There are many, many rules and tips for how to run, race, eat, and even rest on the Runner's World website and on social media. It's all solid advice, much of it scientifically proven. But what about the personal quirks and hard-won secrets we develop along the way that make our running lives more fun, more quintessentially ours? They aren't tips, exactly, and they certainly aren't backed by science. They're more like habits, things we do naturally, maybe without even noticing.
My colleague Mark Remy always leans his shoes against the wall in the locker room after lunch runs, heels up at a 45-degree angle. I recently asked him why. Does it help them dry faster? He laughed and pointed to another colleague and said, "I dunno. I saw him do it a long time ago." This second colleague, who will remain nameless to prevent any razzing beyond what he already gets, also routinely tucks his shirt snugly into his running shorts. These kinds of idiosyncrasies, while less concrete than our PRs or training-log entries, add up to define us as runners. Do they help us run better or faster or longer? Who knows, but trying to prove that would be beside the point. Simply thinking they might help is enough.
Below are a couple dozen of my personal running quirks. Some I picked up from fellow runners, others came by way of trial and error or by accident. Some are mere superstitions, others may strike you as a bit silly. But they work for me, whether I'm running casually or in serious training. I'm passing them along because, well, that's what runners do, and this exchange of ideas and "expertise," while sometimes annoying, is among my favorite things about our sport.
P.S.: I'll tweet more of these as they occur to me, with the hashtag #runningquirks.
- Run in beautiful places. I'll happily trade convenience for aesthetics, even if it means driving somewhere. But don't run with your car keys. Hide them in a tree, on a branch higher than eye level.
- Tie your shoes so the laces go through the top-most eyelet from the outside-in, rather than inside-out. This will make them feel more snug in the heel and you'll feel like you've warded off shoe bugaboos.
- Before every run: 10 lunges,10 leg swings (front-to-back and side-to-side), 10 squats, 10 seconds of downward dog.
- After: Toe touches, calf stretches, 10 more seconds of downward dog, water, chocolate milk.
- Run in the rain. And absolutely in the first snowfall of the year. In the fall, try to catch falling leaves.
- Wave to other runners. But don't overdo it. A nod and eye contact suffices. Try not to get worked up if it isn't reciprocated.
- Before a long run or race: Peanut-butter and honey on whole wheat, lightly toasted. One cup of coffee with milk. A banana.
- During: Self-bribe with gummy bears, sport beans, energy chews. "Hold this pace until the next mile marker and you get three."
- And think obsessively about what you'll eat when you get home. Concoct specific meals in your head. Or make them in advance so you can imagine how good they will taste. This has gotten me through miles of struggle.
- After: Sit in a stream or stand waist-high in a lake or the ocean. At night, while reading or watching TV, rest Achilles tendons on bags of frozen edamame (better than peas because they're bigger).
- Give your kids sweaty postrun hugs. They will flee screaming and act like they hate it, and you. But they secretly love it, and this will make your frequent absences a little less of a drag.
My post-run dip and hug.
- Bring ID! My RoadID bracelet recently broke, and I feel naked running without it. For now I'm stashing a business card in a pocket with my wife's cell number on it. Better than nothing.
- Splurge on good underwear. And socks. Once you do, it's like flying first-class. Tough to go back to coach. But way more affordable.
- At water stops in races, point to the person you're going to take a cup from. Make eye contact. Say thank you. No fumbled hand-offs since I began doing this.
- Find a rabbit. It's psychological drafting. I ran the last few miles of a 25-K with a (fast) woman I'd never met. We barely spoke but high-fived after finishing (she out-kicked me, dammit).
- Plan "tribute miles" for the late stages of a marathon. For one mile, think about someone you love or who inspires you. At the next mile marker, think about someone else. Be grateful.
- When a toenail turns black and falls off, mail it to a sibling or friend. Or simply hand it to your spouse. Watch her face closely as it dawns on her what she's looking at.
- Branch out. Ride a bike, swim, cross-country ski. This makes me love running more, not less.
- Stash drinks along your route. Because running with bottles is just as annoying as with car keys. Works best on out-and-back routes. Mailboxes are ideal but may require advance conversation.
- Run on a softer surface if one is present, even if it's right next to the road or sidewalk. I constantly stride onto the edges of lawns and grassy medians, even when running with groups. Why not? Imagine the reduced pounding over a lifetime!
- No earbuds. When running, the absence of sound isn't silence. It's bliss, reflection, creative thought, and other essential things that are hard to find in modern life.
- Find, and cultivate, favorite routes. Especially in your favorite places, although this will create a chicken-or-egg dynamic. Do I love going to Williamstown because I get to run Bulkeley, Blair, and Gale? Or vice versa?
- Once or twice a month: Massage therapy--emphasis on therapy. I'm not talking about relaxation, but about pain that will help you avoid worse pain later.
- Never travel without running gear. It's always in my car, and I always bring a backpack on day trips. You never know--some of the best runs are unexpected ones.
David Willey, Editor-in-Chief
This editor's letter appears on Page 12 of the September 2013 issue of Runner's World Magazine, on newsstands now.
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