I hate rules and I don’t like people telling me what to do–ironic considering I was a teacher for so many years. If you tell me I can’t do something, first I’m going to ask why, and then if I don’t like your answer I’m probably going to do it anyway. I guess all those years of being shy and obedient have come to this. I like to call it The Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Backlash.
Right now I’m all about breaking the rules when it comes to running. But what are the rules exactly? You know, the ones about building up mileage slowly, wearing supportive shoes to correct pronation, stretching before and after a run, eating before and after a run, and so on. After five years of reading Runner’s World, I’ve come to realize that whatever you read one month about running will usually be disputed in the next month’s issue. The rules I’m mostly talking about, though, are the ones that are self-imposed. I think each person has their own set of running rules that they follow, so my rules probably won’t be your own.
Some rules were made to be broken. For example, I totally believed the salesperson when I bought my first pair of running shoes. He watched me run back and forth a few times and told me my shoes needed to be supportive, and brought out the perfect pair for me (or so he said). They did serve their purpose for awhile, and got me ready for more serious running, but eventually I started to have a persistent problem with plantar fasciitis and wanted to try something lighter and more natural. I switched to Nike Free and the problem went away. It probably wasn’t even the shoes that caused the problem, but I knew that was the first place I should look to make a change. Even more importantly, I wanted to make a philosophical change and go with something a little more “natural.” Again, just because someone told me something was “the best” for me, I knew what I wanted, and I loved the way running felt in the lighter, more minimal shoes.
Having said all that, I’m also a strong believer in “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” Most of my running friends are perfectly happy with their shoes, and a lot of them wear the same brand season after season, which is great. The bottom line is, you have to find what works for you, and not fall for the latest fads and gadgets just because someone tells you it will change your life. That gets expensive after awhile, too, unless you ditch the shoes altogether and run barefoot–my favorite break-all-the-rules way to run.
I’m definitely a rule breaker as far as stretching goes. In essence, I don’t. I used to have a rule that I needed to stretch before and after every run. Then I gradually went with stretching afterwards. Now I usually just start running, and then I stop. Simple. I used to do yoga several times a week, back in the days before I ran, but I never seem to make time for it these days. It’s definitely on my list of things to reincorporate into my life. I know it will improve my core strength–and the feeling after a good yoga workout is priceless.
Walking during a run is a love/hate rule for me. When I run from my house I will walk to the corner first, but that is usually because my Garmin hasn’t calibrated with the satellites yet. I count it is as a light warm-up. And these days, when the evening temps are still in the high 90’s, I like to walk briefly at the end of my run before I come back inside the house. I will even take short walk breaks during a run when it’s this hot, if for no other reason than it’s just so dang hot–and walking is a rule I rarely broke in the past. But during a race, walking is a sign of weakness–but only for me. I admire those who employ the walk/run method, and wish I could walk without beating myself up. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t walk during a marathon in those last six miles. I’ve only run one race where I didn’t have to stop and walk some, and that was the race where I qualified for Boston.
The best rule I’m breaking lately is not caring as much about pace. I still run with a Garmin, but now I have the cheaper, simpler watch that only tells my average pace for the entire run. I used to finish my runs by scrutinizing each mile lap, but now I’m okay with just knowing the overall average. I’m also okay these days with running 3.98 miles instead of an even 4. In the past, I would’ve run around the parking lot to finish up. Now I’m happy with “close enough.”
The biggest rule, though, numero uno for years, was being a slave to the training plan. I used to follow my plans religiously, doing everything in my power to never miss a scheduled run. If I did miss a run, or didn’t run as far as I was supposed to, it was like the earth had collided with the moon. It was an instant guilt bath–and I would make up that missing run/mileage by the end of the week. Now, I’m much more easy-going. Yes, if I’m training for a marathon I’m going to do my best to stick to the plan. I know full well how 26.2 miles can feel twice as long if I’m undertrained. When I’m not officially training–and I really am trying to run only one marathon per year now–I’m going to enjoy my runs more and not beat myself up so much.
So, what does all this mean for the serious runner? It simply means finding what works for you. We’ve all read the running books and the running magazines and the running blogs, but the bottom line is that no one knows your body like you do. Some things work, and some don’t. The shoes that work for you may not work for me. Your training plan may get you that sub four hour marathon, but it may run me into the ground.
Find what works for you, and run with it.
beginner’s mind: having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions
After a three week layoff from a back injury, that perfectly coincided with the last weeks of my teaching career and temperatures rising into the mid to upper 90’s, running has become tough. Not only have I not run for three weeks, my weekly mileage the past three months has barely been half of what it was before my last marathon in February. This was deliberate. I wanted to take a much needed physical and mental step back from running and training, a running pause, if you will, knowing full well that my overall level of fitness would drop.
Now I’m wondering if it was worth it. Brain and body don’t seem to be working together anymore.
Body liked the step back and comfort of little to no running. It really enjoyed all that time spent relaxing on the couch. I could get used to this! it said. Brain has not liked the past several months at all. At first, it spent most of its time berating its owner: You should be running! You’re going to get fat and lazy! Everyone else is running hills and you’re spread out on the couch! It was good at making excuses. I’ll run tomorrow when it’s less windy. My allergies are horrible today. It looks like it’s going to rain . . .
I knew it was time to take action to get Brain back in the game. It was time to adopt a beginner’s mind attitude to running.
What does this mean? Beginner’s mind running simply means to run like we did when we first started out, before we had any preconceived notions of what running was really all about. It’s when we ran because we had never run seriously before, and weren’t really sure if we could, but were willing to keep at it, mile after mile, because we loved the way it made us feel. It’s when we ran without knowing or caring about our pace, when we ran just because we wanted to challenge ourselves and see how far we could take it. It’s when we ran and the mind didn’t turn it into something it wasn’t, like a means to an end, miles to be put in that would bring us closer to our weekly mileage leading up to a race. It was just running, nothing more, nothing less.
In essence, beginner’s mind running is like pressing the rewind button on the brain, erasing every “should have,” “why didn’t I,” and “if only.” It’s when we put all the training plans, pace expectations, and disappointing race times on the shelf. We leave the guilt, the excuses, and the expectations behind, and we remember what it was like to be a beginner again, taking those first tentative baby steps towards the runners we have become.
Now that I think about it, shouldn’t we almost always run this way?
Working to regain my lost stamina and conditioning hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been all bad either. I enjoyed not having a training plan to follow and no races in the immediate future. I needed to look forward to running again, to miss it, and I have. I’m running for no other reason than the pure enjoyment of running, just like I did when I first started out five years ago.
The training plan, the speedwork, the hillwork, and the races will all come down off the shelf soon. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and start at the beginning.