FAQs and Such
Contrary to what people seem to think, I still call myself a novice runner. I’ve only been at this for six years, and I am still in the “constantly making mistakes” category. I have friends–my father is one–who have been running for decades, and know more about this sport than I ever will. I am not an authority on running. However, for some people, I am the go-to person for questions about running, or the most gung-ho proponent of the sport that they know, and therefore, the most logical person to ask their questions. I don’t mind that. I find that certain questions get asked frequently. Below, some of the answers.
What kind of shoes should I wear? This is a very individual thing, as you can imagine. If you have high arches, you’ll probably be fitted with what’s termed cushioned shoes when you go to the specialty running store–you’re going in the morning, right? RIGHT? You see, God designed our feet so that our arches take the impact from our stride. A high arch does that very well, but if yours is very high it needs extra cushioning. If yours is flat, like mine, you’ll likely be fitted for a motion-control shoe, which will do the opposite: it will support your non-existant arch to prevent your foot from rolling inward, which is what it wants to do. A flat-footed runner who is small or lightweight (or both, like me) will be fitted into a stability shoe, which will do the same thing but to a lesser degree. Have normal, well-designed arches? You lucky duck! You’ll be fitted into neutral shoes, which will simply get out of the way of your beautiful, perfect feet. You may even get away with wearing minimalist or barefoot shoes. Every manufacturer of running shoes designs shoes for every kind of arch, and every smart retailer will bring you one shoe of several brands to try on. I’m a big fan of Brooks, but I’ve also worn Nike and Mizuno. Personally, I simply cannot run in Asics, but they’re a decent shoe. My father never runs in anything but New Balance. I hear Sauconys are particularly good if you have a narrow foot, which explains why I’ve never been fitted in that brand–I have feet like a duck. (No, literally.)
What should I eat before I run? How about after? Again, this is incredibly personal, but my bet is you probably don’t need to worry about it very much unless you’re going out for over an hour. I’d be willing to bet you’re gonna be okay just heading out the door–that is, if you’re going out first thing in the morning. Going out later in the day brings on all kinds of complications–in that case, your engine’s already been running, and you may need to help it along. If so, the key is to both time it well and to feed it something that doesn’t take a lot of energy to digest. Remember, when you’re running, your body’s sending its blood to your legs, so there’s not a lot of extra blood and energy to send to your digestive system. That’s a problem if you’re asking it to digest complicated foods. I know that’s disgusting, but that’s simple anatomy. Plan ahead. Eat at least thirty minutes before you set out, and then eat something that’ll be easy on your stomach. For crying out loud stay away from the dairy. My go-to meal before long runs is peanut-butter toast. My training partner, like many runners, is a big fan of bananas. Because we generally run only in the mornings, we usually only eat before long runs of ten miles or more. It’s often far more important what you eat when you get back, especially if you did speedwork. In that case, experts say you should get some healthy protein in you pretty quick. And drink some water! If you’re a heavy sweater, it wouldn’t kill you to replace some of the minerals you’ve lost, especially in the summer. Many people use Gatorade, but I’m not a fan of its cloying taste. I’ll either drink it watered down or melt a tablet of Nuun in a glass of water for my post-run mineral replacement drink.
When should I run? For most of us, the easy answer is, run whenever you can. If your life is such that you have more than one choice, then my suggestion is that you vary your routine in order to keep your running fresh. Run on Monday mornings and Tuesday evenings, then take Wednesdays off. Run Thursday afternoons with a friend and Saturday mornings with a group, then bike on Sundays with your family. The time of day does not necessarily offer any advantage–unless you’re training for an event with a wacky schedule. If you’re training for a race at midnight, you should probably try to sneak in some midnight running.
Do you listen to music? No, not usually, though I have in the past. Little G and I are doing most of our training together now, so that’s part of it. We’re doing our speed sessions separately, but during those sessions I can’t afford the distraction of music. There have been races in the past when I’ve carried my music with me, prepared for rough patches. For this year’s Tallahassee Marathon I carefully prepared a “26.2 playlist,” carefully arranged by beats per minute. I carried it with me during the race and “plugged it in” at mile 16, though I’m not sure whether it helped or just ticked me off. In training, when I do run “plugged in,” I am far more likely to be listening to the spoken word, either a podcast or an iTunes U class. I then run with only one earbud in so I can still hear ambient sounds, and only when I’m running in daylight, mom. This is closely tied in to . . .
Do you run on the sidewalk or the road? Listen carefully–this is just me. You need to evaluate your situation and what is safest in the environs where you run. Personally, I run on the road. I am typically running at 4:30 in the morning, so few cars are out, and I’m running lit up like a Christmas tree, but yes, I run on the road. If you choose to do the same, please run facing traffic–as an older, more experienced runner once said, “it’s good to see what’s gonna hit you before it does.” If your roads are very narrow, cracked, busy, unlit, or in any other way even remotely unsafe, and sidewalks are available to you, you should use those, in which case, probably, you should run with traffic. So, why do I run on the road? Like I said, I’m typically running very early in the morning, and traffic is not an issue. I usually see, maybe, one other runner out during my entire one hour’s run, and a handful of cars. I purposely run on streets with streetlights, and wear two blinking lights. Though some seem to think that thugs or ruffians would be my biggest threat, the reality is that inattentive drivers are. Thankfully, the streets I run on are wide and have bike lanes, and by staying in them I can avoid Texting Timmy. I also avoid the cracks and giant spiders that fill our sidewalks, for which I am most grateful.
My friend/brother/neighbor/sister-in-law’s grandpa’s aunt’s cousin twice-removed said running is bad for your knees. Many people who run wear a brace on one knee (I wear kinesio tape.). Why is that? Could be that hitting the ground at 2 1/2 times your body weight for hours at a time is a terrible idea. On the other hand, I’ve also been–let’s just come out and say it–FAT, and that’s no walk in the park either. Guess what? Having high blood pressure and pre-diabetes is also bad for your health. No, running doesn’t have to be bad for your knees. It’s why I’m a huge advocate of proper shoe fitting, of cross training, of scheduled rest days, and, especially, of a slow increase in distance. I think if beginning runners do all these things well, there’s no reason for anyone to have knee pain. Would I trade my occasional knee pain for the extra weight, the high blood pressure, the higher heartrate, and the poor body image? Not on your life. The next time someone tells you running is bad for your knees, tell them it’s good for your heart, your lungs, your endurance, your self-esteem, your weight, your skin, and your patience. Which is good, because your patience is being tested. Right. Now.
How far do you run? Our training is always driven by the end goal. Our easy midweek runs are often between four and six miles; speedwork is often six to seven miles total, once all the intervals are added up. The distance of the long runs progresses, of course, as the season progresses, but, since we started working with Coach Will, it also has a speed goal, which wasn’t true when we were working on our own (and shouldn’t be a goal for beginning runners). If you really are curious, and have nothing better to do, you’re always welcome to peruse my training logs, though I’m not sure how useful it would be to you.