Running Tips

The starting line:  I started running back in the summer of 1977, and have been at it ever since. When I first began, I found a quarter-mile to be difficult, and then worked my way up to marathon distance within a year or so. It's been an enjoyable activity ever since, even on steamy, hot summer days or on frigid, snowy winter ones. 

As healthy and good for the body as running may be, I'm convinced that it can't be done like taking medicine - unpleasant, but good for you. Running must be enjoyable, and that includes the pleasure of feeling one's body moving smoothly. It should feel good to start a run even though, if you exert yourself during it, it may also feel really good to stop. 

In retirement, I can now do my running in sunlight during the day rather than in the dark before work. The days of marathons may be over, but it's still good to get out there for 4 to 14 miles. Over these 25 years, I've learned and experienced quite a bit on running, and have tried to present a condensed version here. 

Proud Moments: Below, the official certificate from the 1979 Boston Marathon, and the finish of the 1979 Newport Marathon (click on images for full picture):

Running or Jogging? 
How many steps?   (a little math) 
Work both sides of the street 
Black Toes, and other blisters 
A Real Pain: Injuries 

Going with the wind, or against it? 
    (a little more math) 
"We run for fun in the hot, hot sun" 
Dress Code
Winter Running 
Runner's High? 
Road Races 
Chatham Harbor Run 

Road Races at Age 70+

Run for Fun in the Hot, Hot Sun
(The 2013 Newton 10k race)

Note added Oct. 2015:  It's been over a year since I've done any real running because of back problems caused by some bone loss.  Although I would rather be out there I've accepted and gotten used to the change. I'm now happy to be able to run across the street. The running observations though, I think, are still worthwhile.

Note added Oct 2017:  I'm back to doing runs of 3.5 to 4 miles three times a week, with an occasional 5-miler. That's a long way from having to quit after only a few tenths. My goal now is to finish a 10k road race at age 80, somewhat over a year from now.

Running or Jogging? It's probably a matter of definition; my own is that is depends on the level of effort and exertion. If you're within reach of your aerobic threshold, and monitoring your pace and performance, then you're running. If you're coasting comfortably, and could easily crank up your speed by 50% or more, then you're jogging. I'm sure there are more scientific ways of distinguishing the two through maximal heart rate or some such criterion. My own preference is for running. 


How many steps?
(a little math)
Chairman Mao is quoted as saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That's true of any run as well. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, that first step can be especially difficult. But how many steps will one take on a typical run? 

Let's take a simple distance - one mile, or 5280 feet. For simplicity, assume a very reasonable stride length of 3 feet (from the toe of one foot to the toe of the other). Then there will be a total of 1760 strides, or 880 for each leg, in that one-mile distance!

If we take the very popular running distance of 10k, or 6.2 miles, then that will consist of 5,468 strides for each leg. What a great opportunity for over-use injuries. 


Work both sides 
of the street
On the theme of over-use injuries, then, it should be clear that any little imbalance in foot, knee, hip position can get magnified with that many repetitions and cause real injury. 

Most well-constructed roads, and many walkways, are bowed slightly upward in the middle so that rainfall can run off. If one runs constantly on the same side, then the body is constantly tilted slightly to one side, and that imbalance causes stresses that can become injuries.
Once I was even able to use this effect for diagnosis and cure: For a while I had a progressively worsening pain in one leg that reduced my milage more and more with time. But I did notice that running on one side of the road seemed just a little more comfortable than running on the other side. I tried putting an insole insert in only one shoe and found that the pain slowly went away. Apparently one leg was just slightly shorter than the other.
Altogether, then, it's better to switch sides of the road every so often, but also taking traffic conditions, visibility and road conditions into account.
One good rule to follow, when sharing the road with cars, is to run facing traffic. That way one can monitor the drivers, and take evasive action when needed (i.e., when drivers give you no room, or are inattentive to road conditions). On the other hand, if drivers are looking directly into a low sun, it's probably better to switch to the other side of the road.


Surfaces Most running surfaces are asphalt roadways or concrete sidewalks, i.e., hard but level surfaces; these can be tough on runners with a heavy footplant. Grass or dirt paths are somewhat softer, but generally have lots of little bumps that twist the foot this way or that. My own preference is for the predictability of the hard but level surfaces 

On the other hand, the surface I enjoy the most is hard-packed sand at an ocean beach at low tide, as well as running barefoot on it. By running just at the water's edge, one can use the water as lubrication for the footplant, and as very pleasant cooling. Dry sand, expecially the coarser kind, will usually cause blistering on the underside of the toes. 


Black Toes, and 
other blisters
Black toes - by which I mean blood blisters under toenails. It's kind of a badge of honor among runners - if you don't have black toenails, you aren't training enough.
They're painful when you get them, but black toenails are otherwise harmless. The trick is to relieve the pressure of the blister; I've found that inserting a sharp needle just under and parallel to the toenail will puncture the blister and let the fluid escape. Because the blister is generally at the front of the nail, one doesn't feel the needle insertion at all. Squeezing down on the toenail will help push out the fluid.
Actually. a similar method works well for other blisters too: use a sharp pin held parallel to the skin surface to puncture the blister, then press down on it to squeeze out the fluid.
When an area of the foot is irritated because of an actual or imminent blister, it's often a good idea to protect the area against further rubbing with a band-aid. Most of these will not stick well, but I've recently found some that do, namely "Band-Aid Tough-Strips". For toes, slip-on foam cylinders will work quite well.


A Real Pain: Injuries Pain is nature's way of telling us that something is not quite right with our body. Whether it's serious enough to stop or not even start a run requires our mature judgment and some experience. 

Blisters and abrasions (such as from chafing) are surface effects that can be painful, but that won't do real damage. Still, they can cause changes in footplant, gait and body position, and generally can be annoying enough to take any pleasure out of a run. Some blisters can be prevented by trimming down calluses before they get too thick, while chafing can be prevented by applying petroleum jelly (Vaseline is a brand name) before the run. 

On the other hand, any pain in muscles, tendons and ligaments may signal a serious condition leading to real injury. If the pain eases up or goes away while running, then it's probably OK to continue; if it gets worse, then it's time to stop. Running through that kind of pain is the worst possible thing one can do. The extra mile is not worth it if something tears and requires weeks or even months to heal. 

Speaking of healing, it's best to give yourself extra time to heal, especially from nagging injuries. When you think you're ready to go out again, give it an extra day. Then start slowly and build from there.
Besides resting an injury, there are some alternatives to running. As someone who has been running for over twenty years, I've certainly had my share of injuries, and have found some ways to compensate: Fast walking is often feasible and can give one a good workout (I don't mean real race-walking with its hip-wiggling stride). Some injuries may permit running uphill, which is a great workout in itself.

A case history - Anatomy of an injury, or how I learned about Baker's Cyst, Ultrasound, MRI, Weight-bearing X-ray, and Torn Meniscus. 


Running Tipscontinued 

Updated Oct. 7, 2017