Ever thought to yourself after a race, “Well, let’s just call that one a learning experience…”? In this month’s Run It series, my fellow running bloggers and I share all the best and worst running and racing advice we’ve received – what worked, what didn’t, and why. When it comes to advice, what works perfectly for one person may be a fail for someone else, and unfortunately you often have to live through the personal experience to find that out.
Are you new to Run It? Check out our previous roundups here:
The Best and Worst Running Advice
“The treadmill doesn’t count.”
Given my often-expressed feelings about the treadmill, you might be surprised to hear that a lot of my early running was done indoors. It wasn’t until I could run a certain distance on the treadmill that I felt confident enough to give outdoor running a try. So when I was told by someone with a degree in exercise science who had 10 years experience as a personal trainer that running on the treadmill was so unlike actual running to be absolutely pointless as a training method, I was surprised, but took it for truth for a while (until I did my own research and realized it was just plain bad advice).
It was the worst advice because it could have turned me, or any other runner who listened to this person, into someone who never used the treadmill and assumed any time they did, it didn’t count toward their running mileage. Think about the last time you trained seriously for a race. I’m going to guess there were several times over the course of your training schedule that you used the treadmill out of necessity. (You can read all about when it’s a good idea to use the treadmill here). Those runs of course counted toward your training.
It ended up, oddly enough, being the best advice for me because, while I only took it to heart for a while, it meant I became committed to running outdoors in the rain; in the cold; in the snow; in the summer; in the heat; in the humidity. For someone pretty new to running outside, it was perfect timing for me to be under the mistaken belief that to be a ‘real’ runner and have any chance at racing well, I needed to always be running outside. As a result, I learned how to adapt for the weather and the conditions. When I couldn’t get to the gym and it seemed like a crappy day for a run, you could still find me outside running if I needed to get my workout done.
“You NEED a running coach.”
I had this advice from several people, when I confided I wanted to break my half marathon PR by a big chunk of time. I’d been running basically the same time in the half since I first attempted the distance and couldn’t seem to make a significant breakthrough, even though I knew deep down I was capable of faster.
It was the best advice for me because it was an amazing experience. My program was so personalized that it was tweaked constantly based on my results and feedback; my coach checked in with me regularly and I always had a specific plan to follow. On top of that, the workouts on paper always looked way harder than I thought I was capable of, so the confidence boost I got from completing them was massive. And yes, I broke my old PR by a lot. All in all, it was a great experience.
Hiring a running coach was also the worst advice for me because I didn’t need that level of coaching. I am the type of person who, when faced with a training plan, will follow it to a T. Rather than spend a lot of money on all the bells and whistles of being coached, I’m certain I would have made the same improvement had I invested in a training plan that was similarly personalized to my starting point and my ultimate goal, even without the tweaks and the feedback.
You know your workout personality best – if you need someone checking in to keep you accountable, an online coach could be perfect. If you need someone physically kicking your butt in gear, try a coach who can meet you in person. And if, like me, you know you’ll put the work in so long as you know what you’re supposed to be doing, a personalized program without the coaching might be right for you.
“It’s supposed to hurt!”
Don’t panic – I never took anyone’s advice who suggested running through an actual injury! But this advice, that the hard training runs are supposed to suck, that dry retching after the last repeat is not necessarily a bad thing, is definitely advice I followed.
This is the best advice for someone who holds back from pushing themselves. During my time of being coached, there were some paces I would see listed for repeats during an interval workout that I would just stare and blink at for a minute, wondering if it was a typo and how I was ever going to hit that pace without dying. And yes, there were a few times when I had to push with everything I had to complete a workout and it was not pretty. But that’s what made me stronger, faster, more confident and most of all, READY when it came time to race.
When is this advice the worst to listen to? When the person giving it is telling you that every single training run should be this way. My program incorporated a lot of easy running and the right amount of tapering before events. If someone is suggesting you go all out every time you head out for a run, then guess what? You’re going to leave all your best running out there in your training runs and find yourself on the starting line of your race with nothing left for the event.
“If you want to be a runner, you need to only run.”
In theory this is perfect advice. The rule of specificity in training and sports means that what we practice most is what we get better at. You want to run faster? Practice running fast. You want to run long distance? Start heading out for long runs.
When I trained for the 2010 NYC Marathon, I took this advice to heart and it was the worst advice I followed. I ran and I ran and I ran. I had a training plan that I followed and it if called for a rest day but I felt okay, I’d go out for an easy run. Strength training was an afterthought for me. Halfway through my training plan, I had a nasty case of ITB Syndrome on my right side. I went to a sports orthopedist and a sports masseuse, did my own research as well and worked on strength training to rehab the issue so I could keep running. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too little, too late – with hindsight I had missed a few key long runs due to injury and had probably already started compensating for the injury in my gait. At the end of that marathon, I finished strong, then immediately knew something was horribly wrong with my left leg. I had a torn adductor, which left me on crutches for two weeks and then a cane, and then a limp after that.
When followed correctly though, (and lets face it, I did just about everything wrong), this advice can be exactly what a runner needs to hear. It’s so important to do strength training as a runner, but in the end, you must put the miles in and get your training runs done, or you’re never going to improve in times or endurance levels.
Time to check out all the best and worst advice the other runners in the Run It series have to share!
Angela shares the best and worst tips she’s heard for racing:
Sarah has you covered with the advice runners should take (and what to ignore):
Allie wants you to learn from her mistakes and be a racing DO, not a running DON’T:
Nellie started running seriously fairly recently, so she knows exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to running advice:
Laura shares her running coach perspective and tells you what to do and what not to do to make race day the best it can be:
What’s the best running advice you’ve taken? And the worst?