6. Avoid Hills
Before anyone accuses me of being a wimp, I plead guilty. But if staying off the hills preserves my body for another run on another day, I accept the verdict. No runner has ever loved hills more than I. In my previous life (Northern California; huge, forested park), I ran a rugged 10-mile hill loop every day. Sometimes twice.
Which may be one reason I avoid them now. Running hills, especially the downhills, puts too much stress on my back and shins. If I do come across a series of rolling hills on my run, I’ll cruise the ups but ease the downs at little more than a brisk trot. Sometimes I’ll even walk the downhills.
7. Use Ice After Running
My legs have always been tender, and I’ve suffered from all the major overuse injuries: shinsplints, plantar fasciitis, sciatica, runner’s knee, etc. Fortunately I learned a valuable lesson a decade ago from wondrous New Zealand marathoner Jack Foster. He finished every run by hosing down his legs with icy water. Foster said that’s what trainers do for thoroughbred horses after every workout and race, and he theorized, “If it’s good enough for racehorses, it’s good enough for me.”
Foster’s method works because a cold compress–ice, ice water, commercial frozen gels, frozen vegetable packages–immediately reduces the muscular inflammation that results from any running effort. Unchecked, this inflammation can worsen. Ice keeps the inflammation under control.
Heeding Foster’s advice, I used to soak my legs for 10 minutes after every run in an unheated swimming pool. The water was so cold during the fall and winter that it would numb my legs. That soaking was the best therapy I ever had. I don’t have a pool anymore, but I still ice or soak my legs after every run. The ice is so soothing that it has become a part of my routine, whether my legs hurt or not.
8. Throw Away The Training Log
Heresy? So be it. I kept a running log for 10 years, but despite all conventional wisdom I don’t keep one anymore. If you’re anything like me, you love to jot down those great workouts–the hill runs, the intervals, the perfect 50-mile weeks–for posterity.
Unfortunately for me, and I suspect others, too, the compulsion to complete those 50-mile weeks was also my ruin. If I missed a day or two with leg soreness, the big, fat zeros in my log drove me nuts. More often than not, I’d go for a run to avoid any more zeros instead of doing the sensible thing and rest.
Now that I don’t keep a log, I don’t worry about my weekly mileage. A 20-mile week is as good as a 50-mile week–if I’m healthy–but I don’t have a clue what my weekly mileage is nor do I care. I follow the sage advice Benji Durden gave me 10 years ago and run by time. A 40-minute run isn’t 5 1/2 miles; it’s 40 minutes.
By not giving my obsessiveness an outlet in a training log, I’ve substantially reduced it. These days when a week reaches, say, 37 miles, I’m never tempted to run another 3 miles so I can round up to 40. My mileage isn’t important anymore. The only thing that’s important is running.
9. Take At Least One Day Off Every Week
As I said, a zero in my training log used to kill me. Now, I make certain I take at least one day off every week. Two-time U.S. Olympic marathoner Ed Eyestone never trains on Sunday because of church and family obligations, and because his body needs a rest. So does mine.
Sundays are too precious for me to miss a run, but Fridays aren’t. It’s the end of the week and the perfect day for me to do something else. Whether that means mountain biking, swimming, tennis, a hike, going to a high school meet or pigging out with friends at lunch, it’s my day to blow off running. This policy also ensures that I go into the weekend fresh for either a race or a long run.
10. Have Fun! Have Fun! Have Fun!
This is the easiest one. If it’s not fun, what’s the point? Sure, I want to stay healthy and fit. But if that’s all I wanted, I’d probably ride an indoor exercycle every day. I can’t do that because it’s too boring and because I’m a runner.
It’s true that I don’t have any major training aspirations–no mileage goals, no pace goals, no race goals. Still I run relatively hard once a week and also run long. But the “hard” runs are instinctive, rather than planned, and the “long” runs never last more than an hour.
Although I’ve had my share of injuries, I consider myself very lucky. I’ve developed a routine that keeps me healthy and allows me to enjoy my runs for what they are–a time to relax, to visit with friends, to work up a little sweat, to feel better after the run than I did before.
I guess that’s where I’m particularly lucky. I’m one of those rare runners who never has a bad run. Some aren’t quite as great as others, but if I’m healthy and running on a reasonably nice course, I almost never rate a run as anything less than very good. That’s enough to keep me looking forward to the next run. And the one after that.