Which “rules of running” should you break?


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


Forgot to mention this earlier — I have an article in this month’s Runner’s World called “Breaking All the Rules,” which is now available online. Basically, I had a chance to chat with a bunch of veteran coaches — Jack Daniels, Frank “Gags” Gagliano, Roy Benson, Jeff Galloway, Hal Higdon and Pete Pfitzinger — and ask them which “rules of running” they’d recommend not following blindly. Here’s one example:

THE RULE: Do prerace strides
For generations, runners have followed the same rituals to warm up before races or workouts: Start with some jogging, move on to a little bit of stretching, then perform a series of “strides”—short sprints lasting about 10 seconds that get your heart pumping and kick-start the delivery of oxygen to your running muscles. But do these timeworn rituals really help us perform better? Jack Daniels, Ph.D., isn’t convinced. “What I most often see at races is a bunch of runners striding up and down at a speed that is clearly faster than the coming race pace,” he says. Since these strides are the last thing runners do before starting the event, that inappropriate pace is fresh in their minds. “And when the gun finally sounds, they ‘stride’ or sprint right out.” The result: a way-too-fast start followed by an inevitable crash.
HOW TO BREAK IT: For shorter events like 5-K and 10-K races, jogging just long enough to get a good sweat going is all you need to do, says Daniels. (For longer races, you can get away with even less: Run the first mile of a half or full marathon as your warmup.) To get the oxygen-boosting benefits of strides without skewing your pace judgment—and screwing up your race result—try a sustained two-to three-minute effort 10 minutes before starting the race or workout. Run it slightly faster than your half-marathon pace, or at a speed that feels moderately hard. You should not be sprinting.

Other topics covered include stretching, the length and pace of your long run, having a recurring weekly training structure, back-to-back hard days, cross-training during injuries, and so on. I should emphasize: none of the coaches are suggesting that existing rules-of-thumb are 100-percent bad. They’re just worth thinking about to make sure that they really do make sense for your personal situation and goals. For example, Higdon questions the wisdom of the 10-percent rule — he’s not saying that you should never increase your mileage by 10 percent; he’s just saying that sometimes it might make sense to increase it by more, sometimes by less, so you shouldn’t follow the rule blindly.

One Reply to “Which “rules of running” should you break?”

  1. Very frustrating. Why are all running coaches giving bad advice about barefoot running? If you want to start out people should run very small distances on a level hard flat surface, not grass. Grass (unless your running in a golf course) can hide debris and often the ground underneath is very uneven. Better to run a flat smooth dirt trail, gymnasium, or smooth pavement with no visible rocks or debris to start. This is what most barefoot coaches or athletes recomend.

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