The Sins of Running


I’d love to pretend I’m original. Lists abound on this topic, but it’s like an acoustic cover of “Hallelujah”: We all think there are too many out there, and we all think ours still merits being forced upon other people.

And so here we are.

It was a fun list to put together. We all have pet peeves, we’ve all seen people do stupid things while running, and we’ve all done stupid things while running.

Be warned, it’s a long list.
1. Doing Something New on Race Day
2. Running Someone Else’s Race.
3. Too Far, Too Fast, Too Soon.
4. Not Changing Things Up.
5. Not Cross Training.
6. Not Sleeping (Well).
7. Eating Like the Guy from Supersize Me.
8. Not Listening to Your Body.
9. Not Having Buddies.
10. Not Getting Out of the Way.
11. Not Paying Attention to the Little Things.
12. Not Being Mindful of Your Surroundings.
13. Not Running (Barring Injury).
14. Running Injured.
15. Thinking Running is the Cure.


1. Doing Something New on Race Day.

 

We’ll start with the original intent as I was developing this list, which was for race day. And it all boiled down to doing something on race day that you’ve never done before. Whether it’s something mild like using a new pair of socks or something more dangerous like overloading on caffeine, you know you shouldn’t, and yet we all find a way to do it every now and then.

The biggest thing for me is gear. I don’t want to be in the middle of a run and realize my shirt’s not exactly helping me our or feeling like my shoes are about to break my feet in half. I’ll still violate this one for the superhero shirts for each 5K, but at least it won’t be a problem until it warms up a bit more. It also wouldn’t be a problem if I’d practice in them, but while I’m a big enough prat to wear a superhero shirts during a race, I’m not a big enough prat to wear them while I’m ambling through a training run. If anything, I’m buying the runner 5 shirt to wear during training, you know, ‘cause I AM runner 5.

The next thing I have to be careful about is what I eat. I don’t want to eat something that will upset my stomach.

That leads to the time of day business. These two interact. I don’t run at 8 or 9 in the morning. That means I’m not used to running on my breakfast. I’ll let you do some math… Done? Yeah, it’s not a good idea. I just kind of hope that since it doesn’t upset my stomach on a regular day and if I eat early enough, then I won’t pay the price. But yeah, not a good idea.

The other aspect of this time of day business is people react differently to different times of day. If you’re an afternoon/evening runner, your body’s not going to be used to running at sun up. Hopefully, you at least have one session that’s early just to make sure you’ll be ok, but it’s still a gamble.

Temperature is the other time of day part of the equation that factors in. I don’t like running in the cold (I also don’t like running in general, but I REALLY don’t like running in the cold). Let’s take today’s run as an example. When I woke up, it was 41F. When I started my run 4 hours later, it was 37. And misting. By the time I was done, I had collected enough of the moisture in my hair to look like a dewy lawn. Not a good look for me. That said, I know my next 5K will be in the cold again. I can’t just run when it’s comfortable because I’m not getting those conditions for the race.

And my last one in this bit is pace. Now obviously, people go faster on race day, whether they’d like to or not. But you don’t need to run faster than you ever did in training. You probably won’t sustain it, and you could end up hurting yourself.

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2. Running Someone Else’s Race.

 

This segues off the last section, but I thought it was important enough to merit its own. Part of the reason I don’t like to think of running is that you don’t actively try to affect your competition (at least in terms of forcing them into an action, and we’re going to leave out drafting and pretend no one’s a dbag who just gets in the way). You can run your race without regard for your opponent. They run as fast as they can, and you run as fast as you can. Running their pace won’t help you. And if you’re lucky, they’re not really running their own pace and might fade late.

So unlike other sports where you actively try to put your opponent out of position, in running, everyone gets to do their own thing and then see where they chips fall. Yes, there’s strategy. Yes, they’re athleticism. Yes, there’s practice and preparation. But, your final time shouldn’t be impacted by the times of the people around you, whether they’re much better or much worse than you.

So run your own damn race.

I’m a hyper competitive person. I’d like to finish first, but I know I can’t. I’d like to run the whole thing, but I know I can’t do that either. What I can do is run a manageable pace, walk when I need to, and still beat some people who run the whole thing. That’s my race. Maybe as I progress, I’ll be able to run the whole thing, but it’s not worth the risk to push myself when I know it probably won’t help my time and will probably lead me to being in some real pain.

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3. Too Far, Too Fast, Too Soon.

 

Now we’re transitioning to prep and training. And we’ll start where I’ve historically been the worst: trying to run too far, too fast, too soon.

I am a sloth. When I’m not being very conscious about it, I push myself too hard. I don’t just mean while I’m running; I mean in general. I try to push until my body gives out. The problem is eventually it doesn’t just give out for the run; it gives out for days and sometimes weeks.

This is what led me to the Zombies, Run! 5K app. I set a goal to do a 5K every month, and a friend recommended the app. I’d always been curious about the couch to 5K programs, but I just couldn’t make myself do it. The beginnings of them are always so boring.

At least with the app, I can hear a good story. The app also does a good job allowing for individual variability. There are free runs that close every session that allow you to run or walk as much as you would like. This is where I figure out how far I’ve gotten. It’s here that I can see I still have a good way’s to go, but at least I’m trying. I may try the first week’s session after I go through the program all the way through just to see what my progress looks like. The beginning and middle are usually pretty fixed, but there’s always the free run. I’m curious how I’d do.

Now, of course, there’s always a story. When I was getting ready for a mud run a couple of years ago, I had bought new shoes. I knew I’d pretty much ruin a pair, so I moved my running shoes to my mud run shoes, and then bought a new pair as my primary running shoes. And it was those infamous Nike Relentless.

On my first run, my feet and calves got really tired really quickly. So I couldn’t run fast. And so I didn’t get winded. I ran 2 miles nonstop outdoors for the first time in 2 or 3 years. Two days later, I went running with a coworker. They’re a slower jogger than me, so I slowed down to keep pace with them. And I really didn’t get winded easily this time. I ran 2.5 miles nonstop for the first time in 7 years.

The next day I could barely walk.

My foot was in hellish pain when I put weight on it. It took weeks to recover. I got new shoes (the Brooks Glycerin), and I eased my way into them. When I finally replaced the Nikes with the Adidas Energy Boost, I’ve been easing the Adidas in. I didn’t just make a full-blown switch to them. And this leads us to the next section.

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4. Not Changing Things Up.

 

Variety is the spice of life. It’s also how you keep from over/undertraining muscles.

Running is awesome in that the barrier to participate is very low. You need somewhere to run, shoes, and clothes. You don’t even need nice versions of any of these. Just something that will work.

Running is terrible because the barrier to participate is low and sometimes we don’t have a proper filter to make sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. If you keep doing the same thing wrong, you’ll hurt yourself. Hell, you can do things right and still hurt yourself because you get too used to something.

One of the best ways to prevent injury is to change things up, including your shoes. Rotating shoes is a good predictor of injury prevention. Basically, you never let your foot get used to one pair, so it keeps adapting to each.

And this is why I’m rotating my shoes for my runs. I switch between my Brooks and my Adidas. They’re very different shoes. The do both absorb impact pretty well compared to most, but they run very differently. The Brooks are a pretty smooth ride and don’t allow me to put my feet in bad positions while running, but they’re heavy and slow me down after a while. The Adidas are lighter and give me more freedom, but that also leaves me more susceptible to letting my foot land wrong and hurting myself.

Another bad habit is running the same routes the same direction. You might loop back and have a net zero balance on elevation, but odds are there’s a tilt in your route or you’re consistently turning one way and not the other. This builds muscle imbalances. Just turn around. You’ll give yourself better balance that way. This is especially true if you run on a track (just get out of the way if you’re going against traffic; we’ll get back to this concept later).

And honestly, you need multiple routes. You’ll get used to the hills, that flat spots, etc. It will become a routine instead of being a challenge. Find a new place to run to at least rotate in some change (or run a new race every month that forces you to do something new). I can’t say that you’d get injured using the same route (provided you go in different directions). I’d just be concerned that you’d get mentally bored and you’d lose interest in what you’re doing. Of course, you can always download the Zombies app and flee for you not-yet-undead life.

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5. Not Cross Training.

 

Running is really good about having you propel yourself forward in a straight line. And that’s about it. You’re not getting a full body workout. Even if your entire body aches, you damn well you didn’t get an upper body workout. You need to put time in with other exercises so you can stay balanced. Plus, with proper planning, that balance can pay dividends on the pavement.

I do yoga, not to help my running, but it does. It gives me more flexibility. It gives me more core strength. And helps me be more cognizant of my breathing. These are all important in running. These are all things that help lessen the toll of runs and help me recover more quickly.

So yeah, running’s good for you, just throw some other stuff in too.

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6. Not Sleeping (Well).

 

Sleep is a weapon. I stole this from Robert Ludlum. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t true.

Sleep is when we recover mentally and physically. You can’t expect to be at your best if you’re treating your body like hourly rate motel.

You have to sleep, and you have to sleep well. Sleep is just like any other part of your training. You track your miles, you track your intake, so why not track your sleep? Why not track how well you’re sleeping?

I’m a Fitbit user. I love the stupid thing. It keeps track of my activity, which is awesome. But more importantly, it tracks my sleep. If I’m out of it, I can usually see why. It lets me know if I haven’t been doing a good job of taking time to rest. And that’s important. If I’m not resting, I typically am not keen to run, and I will almost certainly be binging to try and get energy from somewhere.

So make sleep a priority. Get pillows you like. Make your room comfortable. Get blackout curtains. Block the little lights from your electronics. Stretch before bed. Do whatever it takes. This is important.

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7. Eating Like the Guy from Supersize Me.

 

As much as I like to eat crappy food (and I do love to eat things that will eventually give me a heart attack), even I know you can’t just eat whatever you want. You have to be mindful about what you’re ingesting.

Running doesn’t do much good if you’re taking in an extra 1,000 calories every day (believe me, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds).

I don’t really like to eat a lot of healthy stuff. Why, just today, I used my run to justify Popeye’s for lunch. That said, I had garlic shrimp with carrots and broccoli for dinner. Tomorrow for lunch, it won’t be perfect, but I’ll keep things in moderation and grab a salad.

All this because I know if I can drop weight, running will be a lot easier (and I’m trying to use running to drop weight anyway). My body likes me a lot better when I’m under 180 than it does when I’m over 190 (or 200 like I was a few months ago).

It’s a fight, but I have more energy when I’m not consuming complete garbage all the time, just some of the time.

And you know what you’re supposed to eat. If it’s breaded and/or fried, you should probably limit it to once or twice a week. And eat you some whole grains. Everything has a whole grain option it seems. And let’s not forget about fruits and veggies.

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8. Not Listening to Your Body.

 

If there is one thing you’ll pick up in yoga, it’s to listen to your body. If you find the right teacher, they let you adapt things to meet your needs, whether it’s making something easier or harder. It’s on you to know what you can and can’t do.

It’s the same for running. You know how fast you should go. You know how much sleep you need. You know what food leaves your energized and what food leaves you listless.

You also know the difference between sore and hurt. And the difference between hurt and injured.

My zombie app should take 8 weeks. I’m 12 weeks in, and I still have 3 weeks of training to go. While I’ve had to take different chunks of time off, ultimately, I knew I couldn’t do the 3 sessions a week the app wanted me to do. It would take perfect scheduling and perfect reaction from my body. And my body doesn’t react perfectly. Sometimes my legs are shot. Sometimes I’m just too tired. And so I run 2 times a week instead. It gives me enough time to not be sore at the start of a run, but I don’t feel like I’m losing conditioning in the process.

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9. Not Having Buddies.

 

Everyone needs buddies as a runner. Even if you run alone, you need people to commiserate with. Total isolation doesn’t seem like a legitimate strategy for many reasons.

For a lot of people, having a running buddy is encouraging. They can push each other, and they find it easier to run with someone along for the ride.

For other people, it works to have someone to talk to about running.

And then for masochists like me, it’s more about having people who can call you out if you aren’t running.

Either way, it helps to have running buddies. And if you’re such a cretin that you can’t get real running buddies, there’s no shortage of online communities to belong to. Hell, you’re sort of reading a piece of that universe right now.

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10. Not Getting Out of the Way.

 

Now we’re transitioning to my sins while you’re running that aren’t just for race day.

Stay out of the way. If there are other people around, odds are they need to get around you. Don’t be the jerk who runs dead center in the path. And don’t be the jerks that run 2 or 3 wide and don’t let people around. Fall into a line for 1 second, and you will be infinitely improving people’s perception of you.

And of course, this applies to race day. There’s a logical flow to things. You pass on the left in the U.S. in a car, and people generally expect to pass on the left while running. If you’re going slow, try to move to the right in a race. And if you can’t without impeding others, just find a way to make room for other runners. The next speedwalker who decides to start at the front of a race and not get out of the way of people running is getting kicked, and they won’t catch me because I know they’re not going to be running. You’ve been warned.

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11. Not Paying Attention to the Little Things.

 

This is about breathing and steps. This isn’t so much a problem at the beginning of a run as it is at the end. When you’re tired, you naturally start to lose form. You have to be more proactive about breathing and stepping properly, otherwise you’ll hurt your run at best and injure yourself at worst.

When these two things start to go and I can’t control it, that’s when I know it’s time to walk. It’s time to slow down, get my bearings, and recoup mentally and physically.

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12. Not Being Mindful of Your Surroundings.

 

This can range from inconvenient (like finding dog poop) to dangerous (like finding the front bumper of a vehicle). Running has low barriers to participate because you’re typically out and about with the rest of the world. And they’re not always paying attention to their surroundings either.

I’m still kind of waiting for the day I get hit by a car because of this.

Nevertheless, it’s on you as a runner to pay attention. If you don’t pay attention to where you’re stepping, you could step in something inconvenient (e.g., the aforementioned poop) or you could step in something that twists your ankle. In the winter, ice becomes an issue.

You also have to pay attention to the other people around you, especially if those people are driving cars. Way too many people will turn without looking at who’s about to be in the crosswalk, and way too many people block the crosswalk while trying to pull into traffic.

I did the math. Getting hit by a car never works out for the runner, even if it’s a BMW with good insurance.

Another aspect of this mindfulness is paying attention to the critters. I’ve had too many close encounters with snakes not to be paranoid about that just in general. While running, Florida gave me a unique experience. There’s a lake on campus where I knew there were alligators, but it was also a nice path to run. I’d never seen a gator on a run, but knew it was possible. One day a gator was sunning itself 3 or 4 feet from the sidewalk. It never moved an inch and had I not been walking by that point, I might not have even noticed it. But I did, and it got an extra few feet of clearance.

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13. Not Running (Barring Injury).

 

And now we’re in the final part of the list, and we’re getting big picture ‘cause I’m good like that. Not running is a bad running sin. If you have the ability to and you aren’t getting your cardio somewhere else, what’s your excuse? I just gave you a bunch of ways to make this process not suck. Hell, I’m running. Get your butt out there and run if there isn’t a doctor telling you not to.

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14. Running Injured.

 

And this is the flipside. There are some idiots who run even when they know they shouldn’t. One of them is typing this right now. You’re not doing yourself any favors. You’ll only complicate whatever’s ailing you. This is one of those listen to your body and rest things. Sometimes you just shouldn’t run. It’s not complicated.

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15. Thinking Running is the Cure.

 

A lot of people start running thinking it’s the magic cure they’ve been seeking, whether it’s weight loss, depression, stress, etc. Running won’t solve your problems. You’re better off going in with realistic expectations.

Running can absolutely be a part of the solution, but it’s not the only thing.

If you want to lose weight, that’s a lot of little decisions and is primarily about diet. You can get 500-750 calories in an hour running session. 10 minutes of eating pizza can easily put you over 1,000 calories. Under the right circumstances, I can clear 2,000 calories in 10 minutes. I think you see the problem.

Likewise, mental health issues will not be solved only by running. Therapists exist for a reason. Any of them worth their degree will be ok with you running as long as running doesn’t endanger you. They’ll also help equip you with the tools you need to manage your life better, even if you aren’t able to run.

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Conclusion.

Wow. That was exhausting. How are you still here? You should have given up 1,000 words ago. Oh well.

I hope this added some value. Feel free to comment and share any running sins you think were missing.

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