Monday, August 22, 2011

A rare article on running tips that gives actual running tips

Maybe because this was written by Alex Hutchinson, no slouch at running himself, it's a far better resource for recreational runners than much of what you find elsewhere. On the other hand, there's no shortage of tripe written by former Olympians with credentials superior to Hutchinson, so maybe it's not a function of Hutchinson's running ability.

So much of the running advice you find on the Internet, particularly in mainstream publications, is of two sorts. The first makes it seem like you're about to undergo some obscure heart surgery in the Sahara, reminding you not to overdo it and covering legal liability by wrapping the whole thing in medical advice and disclaimers.

The second type is the sort that makes news for its sheer novelty. If Meb Keflezghi, Olympic silver medalist and New York Marathon champion, adds twenty-five minutes of blowing bubbles with his spit to the fifteen-or-so hours of running he does every week, this will make news. If it's not blowing bubbles with his spit, it'll be doing yoga, pilates, weights or running in those shoes George Costanza bought from "Jimmy" to help him run faster.

Indeed, it's better journalism for one article to posit a new idea, from a "study", of course, that maybe watching TV helps you run a faster marathon than running everyday. This is the same reason that if you're a scientist who can publish a study showing that eating chocolate helps you lose weight, beer makes you smarter, or any other counter-intuitive drivel, you're guaranteed to wind up published in newspapers around the world.

The analogous problem in history would be the cottage industry of people who make a living arguing that a prominent historical figure was gay, had an incredible affair, or did something so different from their usual public image that the publication in question can't help but print this, no matter how non-sensical or baseless the claim might be.

What, by the way, are these tips?

Many inexperienced runners make the mistake of always running at the same pace for the same distance, says Jerry Ziak, a top Canadian marathoner and Olympic hopeful who coaches about 35 runners in Vancouver.

This approach – a mix of easy and hard running, instead of doing everything at medium effort – is typical of the training elite runners do, and produces much greater gains in fitness.

Just as important as the run itself, he says, is what you do before and after: warming up with dynamic stretches, and taking the time to do strength and mobility drills for the core and hips.

Mr. Laan often finds runners place too much emphasis on a single long run – running 35 kilometres on a Sunday morning but only 15 kilometres the rest of the week, for example. It’s better to spread training out more evenly.

Especially refreshing about the article is that it doesn't make mention of useful extras like weightlifting, cross-training or various nutritional products that offer quick fixes. A great deal of any lifestyle, no matter what, is what you can buy while doing it. Roughly comparable activities like cycling, skiing or hiking offer no shortage of expensive items to buy, and the sort of person who makes a habit of reading the Globe also makes a habit of buying these things.

However, running flies in the face of the consumerist lifestyle. Cycling, skiing and mountaineering at their highest levels are dominated by wealthy countries, but the most successful countries in long-distance running are Kenya and Ethiopia, with a total of about 120 million people and a combined economy of $60 billion, about the size of Delaware, New Hampshire or Saskatchewan.

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