5 myths about running I’ve learned
Running has taught me quite a bit as I’ve gone from a poorly trained 4-hour marathoner to a certified coach who has finished on the podium in two ultra races in 2020.
I’ve been fortunate to learn from a couple of amazing coaches, Marathon Training Academy co-owner Angie Spencer and my current coach, David Roche, of Team SWAP. They have both shaped me as an athlete, coach and human.
At the same time, my experience as a runner has taught me quite a bit and I’m happy to share that with my athletes and others. Here are five things that I thought were true as I began this journey almost 10 years ago but have been debunked since.
1. False: Run hard every day. As a new runner, I aimed to improve every day. For the most part I could see my paces improve when I would compare my early training runs. But that was to be expected as I was getting stronger. To increase speed and endurance over time, runners need to adhere to a running plan that has the majority of runs at an easy pace. Strategically placed short intervals of speed work within those runs is more effective in the long run than going hard on each and every single run.
True: Run easy around 80 percent of the time.
2. False: Use this formula to determine easy pace. There was — and I guess still is — a concept to take 180 then subtract your age to find your optimal heart rate zone. The theory suggests that this number is what your heart rate should be while running easy. As with most things that appear too easy to be true, this concept falls short. The equation does not account for many variables — gender, experience as a runner, resting heart rate, overall health, whether the athlete is training for a fast 5K or a multi-day endurance event. As we gain experience as runners, we learn to understand our bodies and listen to them. That’s much better than incorporating a random formula into it.
True: Go by feel.
3. False: Watches provide reliable heart rate data. I don’t pay attention to the formula mentioned in the previous myth but there was a time when I took note of my average heart rate and related data after runs. Wrist-based heart rates are not as accurate, as several studies have pointed out. “In general, accuracy of wrist-worn monitors was best at rest and diminished with exercise,” reads one that is cited by Roche in this excellent take on why they are not to be trusted.
True: Don’t pay any attention to wrist-based heart-rate data, and don’t put too much stock into data from chest straps. Again, go by feel.
4. False: Carbo load with pasta before a race. When I started running, one of the traditions was for runners to chow down on a bowl or plate of pasta the night before a race. Carbo loading was the in thing. In time, I realized that the excess food in my gut was not helping me on race day. Better overall training and eating properly would be a wiser approach. While pre-race spaghetti dinners can still be found at races, at least pre-pandemic, the majority of runners are no longer following the pasta indulgence. Instead, runners should follow what they normally ate during training for a successful race day. I do have my go-to dinner the night before but the food items don’t deviate much from what I generally eat — and, most importantly, the meal works for me on race day.
True: Eat what you like and what you practiced with in training.
5. False: Runners can eat anything they want. Technically, that is true. However, healthy choices — the majority of the time — based on what works for you personally are the best way to go. After my race two weeks ago, I enjoyed some treats that I don’t usually have during the bulk of training. A celebratory pizza. Some plant-based ice cream. Overall, I stuck to my healthy, plant-based, gluten-free diet. I’ve documented my journey in previous blog posts and offered some tips to runners pursuing plant-based lifestyle. But to summarize, my running, recovery and overall health have improved while going plant-based. I am gluten-free because I have Celiac Disease but those without the allergy should carefully consider whether that diet is appropriate for their overall health.
True: Find a healthy diet that works for your individual needs.