Guilty as charged
One of the more gratifying things about life is that we’re continually evolving, learning and ultimately making better the way in which our efforts are directed.
I’ve often said that the day that I cease to learn is the day I should find a good spade and dig my own grave. After all, what good is life when you have all the answers?
Now, the ironic thing about all of this is that in this specific context, I’m supposed to provide those answers. However, in the sake of not wanting to submit myself to an early grave, I’m about to admit my own ignorance and provide personal anecdotes for some of my less than glamorous experiences in running. I’ll do so by cross-referencing some of my past mistakes with an article that I found particularly intriguing in this month’s Runners World magazine. The article, by Alex Hutchinson, is titled, “Breaking all the Rules.” It’s an eye-opening read for all of those who thought they knew, but simply don’t.
First, I’ll provide you with “The Rule,” or a common misconception of a widely supported practice. Hutchinson then goes on to suggest a remedy for “Breaking the Rule.” And then, of course, I’ll succumb to the embarrassment of admitting my own mistakes. In any case, leave it to me to learn the hard way so that you don’t have to.
THE RULE: Stretch Before Running. Back in the 1970s, runners never worried about stretching. But then experts from other sports began touting the value of “static” stretching — slowly extending muscles — and the idea caught on. While the link between stretching and injury prevention is still debated, many now believe that static stretching of the legs’ spring-like muscles and tendons makes them store less energy when you run.
HOW TO BREAK IT: Warm up with “dynamic” stretches. Jog for 10 minutes, then do high knees or butt kicks. These moves put muscles through the range of motion that running requires, without the extreme reach-and-hold poses that cause problems.
MY MISTAKE: My sophomore year of college, my team was down in El Paso, Texas competing at the Conference USA Championships. At that point, I was accustomed to running the 800m, though for this specific meet, my coach put me in the 4x400m, which coincidentally was my favorite race. In all of my excitement, I felt the need to stretch more than usual to avoid being injured due to the higher level of stress that an increased sprint would inevitably put on my muscles. What I didn’t realize is that by performing the additional static stretching, I created micro-tears in my right quadriceps just 120 meters into my race. I felt a “pop” in my quad. Turns out I tore it nearly in half and couldn’t run for six months.
THE RULE: Cardio Cross-Trainer Roy Benson, a coach since 1961 and founder of the Smoky Mountains Running Camp in Asheville, North Carolina, has nothing against cycling and swimming — he just doesn’t think they should be confused with running. “It’s called the principle of specificity,” he says. “If you want to develop a skill, you need to practice it exclusively.” Cross training builds your aerobic system, but it doesn’t develop the muscles and movement patterns necessary for running faster. It may help you avoid injury if you’re logging high mileage, but runners with 45 minutes a day or less to train will reap greater benefits by just running.
HOW TO BREAK IT: Sub out the XT and run. To avoid injury, tune into your body so that you’re running at the appropriate effort level. You don’t want to race your easy runs.
MY MISTAKE: First of all, I am guilty of this all the time. If you followed along with the workouts I originally prescribed, I included at least two XT workouts per week for those who simply wanted to be in better shape. In my defense, I know that if you want to become a better runner, then there is no substitute for the act itself. However, my reasons extend beyond the biological to accommodate the psychological aspects of running. The idea of the XT workout is to induce consistent exercise without risking boredom from a humdrum workout routine. Personally, XT workouts keep me motivated and get me off the road a few days a week. However, if for some reason I decided to become an elite runner, I’d venture to say that most of my XT workouts would be replaced with running 100 percent of the time.
THE RULE: Wear running shoes. Harvard researcher Daniel Lieberman’s theory that humans evolved to run long distances suggests that we shouldn’t need artificial aid — like running shoes — to log mileage. While the controversy rages on over the role of shoes in injuries, it’s clear that adding some barefoot running to your routine can improve your stride; Pfitzinger, former Olympic marathoner and co-author of “Advanced Marathoning,” says, “Running sans shoes or in ‘minimal’ models forces the tendons and small stabilizer muscles to work harder, which strengthens your feet and ankles and gradually lengthens your Achilles and calf muscles.”
HOW TO BREAK IT: Twice a week, ditch your kicks in a grass field. “Start with brisk barefoot walking,” Pfitzinger says, “then alternate 30 seconds of running with one minute of walking.” Build up over several weeks to five to 10 minutes of continuous running barefoot
MY MISTAKE: When I was in high school, I was of the opinion that the more air pockets and springs that a pair of running shoes had, the better they would help me in my progress towards developing. I even remember buying a pair of Nike Shox TL from Sports Zone in Waynesville. This monstrosity of a shoe featured Nike’s patented ‘SHOX’ springs throughout the entire length of the shoe. What’s more is that they cost $149.99 before tax! Convinced that these shoes were my ticket to a record-breaking season, I quickly changed my mind.
After only a few workouts, I noticed how heavy the shoes felt in comparison to my previous, simpler running shoes. I also began to develop shin splints. All the more knowledgeable, with a sigh and a much lighter wallet, I quickly ditched the ‘boots’ for a more lightweight, neutral Nike Air Pegasus.
Aaron Mabry is a former 800m and 1000m State Champion from Pisgah High School. He ran collegiately at East Carolina University where he had the opportunity to compete in Conference USA. Now married, he’s the Director of the Haywood County Fairgrounds and is an assistant coach for Pisgah’s distance program.