Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recommendations from an Intermediate Runner

My husband and I were sitting on the couch this morning, talking about running.

This is nothing new; we talk about running a lot. Mostly we talk about how much running we should be doing and how much running we haven't been doing. Our conversations about running have become a bit routine.

Except this morning. Our conversation reminded me why I'm writing this blog. My husband was cruising Reddit, and I was looking at the Trail Runner Magazine updates I get. When Peter clicked on the Reddit Running subheading, it became very clear to us that there are really only two types of people who talk about running: the serious runners I mentioned previously ( who talk about miles per week and nutrition and plans to win their next races. The other type of person seems to be the beginner runner; someone seeking encouragement, advice, or simply looking for an answer to the question "Why does this suck so much?"

Occasionally you will see someone who is not a beginning runner ask advice about a new challenge they are undertaking, such as what type of hydration system might be best for an ultramarathon. The problem with asking this question is the people who answer are the serious runners, who insist that if you don't carry the expensive hydration system they use, you will never finish your race.

Sometimes I want to walk in to the middle of these conversations and scream "NEWS FLASH! Not everyone can afford to spend half a paycheck on a water belt!"

Here is the reality of being a non-serious runner: you work with what you have or can afford.

I don't have a fancy watch with GPS capabilities and a built in heart rate monitoring system. I track my runs with my phone most of the time, and when I'm racing, I have a non-fancy watch that allows me to track my splits, which I never successfully remember to use. I think my husband purchased it at Meijer before my first 50 miler so I would have an idea of how long I had been out in the woods. Also, I've realized I don't really like having things around my wrists or my neck, so a watch is typically right out. If you want a fancy watch, I can't tell you what to wear. I have no idea.

I run with the same water belt I've been running with for the past 3 years, and while it isn't perfect, it gets the job done. If you would like me to recommend my belt: I'm running in a Nathan hydration belt, that has a pocket for keys and a small phone or ID or cash or whatever. I'm starting to run more with a military issue Camelback 1.5 liter hydration backpack, because I need to be able to carry more water on longer runs. Neither of these set ups are perfect. Both were given to me as gifts. If you don't carry one of these set ups, you will probably finish your race if you wear what is comfortable for you, hydrate on your own terms, and train.

I run on the trails I have easy access to. This means I don't always have the ideal terrain for a specific race. Ideally, you would be able to run terrain like your race frequently, with similar footing and elevation changes. When my husband wins the lottery, I will totally roam from place to place to find ideal training locations for different races, but that is because I'm a wanderer at heart, not because I insist it is necessary for training.

I train in old race shirts. Yes, those technical shirts you get from paying $120 to enter a race. Race days I plan to wear running clothes that are a little nicer than my normal running attire. Here is the secret to the majority of my nicer running clothes: I buy them off season and super on sale. Good running clothes are expensive, and I'm sorry, but for an ultramarthon, Old Navy Active Gear really isn't going to hack it. That being said, my favorite sports bra for distance running is probably so old that it doesn't really support my boobs, but my nipples don't chafe in it. Which is HUGE. I think I bought the bra at Target a million and two years ago. My favorite running clothing is made by Stoic. I love their tights, I love their shirts, I love love love Stoic brand. Main reasons: Their shirts and pants actually cover my belly. My long waist makes a lot of running gear too short for my torso. Stoic seems to believe that one should be able to be comfortable when active, and the brand also has a liberal policy as to use of thumb loops on their long sleeve shirts. There is quite simply NOTHING better than thumb loops on long sleeve shirts (Hey Stoic. I'm plugging you to my five readers, how about some free socks over here?).

As for nutrition, I like green smoothies; I think they taste good, and they add a shot of nutrition from raw greens. I also like to eat protein, which includes animal proteins. I think healthy fats are important, and I'm fond of fruit. I also love chocolate, wine, and ice cream. My training schedule isn't what dictates my diet. I go for variety always, with an attempt to make vegetables the base of most meals. The only thing that does change my diet: the current severity of my Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disorder. Right now, it is pretty bad, so I'm going to avoid caffeine, tomatoes, spicy food, chocolate, and alcohol. This is possibly one of the most depressing aspects of my life. I hate not eating spicy food.

I'm not going to win any races. I have placed in the top three of my age/sex group three times in my life. All three times the races were 1) tiny and 2) not terribly competitive. Once I placed simply because there were only three people in my age and sex group. I love these races by the way. There is nothing like getting a trophy, even if it is for third out of three.

Yes, being a non-serious runner means there is a lot of compromise. I can't justify the expense of top of the line gear. There are a few things I refuse to compromise on though.

Shoes: get your stride analyzed, get fit for a shoe, wear orthotics. No matter what, have a shoe that supports your foot in the most beneficial way possible. I decided to try to train into a zero-drop minimalist shoe this year, and it threw my body so out of whack that I ended up with a hamstring injury that made no friggin sense at all, until my physical therapist looked at my stride and said "Wow you are pronating a lot. Maybe you should go back to your stability shoe". Minimalist running shoes are all the rage, and if you can wear a minimal shoe with a neutral support, go for it. I am going to stick with my stability shoes for now.

Socks: I've been throwing out socks like mad crazy this year. Any sock that presents the slightest wear is pitched. I have to be able to run, and if a sock is rubbing my foot in way that creates a blister or a sore, it has to go. I've also realized that technical socks are important. A little extra support for my feet never hurts, and having material that keeps my feet comfortable is essential.

Form is extremely important too. Form is a combination of things. I can't say there is a perfect form for everyone, but there are a few things a runner should always consider. Use your core, use your butt, and don't slouch. I've never seen a really good runner run slouched and scrunched up. Shoulders back and down, core engaged. A lot of running stores offer form classes, and they are often free. 

There you have it: recommendations from a non-serious runner. Do what is comfortable, eat what makes you feel good, and run.

(Oh, and just so you know, I've put in over ten miles this week already, so I think I can say the time off hiking really wasn't as detrimental as I thought it would be)

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