Saturday, March 30, 2013

Running Etiquette (Part 1)

I’ve seen other runner’s etiquette and "rules" lists over the years and thought maybe I should share my thoughts with those who follow my adventures.  Hopefully you’ll identify with them, you might chuckle a bit, and I might even make you a little angry.  These are the “rules” I try to run by and they’re based on my own experiences dating back to my years as a young man when I started running with my Dad.  Some may be unique, but most are probably variations on common themes from across our sport.

  1. Never judge other runners.  You can certainly admire them, but don’t judge them.  They’re running too.  I think it was in Runner’s World I read, “there are no ugly runners.”  It captured the same attitude I’m trying to express.  Publications like Runner’s World (which is an awesome resource!) seems to present a picture of what some think is the typical (or stereotypical) runner: very lean, ideal form, and all the right gear.  There are many folks out there who look just like that, but if you see someone running who doesn’t fit the picture, remember this: at least they’re running.  You and I won’t ever know why or how most of the folks we see running actually ended up motivated to hit the road or trail--all you know is they’re there.  As a lifetime runner without they “typical” runner’s body type (I consider myself an “ordinary runner”), I’m pretty sure I’ll never look like those runners on the magazine covers.  The less-than-picture-perfect person you pass on the road or trail might have finally decided to give running a try.  They might even be on their very first run.  Or, they may have once been an incredible athlete, but are now recovering from injury.  What matters is they’re running.
  2. Acknowledge other runners.  A smile or wave of recognition or encouragement is always appreciated.  A kind verbal or non-verbal greeting goes a long way when shared with other non-runners on the road or trail too: walkers, equestrians, cyclists, etc.  Make a point to offer this kindness to others whether they return it or not.
  3. Your shoes matter most.  Other than shoes, all the rest of your gear falls into the “nice to have” category.  You risk hurting yourself without the right shoes.  If you’re just starting out and don’t know what you need, your best bet is to find a local running store.  They’ll assess you and let you know what kind of shoes you need.  Many of them will watch you run and/or look at an old pair of shoes to see how you move, then advise you from there.  Oh, and those shoes won’t last forever.  Understand that if you get into this, you’re probably going to buy new running shoes every 300-400 miles.  Distances vary depending on whose advice you’re considering and how you run.  Regardless of miles, if your feet, ankles and knees start complaining and there’s no other cause, it’s probably time to treat yourself to some new shoes.
  4. Running is an individual and a group activity.  For many of the runners I know, it’s primarily individual rather than social.  However, you’ll still find like-minded buddies to share your passion with whether you run with them or not.  Fact is, there’s an individual and a social element to running no matter who you are.  Even if you’re a solo runner, find a local running group or track club, or even a casual group of friends at work or school who also run.  I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
  5. Running buddies and training plans keep you focused.  I mostly run alone unless I’m in a race, but I have several running and non-running friends who expect to hear about my jaunts.  They ask regularly and my answer can’t be, “I didn’t run.”  They’ll apply all the appropriate pressure.  Call it accountability or something else, but it’s nice to have others around you who are interested in what you’re up to.  For those solo runners like me, training plans give some structure to the routine.  Even if you enjoy running, you’ll find yourself in those periods of slump when the routine becomes too routine or you’re not challenging yourself.  Having a race goal and following a related training plan causes you to add variables you might not otherwise include:  flats and hills, slow and fast speeds, changing distances, etc.
  6. Running is competitive.  Here’s the secret though: you may not always (or even usually) compete against another athlete.  Your primary competitor may be a new distance or a personal best/record, a change in the frequency of your running or weekly volume, or a change in the time of day you run.  There may or may not be another human there.  This is true for races too.  I know I care very little about when other runners finish the race I’m in.  The competition for me is to finish what I started and how that finish compares to any previous races of the same kind.  But if you’re competitive and want to race others, you’re still in the right place!
  7. It’s as much a mental game as a physical one.  Maybe it's more mental than physical.  No doubt running is a physical activity and it carries all the physical benefits and consequences with it.  Learning to physically deal with discomfort and pain is only a part of it though.  Right along side the physical aspects are the mental and emotional ups and downs associated with your commitment to run:  mentally dealing with the physical discomfort, pain and injury; nerves on race day; and frankly moments of boredom.  Whether you run with some form of audio entertainment or not, running is not always the most mentally stimulating task.  I’ve mentioned it before: running for me is mentally therapeutic.  Even so, running with music, an audio book, or just my thoughts along with the urban or natural sounds that surround me can still result in those moments where my brain wants something more or different.  Discipline is called for: yes physically, but also mentally.  Oh, just getting out the door to run may be the thing that requires the most mental discipline.
  8. Never defend your right of way.  The rules of the road or trail are nice, but your soft body will usually never win a contest with a bike, horse, or motor vehicle.  At best, you’ll probably break even with another runner or jogging stroller.  Courtesy and respect are always nice when they’re extended to you, but in the interest of safety and deference to others who may not even see you, when in doubt, err on the side of caution and respect the things around you that could cause you harm.
  9. Respect the distance.  This rule, and the next probably warrant their own dedicated posts:  No matter whether you set out to run a mile, a 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon or ultra, patiently and properly train for and respect the distance.  It’s the best way to avoid injury.  Biting off more than you can chew after a moment of sudden inspiration usually ends in unnecessary pain and discouragement.  I know this will anger some, but I also tend to think unless a race clearly advertises otherwise, running races are for running and the achievement of crossing the finish line is diminished if you treat it otherwise.  If you enter a race knowing you can’t or won’t run through to the finish, consider covering the distance outside of the timed race setting.  This is especially true of the longer distances: the half marathon and longer.  I’m definitely not the fastest runner, but I’ve never entered a running race without the expectation I’ll run from the start to the finish line.  You can (and should) do the same!
  10. Walking is awesome.  This is related to respecting the previous rule.  Do what you can do to gain and maintain good health.  There are times when anyone who runs finds they need to walk during training and during a race: to repair equipment, perhaps to eat or drink (I can’t drink from a cup without walking), to deal with an injury or help a fellow runner.  When you need to slow to a walk during a race, check beside and behind you then move to the side of the course.  In other words, run like you drive--or should I say run like you’re supposed to drive.  Some races declare a side of the road or trail for slower runners or walkers.  If so, follow the rule.  When it’s all said and done though, if you move to the side, you’ll lessen the risk of surprising or angering a runner behind you who may want to pass.  You’ll also reduce the risk of causing a wreck and getting hurt, or hurting someone else.  If you’re a runner, pay attention to the races you enter.  If the race allows walkers, parents with strollers, etc., don’t get mad when they’re there and moving slowly along the course.  Walking is awesome too, but enter running races to run unless the race specifically accommodates walkers. 
I’ve probably amused, intrigued and angered enough folks at this point, so I’ll stop for now.  In a few weeks I’ll post the rest of my thoughts on running etiquette.  In the meantime, if you happen to see me out there, let me know if I don’t smile and wave.  And please don’t hit me with your car.

It’s great to be a dad!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Calico Basin Trail Hike

Last weekend I took Paul on a trail hike around a small peak in the Calico Basin part of Red Rock Canyon.  This would be the longest and most difficult hike he’s ever done.  With water and snacks in hand, we joined with another parent and one of his friends from school and off we went.  

In the Google Earth image, we parked on the left side near the intersection of Sandstone and Kraft Mountain Loop, then started counterclockwise around the peak.  You can see the trail circle the mountain, then cut up and over, circling around the top of the image and back toward where we parked.  At the start, most of the trail was relatively flat, with elevation changes happening gradually.  The scenery was awesome and we made our way about half way around the peak on a trail that varied between powdery sand and gravel.  

At about the halfway point, the ground got a bit rockier and we came to the first of several obstacles, primarily large boulders, we had to climb up and over.  The challenge for the two parents was to coordinate our efforts to work the boys up and over the obstacles.  Usually one of us would go up first, then both the boys, then the other parent would come up last.  The boys were also challenged by this, not just because of the climbing, but because once on top of an obstacle, it took all the attention a five and six year old team of boys could muster to pay attention and be still.  They did great!

With the rock scrambles over obstacles behind us, we rounded the peak to turn back toward the car and had the opportunity to hike a trail up and over the peak, taking us very close to the highest part.  We rested at the top for a bit, enjoyed a little more water and took in the view, then made our way back down.

We spent the rest of the day resting and visiting my wife’s parents.  He’d given everything he had to a physically demanding day doing something he’d never done before.  He rode an emotional high too, probably fueled by regular statements by me of how proud I was of him for doing something that difficult for a little man.  Then bedtime finally came, his head hit the pillow, and he slept hard and peacefully.  When my bedtime came, I did too.  Being a dad, for me the day brought its own stress and excitement as I watched my son do things he’d never done before, some of these things with a bit of very managed risk, but risk nonetheless.  I fell asleep content and very proud of Paul.

Another adventure is behind us now: one more special experience I’ve had the privilege of sharing with my son.

It’s great to be a dad!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Is Running Too Expensive?

I recently posted in a running community on Google+  “Running is about you and a pair of shoes.  Okay, and a shirt and shorts unless you want the cops involved.  But many in our sport are also geeks and end up pushing ourselves harder and further.  We want to know more about the how, why and what's happening to our bodies when we run.  We want to adjust and tweak.”

While someone just trying out the sport may watch others of us geek out, remember you don't need all the sporty gear and tech to get the job done.  You don't have to look good, be color-coordinated and sport all the latest gear.  I've said this before and really meant it: running is a form of playing.  Just watch kids; they just run.  They don’t geek out about gels, don’t wear fancy hydration belts or sport GPS watches and heart rate monitors.  Even though it’s fun to geek out with all the latest goodies, we can do just what the kids do, and it’s okay.  You, a pair of shoes, and clothing adequate for the climate:  that’s all you need, especially if you’re just starting out.

Shoes.  You don’t even have to get overly stressed about all the varieties of shoes out there.  Find a friend who runs and head to a running store.  Tell them you’re starting out, and you want an appropriate pair of shoes to give this running thing a go without breaking the bank.  Or, unless you have issues with your feet, hit a major chain sports store or even the shoe section in a department store.  Try on a variety of shoes and buy a pair that feels good on your feet and fits well.  You probably won’t go wrong with a recognized brand that makes running shoes, but don’t feel like you have to succumb to the marketing machine either.  Many of the big brands have a variety of shoes including several models a reasonable price.  Just remember, how your new shoes fit is important.  How they look is not.

Socks.  As a new runner, if you’re going to buy anything else other than shoes, buy yourself a few pairs of running socks.  Again, easy to geek out and find all sorts of custom running socks out there, and they all have a place in the sport.  Don’t spend the money to buy those just to find out you don’t like the whole running thing.  If you don’t already have something that’ll work at home, grab a few pairs of ankle-high athletic socks.  They’ll work just fine and keep you from looking like your grandfather when you wear those over-the-calf white, high school athletic socks with your shorts.  (I said you don’t have to look good, but you also don’t want to scare folks either.  (This is why I don’t run shirtless.  I don’t think I look very good without a shirt and I really don’t want to scare small children or cause passing cars to crash at the terrible sight of my pasty bod.)

Running Clothes.  Clothing is easy because new runners run short distances.  Somewhere in your stuff is a cheap pair of athletic shorts or sweats and a t-shirt.  They’ll  work just fine.  Go with long sleeves or throw on a wind-breaker if it’s chilly.  Don’t worry that all your friends who are veteran runners have those technical shirts that wick water away, keep you warm (or cool), and are rumored to deflect rogue cyclists and cars along with rain and snow.  Those shirts are great (and I own a bunch of them!), but I promise you can trot around the block or cover a few miles in those old shorts and tees.  Also, if you work your way up to entering and running 5K (3.1 mile) races, find the ones that offer a shirt.  They’re usually the technical tees and you’ll quickly end up with a drawer full of them.  Bottom line:  don’t pay the money to outfit yourself for a marathon when you’re just exploring those early, short distances.

Running Buddies.  Finally, find a buddy to encourage your running and not your fashion sense.  Related, runners are like anyone else and come in two basic varieties: demanding and encouraging.  The demanding ones will want to drag you “up” to their level immediately and make you another version of themselves.  They’ll try to drag you along (and probably suck the fun out of the experience).  You’ll be equipped to run a marathon before you’ve even decided if you like running a couple miles, and you’ll feel guilty you’re “not dedicated enough, wearing the right gear, or doing more or better.  They may be great friends, but they’re probably not the best running buddies.  They need to run with someone who is at their level, not with you.  You’ll also know a person or two who is happy to work with you to explore the sport just as you are: someone with the heart and mindset of a mentor or coach.  They’ll encourage you rather than drag you.  They’ll answer your questions and help you along the way.  Most importantly, they’ll allow you to become the runner you are, not a carbon copy of themselves.  If you’re a social person and already know you’ll be a social runner too, or you’ll need the encouragement, find that encouraging person and team up.

This advice has grown out of my lifetime of running.  I’ve mentioned before that my son will start running with me this Spring, not because I asked him to, but because he asked to run with me.  I assure you he won’t look like “Mini Me” when we start down the path.  He’ll look a whole lot like a kid who just ran off the playground than he does a little runner in all the technical regalia.

Now get out there and run like you mean it!

It’s great to be a dad!