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7 Running Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Alison Feller

There’s a hill in Central Park that runners know well. “Cat Hill” is only about a quarter-mile long, and the elevation gain is enough to have you out of breath by the top, but not so intimidating that it’s unrunnable.

And yet, for the past few months, I’ve found myself stopping at the bottom of Cat Hill and walking up that quarter-mile climb instead of running up it. I must have stopped to walk it once when I was particularly tired, but then it became instinctual. And on the rare run that I did have a burst of energy or wave of inspiration, it was fleeting, because as soon as I started running up the hill, it got “too hard,” so I would slow to a walk.

Eventually, I had my epiphany: Running up Cat Hill was never going to feel easier if I never ran up Cat Hill. I wouldn’t wake up one day with the fitness to run up a hill if I never actually tried running up one.

No matter how long I’ve been running and training for races, there are certain “no brainer” lessons I need to re-learn over and over again in order for them to stick. Here are a few more.

Drink! Even when you don’t think you’re thirsty, even when it’s not hot out, drink!
I hate running with a water bottle, and if I’m doing a speed workout or a long run, I don’t want to ruin my rhythm by stopping at a water fountain. I’ve been known to run entire half-marathons without taking a single sip of water. Not only will every runner and coach in the world say this is a terrible idea, but science also says this is damaging to your body. When I don’t drink enough during and after a run, especially a long run, I spend the rest of the day feeling lethargic and dehydrated, not to mention fighting off a killer headache.

Eat! As soon as you’re done running, before you jump into that glorious post-run shower, eat!
You’d think that a two-hour long run on a Saturday morning would leave me ravenous and reaching for 12 of the biggest NYC bagels I can find (and scallion cream cheese, and lox, please). Instead, my stomach usually wants some time to settle once the sweat dries, and I have very little desire to eat. But despite not having an appetite, I know better than to go longer than 30 minutes without refueling in some way (whether it’s a smoothie, a glass of chocolate milk, or a big platter of eggs benedict). (Fuel up with 6 All-Natural, Energizing Foods for Endurance Training.)

Stretch! Even if you think you don’t have time, even if you can’t multitask and really need to focus on Scandal, stretch!
I do plenty of yoga, but that’s different. I never, ever, ever, ever, ever sit on my living room floor and give my muscles the love and attention they need. It’s so easy to stretch, and it feels so good, but I can never be bothered with it. As a former dancer, this is especially shameful. But not doing it will make your next run that much harder. 

Foam roll! Even though it hurts like a…you know. Get on that foam roller and give your muscles some love.
I do not enjoy foam rolling. If you do it regularly, it feels great. But I don’t do it regularly, which means the rare times I get on the foam roller are brutal. (Foam rolling is one of our 6 Ways to Relieve Sore Muscles After Overtraining.) But it goes so far in helping you recuperate so you can get back to pounding the pavement the next day!

Use Body Glide. When it’s hot, when it’s raining, or when your short shorts just might ride up exposing a little extra inner thigh, lube up.
I have actual scars from those few times I’ve thought, “It’s just a short run and it’s only 80 degrees, I don’t need Body Glide today.” I have chafing scars on my inner thighs (hot), under my boobs (very, very sexy), and on my back, where a particularly unruly sports bra clasped in an unpractical way (which is why I avoided looking at low-backed wedding dresses). Body Glide is a skin-saver. Invest.

Let go of all the data.
It’s easy to become numbers-obsessed when you have a GPS watch practically glued to your wrist for every run. But those numbers—just like the numbers on your clothing, the scale, or nutrition labels—can become an obsession, and that takes a lot of the fun away from running, at least for me. Every now and then, it’s nice to leave my watch at home—or just hide it under a long-sleeved shirt or wear it upside-down—and just run by feel, not caring about pace, heart rate, distance, or time. I call it “running naked.”

Take rest days. Real, lazy, “do nothing” rest days.
In the past, I’ve felt “lazy” for taking days off. When you start running and working out and you really love it, it can be hard to go a day without breaking a sweat. But not taking rest days broke me down. Although I thought I was working super hard and giving running my all, I was getting slower and actually gaining weight because I was never letting my body recover. A rest day to me is a day without any exercise. A rest day isn’t “a day off from running,” it’s a day off from everything. No spinning, no yoga, no long walks. Just legs up, TV on, blissful rest. (And go figure, since I started fully embracing at least one rest day per week, I’ve gotten faster, fitter, and I’m so much happier.) (Take the time to learn 5 Telltale Signs You're Exercising Too Much.)

Oh, and running up Cat Hill still hurts, and still slows me down. But I do it, from top to bottom, every single time.

Alison Feller is a writer and editor in New York City. She has completed five marathons, 11 half-marathons, and many shorter distance races. When she’s not writing or on the run, Alison can be found in the yoga studio, on a spin bike, or (on very rare occasions) cycling outdoors with her fiancé. Keep up with Alison on her blog, Ali On The Run, or on Instagram and Twitter @AliOnTheRun1.

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