The Do’s and Don’ts of Distance Running

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When I first started running, way back in 1979-1980, the cassette Walkman and track suits were all the rage. Running guru’s were spreading their knowledge through a plethora of running books, and marathons (and eventually ultra-marathons and triathlons) were starting to gain widespread popularity. Those were the days when I was told by some that losing fluid in sweat-inducing clothes was tantamount to weight loss. Even though I argued (rightfully) that the weight loss was temporary, to be regained when fluids were consumed. I quickly learned that dumping those heavier clothes was the first step to becoming a much better runner.

My running outfits considerably got lighter and lighter over the years, till I had a very loose and wide tank top and very thin running shorts—which helped accelerate my speed and endurance. In the colder months, I still wore shorts and a non-formal sleeveless shirt. If it was bitterly cold, I would not run. The cold had a tendency to tighten up my muscles, greatly limiting mobility. In very hot temperatures, the tank top and thin running shorts were mandatory.

In the last several years, I have seen runners carrying water bottles during their runs. My opinion: get rid of them. A lot of athletes are substituting them for good old common sense. Stopping every ten minutes or so for a drink of water is going to affect the rhythm of your training, especially if a water bottle is not warranted at all. You also have to get somewhat acclimatized to your respective climate. It’s better to drink water before and after a run, loading up on warmer days, taking the water bottle only if you absolutely need it. Pacing yourself on hot days is also very important. Cut your usual route in half, and space out your runs during heatwaves, very warm, or high-humidity days. Of course, bring water with you on very warm and hot days.

If you train in the desert, and/or do run on hot days in any environs, taking water with you can be the difference between life and death. For urban athletes, try and leave it behind as much as possible, unless it is very hot, and therefore necessary. But unless you are a good, experienced runner, with no pre-existing cardiopulmonary conditions, you shouldn’t be running in high heat and humidity, anyways. Dressing a lot lighter is a better solution, you vent heat from your body a lot quicker and your perspiration level drops, as your body is not so overheated. Of course, not every runner can dress with wide open tank tops like me, especially if you are a woman. The solution for that is baggier, lighter running tops. Also, never wear really dark colors on hot days. Dark colors absorb solar radiation, almost like a magnifying glass concentrating the heat of the sun.

I’ve seen runners head out in layers of clothing. Get rid of that layered look. It’s not cool or hip. Don’t make a fashion statement out there. Dresing to run is indeed also dressing to win. Layers of clothing are going to make you sweat like a dog. Also, some runners seem to enjoy running with a hat on. Get rid of it during your workouts. Your follicles will end up soaked in sweat. Even if you are bald or balding, don’t be vain. Trust me. After awhile, they’re going to be looking at your muscles, not your scalp line. You will end up with such confidence in yourself that hair will mean little or nothing.

I have been balding since 1988. Never wore a hat before, during or after my workouts. I had such self-confidence that I openly displayed my scalp line. Working out properly will only enhance a runner’s self-esteem and confidence. Improper workouts are going to make a prospective athlete hate it to the point where all the self-esteem degrading habits like overeating, smoking and little or no physical activity start, or come back, to shorten their life spans.

A runner must also lose the ego. Self-esteem and confidence are definitely important. Ego is just self-destructive. Do the running because it makes you healthy and feel good. Don’t do it to impress others in your peer group (or beyond). This will only cause you to take unacceptable risks when you do your runs. You could get physically hurt badly…or worse. Egotistical runners, like other egotistical people, are a dime a dozen in our world.

Sometimes it is hard to stay motivated. Running can be repetitive and boring sometimes. Do not feel bad if you end up leaving it from time to time. One solution to staying motivated is keeping a journal of your runs, what you ate, your weight and physical measurements, heart rate and blood pressure. You will be pleasantly surprised to see a dramatic change in your body’s health parameters over time that you will be reluctant to stop. Take your IPOD or Discman with you. Good music motivates. For me, it’s a lot of classical pop and rock music. Whatever your musical tastes are, it’s a great inducement for running, also helping to flood your body with the pre-existing positive endorphens.

Runners do not have to necessarily eat absolutely 100% healthy food. An athlete can eat so called “bad” foods from time to time. Just try to balance it with a proper diet and lots of water. I usually eat the bulk of my food after a run; the digestive process will rob energy from your workout, especially if you have eaten a lot. Always make sure that you are properly fuelled before, but never a heavy meal within a few hours of a run.

Vitamin and nutrional supplements are alsoa good idea; heavy workouts drain the body of healthy nutrients. Nutritional supplements will keep your body properly balanced, so you’re less likely to get sick. Properly done workouts over time can actually help strengthen the immune system. Excersise and other nutritional supplements together help keep that immune system of yours working on all cylinders.

The whole point of exercise is to be healthy, feel good and look good. Do it properly and carefully and you’ll be running for the rest of your life…a long healthy life. Your stress levels will plummet, your lungs will expand, your heart will strengthen. You may even be motivated enough to run marathons or other races. If you do, make sure you have at least a year of solid long distance running behind you. Dress light, hydrate and wear good shoes.

See you on the course!

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