Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Definitive Guide to Running

I am interested in running.  Very interested.  In fact, my interest in running may border on obsession.  Actually, psychologists are in the process of creating a new word that will be to obsession what obsession is to interest, and other psychologists are working on an even newer word that will be to the old new word what the old new word is to obsession.  This new new word will aptly describe my relationship with running.  (For the remainder of this post I will refer to the latter of the two future words as "new-new-word".)

And yet, I have only ever written one and a half blog posts about running. Why? Because there are already exactly 159 kabajillion runners out there maintaining wonderful, well-written, informative blogs about the subject.

So why now?  Well, due to my new-new-word, I have actually read all 159 kabajillion blogs about running - along with news articles, scientific studies, training tips, and everything else returned by a Google search on the word "running". (Incidentally, if your lawnmower has stopped running - try fresh gasoline and a new spark plug.)  Thus, I have inadvertently become the worlds foremost expert on running, and it behooves me to outline the sum of my knowledge for the betterment of all humankind.

Whether you are a full-blown Olympian or on the day's third bag of Cheetos thinking idly to yourself that it might be time to get in shape, this guide is for you.  It is based on more scientific studies, anecdotal hearsay, product claims, and out-of-context absolutes than I could ever possibly cite, so you're going to just have to trust me.

I may write more on the subject later, but in this guide I'll address four key principles that have historically been points of confusion among beginning and seasoned runners alike.

1 - Consistency
The first and most important principle of running is consistency.  Ideally, you will run at least once every day.  Multiple runs each day is best as your body was built to perform rigorously without the need of downtime (cheetah's never take a day off!), but keep in mind that your body needs rest.  Without rest, you run the risk of over training and burnout.  Rest is particularly important after a long race, such as a marathon - which requires a minimum of two weeks respite from running.  But again, be consistent because, no matter how long you have been running, your body will lose literally all of its conditioning in as little as two weeks.  But, a week or two off here and there won't hurt - in fact it can actually help.  Additionally, try not to be too consistent in your training regimen.  Inconsistency can create muscle confusion which accelerates improvement.

2- Nutrition
The second and most important principle of running is nutrition.  What you eat is your fuel.  You wouldn't put garbage in the gas tank of a sports car and expect peak performance [insert "Back to the Future" joke here], and you likewise can't expect your body to perform well when you fill it with less than stellar fuel.

Nature provides the purest possible fuel for the human body.  Your body can best metabolize whole grains and raw fruits and vegetables.  Stay away from gimmicky gels and sports drinks unless they are backed by scientific sounding claims.  Focus on consuming foods high in carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are the fast-burning fuel your body needs for high-intensity exercise.  Also eat plenty of protein else your body will begin to feed off its own muscles when the quick-burning carbohydrates are depleted.

Remember, while running, your metabolism is like the furnace in a steam engine.  When it's stoked, you can put nearly anything into it and the engine will convert it to fuel, so just make sure you eat a lot of stuff.  But always keep in mind that between the glycogen stored in your muscles and the calories in your fat cells, you will never run out of fuel - even on extraordinarily long runs so, to prevent stomach problems, it's best to not eat anything before or during a run.

After a long run, if you don't consume the perfect combination of protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes within 30 minutes, your brain will dissolve.  The single best post-run fuel is chocolate milk, or a name-brand recovery shake, or sweet and condensed milk, or a Slurpee, but it's sometimes best to forgo the after-workout meal in order to train your body to more efficiently draw on its fat stores.

3- Hydration
Hydration is absolutely the single most important principle of running.  The human body is comprised of between 55% and 90% water, so it is imperative that you stay properly hydrated as you run.  Under hydration can cause headaches, nausea, confusion, seizures and even death, so drink plenty of fluids.  Over hydration can be equally dangerous, so don't over do it.  The key is to drink exactly the right amount.

Water is nature's truest form of hydration for the human body, so always drink plain water unless you have access to pickle juice, or a drink that has been formulated by a team of scientists to hydrate better than water.

4- Improvement
None of us wants to be a slow runner.  The single desire common amongst each and every runner on this planet, except those not concerned with pace, is to become faster.  But what is the best way to improve speed?  Simple, you just have to do aerobic base training and/or lots of hill runs and/or Intense interval training and/or tempo runs and/or proper cross-training and/or barefoot running and/or chi running and/or Yasso 800's and/or proper breathing techniques.  And remember, music is like caffeine - you should always/never rely on it to enhance your performance.


If this guide has failed to answer a question you have about running, please feel free to contact me.  I will do my best to tell you something that sounds like it could be true.