I’ve Been Running Incorrectly My Whole Life

Well, not totally true. But first some background.

I’ve been training for the 2014 Chicago Marathon in October. It’s my most ambitious running project to date – I’ve run a handful of half marathons up until this point, but never the full 26.2. Actually, up until about a year ago even the thought of seriously running one never crossed my mind. I didn’t want to run one until I could safely break 3:00 and I didn’t think I’d be near that anytime soon enough to warrant running it.

But after a few successful months of running here in Chicago and thinking the nice, flat Illinois course would be too much to pass up, I decided to register anyway. I’m currently 6 weeks in to an 18 week “program” for the marathon and feel great. And it’s made me realize that for a lot of the running I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been doing it all wrong.

When I registered for the marathon, I did what I usually do when I engage in ambitious projects: I researched how successful people before me did it. Why re-invent the wheel? Problematically with something as popular as running though is that for as many people who run, there’s that many different ideas out there. Forums and websites and magazines all target different niche groups of runners. What works for one runner might not work for the other, but from the outside looking in it’s tough to really know. I had some experience as a runner in high school, but my longest race back then was a 5k, and I wasn’t as diligent about keeping logs of my running to refer back to. So for things beyond a 10k, I’ve really just been winging, and taking a few cues from more popular programs. Now that I’ve been running a few weeks in my new program though culled from a few sources, I’ve realized I’ve been doing the distance thing all wrong.

So what have I been doing wrong?

  1. Never wear cotton. I used to run exclusively in cotton, or shirtless on hot days. Which was also terrible. Those wicking fabrics actually make a huge difference.
  2. Sunglasses and a visor are essential for long runs. I try not to run during the midday anymore, but the sunglasses make me less conscious of the sun and the hat takes care of some of the heat. Plus the hat band makes for a great sweatband. Even if it’s not as cheap as medical ace bandage wraps…
  3. Actually something I was doing right: don’t drink too much water. Your body actually isn’t really helped by drinking water for runs under 60-90m unless you’re going *hard* which you shouldn’t be on the long rungs.
  4. Even the actual spacing of my workouts was wrong. On “high mileage” weeks for a half marathon, I used to try to do a few consistent 6-7m runs a day, with one easier day before my long run day and one track/speed workout. My current program has me doing a lot more rest/easy days of 3-4 miles, 3 speed days of varying difficulty, and the long run. What’s most surprising is the setup of the weekend runs. Saturday will be a hard, medium-length run at marathon race pace, and Sunday is the long run itself. I used to separate the speed days and the long run days as much as possible, not put them back to back! But I actually feel stronger and more well rested than I have before… that’s partially due to the fact that..
  5. I’ve learned to run slower. My long runs and rest days are around ~8m/miles. I’m basically binary now. Either doing speed runs or long slow runs. Which makes a lot of sense. To learn to run at certain speeds, focusing on the strength needed to be at those speeds, by being well rested going into those runs, is important. 8-9 miles at something slower than my projected race pace but faster than I’m comfortable with might make me feel great at the end, but then I’m just tired and it wasn’t really increasing my VO2max or anything else.
  6. The flip side is that I’m taking a lot fewer days off now though. I used to run 4-5x a week, taking days off totally to rest and occasionally taking back-to-back days off. Now I run 6x a week almost always, and *never* take back-to-back days off. Even a short 3m run is helpful.
  7. Lastly, I’ve learned a lot about Gatorade and carb intake for running, though I haven’t yet incorporated it into my training beyond a few fundamentals. One is that you shouldn’t really train with Gatorade when you run – your body will burn the carbs from Gatorade before depleting your own stores, which makes your body worse at learning to use those stores. The one exception to that rule is that sometimes, to have a great workout it’s good to have some Gatorade and hit your marks. Second is that for the race day, it’s suggested to have to take Gatorade at nearly every aid station and supplement with Gels of some sort to get the necessary carbs. I have a few simulated races coming up, so I’ll attempt this and see what works best.
  8. The last thing I really like about my plan, contra most other plans, is that it’s fairly low-mileage. I’ll have 3 20m runs before the marathon, but my weekly mileage will never get over 60m. Some programs, aimed as “low” as intermediate level runners, expect 55-70m as a weekly mileage for weeks leading up to the race. While I think some people can handle that, and some are stronger for it, I like the focus on quality runs that keep you from being exhausted the whole thing. You have to get to the race uninjured to be able to run it.

I don’t think I’ll actually break 3:00 this outing, but I’ve been doing my runs with that pace in mind and feel surprisingly good. I always thought I was good at running and knew what I was doing, but lesson learned: you’re never too good at something to relearn how to do it correctly.