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5 common myths about running

If you're starting out as a runner, chances are that older pros have been giving you plenty of advice. But is any of it actually true?

Know the truth about running.
Know the truth about running. (Istockphoto)

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Running groups, both online and offline, are a great resource for any runner, irrespective of their experience or expertise. They lend solid support and also a sense of community. But there’s a flip side too—you’d often receive a whole lot of conflicting information that is likely to leave even the earnest of runners discombobulated. There were a few facts about running that were handed down to me when I started out in 2008. I have put them to the test over the years, and here are some of my tried and tested conclusions. 

You will lose toe nails: True. Some say wear shoes half a size bigger, others advise wearing shoes with a wide toe box (good luck finding those in regular retail channels in India) and others still tell you to run bare foot. But nothing works. No matter what you do, if you cover long distances you will eventually lose some toe nails and also end up with some black nails. 

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And not just once. This is likely to happen as long as you stick to long distance running. Some runners, especially ultra runners over the past decade, have started opting for a surgical procedure to permanently remove their toe nails. One of the most famous among them is ultra marathoner Lisa Bliss, who won the 135-mile Badwater race in the Death Valley in the USA in 2007. Two years before that, in 2005, she had her two big toenails permanently removed. You do not have to go to such extremes and could just paint all your toe nails black. And better, still, just don’t care about how your feet look in open footwear.

Must eat pasta before race day: Not strictly true. Earlier, Indian runners used to get their running info from online forums full of western runners. Now, in order to have enough fuel for a half or full marathon, you need to eat carbs. That should explain why you hear your runner friends going on and on about carb loading as they come closer to race day. Most races outside of India have a pasta party the evening before the race day. It makes total sense because pasta is pure carb. That’s how this pasta myth became popular in India too.

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However, unlike in the west, pasta is not our staple food. For the record, Kenyan elite runners prefer to eat ugali, a gooey porridge made from maize flour, before their runs. We can very easily and effectively get our carbs from rice dishes: Rajma rice, curd rice, dal rice, khichdi… there are plenty of options within our cuisines to carb load before race day. Just go easy on the spice and chillies and you won’t have a rumbling tummy while you run. So, that rules out biryani. My personal favourite is a banana peanut butter smoothie made with yoghurt for a pre-race breakfast.   

Must stretch before and after run: Partly false. One of the most readily dispensed advice is “stretch before and after a run.” There is enough research that suggests that static stretching as part of a pre-run warm-up could actually increase the risk of injury. It’s best to incorporate dynamic stretches, such as lunges, high knees, butt kicks and jumping jacks, in your warm-up so that you are ready for your run. And as for post-race stretching, I just hate it. However, science comes to my rescue here too. Plenty of coaches and research suggest stretching at some point through the day after your run is good enough. Failing which, do drop in regularly at your sports clinic for a deep tissue.

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If you train slow, you race slow: Mostly false. One of Kochi’s most popular and fastest runners, with multiple Boston Marathons in his legs, Ramesh Kanjilimadhom says 80% of your runs should be done at a slow and easy pace. These are the runs that build endurance and running strength in your legs and make you comfortable staying on your feet for long hours. Speed training comprises only 20% of the training. And usually, speed training is done at paces faster than your race pace. It is a combination of these two kinds of training that will make you fast. And for your race day timings, you also need to factor in the energy you feed off from other runners around you that usually ends up making you go faster.   

It’s all about the shoes: We all know the truth about this one. Yes, people went gaga when the carbon shoes were launched with the promise of making you marginally faster and runners still try out shoes that promise them speed out of curiosity. But we all know that at the end of the day, shoes are only a minor aid and it’s all about your performance, not shoes, gels or supplements. What some shoes do end up doing is that they give you a marginally higher return of the effort you put in than others. Don’t credit the shoe for a good run though, credit yourself.   

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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