In the midst of the Heartbreak Hill Half, as I plodded up another hill and did my best to keep the wheels from falling off, I got to thinking that running three races in 26 hours may not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
That, in turn, got me thinking about something else: What exactly do smart runners do?
In the hours and days after the race, I came up with a list. Revisiting it weeks later, I see that everything’s still relevant. So here’s my (unscientific, as usual) take on the 13 things that smart runners do.
Wear the right shoes. Finding running shoes is a bit of an exercise in trial and error. Don’t be afraid to run a few laps around the store to test out shoes. (Heck, a good running store won’t let you leave if you haven’t run around in them.) This is especially true if, say, you’re wearing lightweight or minimalist shoes for the first time. Finally, check your shoe size periodically.
Cross train. To butcher The Shining, all run and no cross-train make Brian a dull and potentially injury-prone boy. Too much running will wear out your joints, while failing to strengthen your core will leave vulnerable parts of your body that you don’t realize are important to running until they hurt with every step you take. Make time for cross training now and your body will thank you later.
Check the weather, but don't obsess over it. Certain workouts are worth postponing if it’s too hot, humid or cold. Eventually, though, you have to suck it up, stop making excuses and get out there. If it means running for distance instead of time, or taking a bit longer to (literally, in this case) warm up, so be it.
Fuel properly. This matters less during the race than you think. (If you’re running for less than two hours, you realistically don’t need to refuel during the race, though it usually can’t hurt.) It matters more the morning of the race, the night before and the days before, as you take in good carbs and lean proteins that you know for a fact won’t upset your stomach and leave you in the PortaPotty line five minutes before gun time.
Hydrate properly, too. This, on the other hand, does matter during the race. Don’t let weather fool you -- even on cool, calm days, you’re sweating up a storm. The water stops are there for a reason. Get some electrolytes while you’re there, too. Oh, and don’t forget to drink up the day before the race.
Wear sunscreen. Here’s where you should check the weather. If the sun peeks out of the clouds during mile 3 of your marathon, and you didn’t bother to slather on sunscreen because it was cloudy at gun time, you’ll be sorry. Always wear sunscreen if it’s already sunny, too. (My advice: Get the stuff for kids, since it has a high SPF and is formulated to withstand sweat.)
Wear a hat. I wear a hat in the summer to keep my head from burning. More importantly, I wear a hat in the spring, fall and winter to retain heat. (I occasionally look ridiculous wearing a hat and gloves with short sleeves and shorts. I don’t care.) The bulk of the body heat you lose escapes through the top of your head. Keep it in and you’ll stay warm. (My advice, again: Invest in a couple good hats that will keep you warm without overheating your head and wash them frequently so they don’t stink.)
Study the course map. You’ll race better if you know where to turn, where to get water, when to expect a hill and when to begin your finishing kick (provided you have any gas left).
Devise a smart race strategy. If you know a race has more hills in its second half, start slow. If water stops aren’t plentiful, consider bringing some water along. If you aren’t in the best shape, don’t get disappointed if you don’t PR. If the race is far away, give yourself plenty of time to get loose beforehand (i.e. don’t jump out of the car and dash to the starting line). Above all, make sure you know where and when you’re getting your post-race grub.
Know when to say when. A friend had been looking forward to the Heartbreak Hill Half for weeks, but she woke up with a migraine on race day and opted to sit it out. As much as it sucks to skip a race, sometimes it’s not worth pushing it.
Learn from failure as well as success. My positive race memories have, over time, managed to blur together. My bad trips, though -- clinging to a telephone in my first marathon, bonking in my worst marathon, fading fast during a 10-mile race in 100-degree heat -- remain firmly in my mind. It’s not that I’m a helpless pessimist but, rather, that I’ve learned lessons from these experiences and (so far) haven’t repeated my mistakes.
Put Band-Aids on your nipples. See above r/e not repeating past mistakes.
Respect the road. You share the road with fellow pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, cars, SUVs and trucks. Pay attention to them all. When in doubt, stop -- it’s much better to add 15 seconds to your run than to get cursed out by a biker or hit by a car.
I could probably think of more, but I started writing this two months ago, so it’s time to call it quits. Anyone have anything to add?