and I am not Joe Strummer. I ran a solid half before my hip started bothering me. By the time I hit 16 there was a distinct popping noise emitting from my hip socket. By 20 the resulting compensation in my gait had me running with an awkward skip-like stride. The final six miles were brutal and I was in survival mode. I gimped over the finish line and immediately my body went limp. I started stumbling back towards the race course and the medical staff came out and had to assist me. I was a wet noodle in their hands and anything but a bad ass. So if you are not a certified bad ass, don’t try being a bad ass. Odds are you will just be an ass.
- Being ill-prepared for the course photographer. When I first started running I had a habit of running with my fingers clenched and thumbs sticking straight up. I had no idea I was doing it until I saw my race pictures and my friends started calling me Fonzie. So I started tucking my thumb under my fingers and when I got my pictures I now looked like a constipated race walker that just lost his dog. Then I developed yet another ill advised strategy – when I saw photographers I would fist pump or purposely give a big thumbs up only to discover I looked like a complete idiot. It was even worse when I looked like that with a mohawk. Finally I adopted my current philosophy, no matter what shape I am in, I break into the best possible fundamentally perfect stride and try to look as much like an actual athlete as I can even if I collapse two steps past the photographer. Even though I stopped buying pictures a long time ago, I still want to look at least pathetic as possible. You never know if I will become this guy.
- Trying and cheer a stranger up after they have hit the wall. In my last marathon I wasn’t in great shape and Jeff was having a miserable race so I stuck with him at a pedestrian pace. Around mile 20 we came upon a girl that was having an even more miserable race than Jeff. Because I was taking it easy I had a lot of energy. Too much energy apparently. I started talking to the girl oblivious to the obvious. She clearly was in no mood to chat but missing all the signals I went into pep talk mode which for anyone that has been in that state knows a pep talk is that last thing you want. Soon after I told her she would finish she just had to believe in her training she broke into tears. Not a little weeping, but full out bawling including some oddly seal-like bellows. I awkwardly sped off relieving her of my cheering up. I now know better. When someone you don’t know is struggling give them at most a quick “keep at it”. Anything else you might as well be that horrible spectator that yells “you are almost there” when you pass 23 miles.
- Thinking you are faster than a kid. There was this family that ran a lot of local events. I know they were a family because their shirts, or should I say uniforms, had their family’s name across the shoulder with their first name below. The worst of this lot was the 12 year old daughter. I ran into her it seemed at every event. Not literally in case you are concerned. Well sadly she had a nasty habit of always finishing just ahead of me. When checking the results she wouldn’t always have a faster time – sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t – but the point is she was always crossing the finish line ahead of me. So I did as any middle aged guy would do and I dedicated myself to beating this pre-teen. Sadly it typically ended up with me chasing her down and her beating me anyhow. Had she not worn that annoying shirt I would have had no idea but she did, so I did. Efforts are better spent trying to beat your running buddy in the final meters.
- Making a New Year’s resolution to run every day for a year. Unfortunately this is inconvenient and allows for little flexibility. It hasn’t been 3 weeks yet and I have already had to scramble to get my runs in on occasion. Making such rash decisions leads you to doing like running in argyle socks when you realize you forgot to run and have to sneak a run in to keep the streak alive. Do something sensible like pledging to lose 20 pounds or save more money or solve world hunger.