Monday, January 4, 2016

Myths Busted During My Running Streak

When I set out to run every day from November 2, 2015 to January 1, 2016, I knew that I would be battling my nemesis: consistency.  I was terribly inconsistent during my golden era of running (high school and early university) and during my modern era (2006-present).  I am also the king of excuses, especially when it comes to avoiding exercise.

I actually ran some pretty impressive times at different points in the modern era, only to have them followed up by some disastrous results due to stopping from one lame excuse or another and then having to re-start.  This streak is yet another re-start, but this old dog has learned some new tricks.  The following is a list of the personal (primarily mental) myths that were ingrained in my thinking for a long time, which I busted during my streak.

1) A run on the treadmill is not a real run.
I held this mindset for years and I think it pervades the mindsets of many.  Over the past couple of months, I have changed my mind.  As a data guy, I like fairly precise measurement and I don't trust treadmill displays, or for that matter, footpods or accelerometers in gadgets when used on a treadmill.  (I think running on a treadmill changes the way the foot strikes the mat, when compared to running on the road or trail.)  I'm over that now. 
I have come to like (or more appropriately accept) treadmill running as a way to get a run in when time is limited.  I can leave my shoes and clothing beside the machine and be running in a couple of minutes.  And it is running...  While I would much rather prefer being outside, even in the worst weather, I lose nothing by using it every once in a while and having it as a backup to remain consistent when getting outside is not feasible makes is a great tool to have in the toolbox.

2) Running less than 30/40/[insert duration of your choice here] minutes is not a real run.
...And therefore it is not worth the effort.  I used to think this way all the time.  I would think that, "Well, I missed my windows of opportunity to run my planned 30 minute run.  I can't run now." or "What is the point of running 15 or 20 minutes when it will take longer to change, run, shower and  change again.  I will spend more time in the locker room than running."  The physical benefit of the run itself may be marginal, but the benefit of being consistent is great.  Greater still is the mental and emotional effect of knowing that you did something today.  That benefit, in my opinion, pays the greatest dividends.  As a former colleague of mine, who was a top notch triathlete, said to me years ago, "If you only have 15 minutes, get out there.  Just do what you need to do to make the most of the time."

3) You can't run late at night.
I used to think that running at night would wreck my sleep schedule.  If I'm honest with myself, watching TV at night does more damage to my sleep schedule than hitting the treadmill for 30 minutes.  Furthermore, running is productive; sitting on the couch watching TV is not.  I might be revved up for 45 minutes or so after a late night run, but that just gives me time to log the run, write up my impressions and observations and have a shower.  I'm probably not losing any sleep time, or if I am, it is pretty minimal.  I have also found that I have more energy the next morning after running before bed, than when I have watched an hour or more of TV.  There is probably a sound explanation for that, but I haven't found it yet.

4) Running cannot be used as a recovery exercise/You absolutely need a rest day.
You can use running as recovery for running.  I'm not being redundant or using circular logic.  Because my primary goal was keeping the streak going, I was not running long - duration or distance - because I did not want to shell myself one day so that I could not run the next, nor did I want to get injured.  When I added fartleks and interval sessions, I took it easy the next after these workouts.  This variation allowed me to go hard one day and work out the kinks on my muscles and joints on the next day.  Doing this has probably been better for my recovery than doing nothing.


5) You can't run after a big meal.
This one was tough to get over.  At one point in my life I could not run with any food in my stomach.  I absolutely had to wait three hours after eating before running or else I would feel nauseated.  Marathon training cured me of that.  Heading out for a 30+km run with nothing on my stomach would have ended up in disaster, and I had to learn to eat on the run.  I still thought I had a delicate stomach and chose my meals carefully before hitting the road.
 As I said earlier, my goal was keeping the streak going, and during the streak, there were times where the only window of opportunity was after a plate of pancakes or after a heavy supper (e.g. turkey dinner on Christmas).  I headed out with great trepidation and took it very easy for the first km or so, and it turns out that my stomach can handle more than I thought it could.  Running at a sensible pace after eating is perfectly manageable.  I would not recommend an interval session, but then again, maybe I just need to get over that, too.

 My streak is still going.  I traded my original streak for the Run Ottawa streak for the month of January (#RORunStreak on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).  I don't know how much longer I will keep running every day, but I know my attitudes toward running have definitely changed - streak or not.