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Running Tips - continued


The short answer is that in winter, you'll want to go out against the wind and come back with it; in the summer, you'll want to do the opposite. Now for that little bit of math: Suppose that you run 8-minute miles (7.5 miles/hour), and that the wind speed is also 7.5 miles/hour. Running directly into it will feel like a 15 mile/hour headwind (7.5 + 7.5), while running with it will feel like still air (7.5 - 7.5). 

In winter, you want to avoid having to fight the wind when you're getting tired, on your way back. On the other hand, on the way out, you can monitor exactly how much the wind is tiring you out or freezing you, and you'll be able to adjust. 

In summer, it's just the opposite because the wind will provide desirable cooling on the way back; it's harder to go out without the cooling effect of the wind. 

Generally, I'll try to run a little loop that samples the wind direction before committing myself to that day's running route.
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Using the quote of a Dr. Seuss' line from one of his delightful books, some of us do just that. Despite all the dire and morbid warnings, it's possible to run in the heat and to enjoy it. The feeling of sweating from every pore can feel very cleansing, and it can feel very good to put in a 5-mile run when others are stepping on their tongues while walking slowly. 

In fact, the hardest part of running in hot conditions may be dealing with solicitous family members, who will quote you the inevitable newspaper article about the mortal perils of exercising during hot weather. That's when my own almost thirty years of running experience counts for little compared to the instant expertise acquired from that one-size-fits-all piece in the press. I've now taken to referring folks to this site when I get to hear too many objections. 

But running in hot conditions does take some extra care and caution, mostly common sense to avoid overheating and dehydration:
  • Reduce your usual speed and distance

  • Drink more fluid, starting at least one hour before starting out. If feasible, plan your route to take you past some public water fountains. I'm not a fan of carrying a bottle while running, reasoning that it's bound to put some imbalance in your stride. 

    Fluid loss in hot conditions: I've noticed recently that, in my case, a certain level of fluid loss correlates with the body saying "Enough of this run!". When that happens, my weight after the run is 152 lbs. instead of 158, corresponding to a 3.8% weight change due to fluid loss.

  • Wear as little clothing as possible to allow sweat to evaporate and cool the body.

  • Run through all the shady spots you can find; it's amazing how refreshing they can be. I'll even weave between sides of the street whenever safe and feasible to find shade.

  • If possible, plan your route so that you go out with the wind and come back against it. However slight, the wind will provide some cooling when you'll most need it.

  • Always monitor and listen to your body, and when you feel the strain, slow down or stop. Heat is not a condition under which to push yourself. Basically, if you don't have the maturity and experience of knowing when to stop, you shouldn't be out there in the heat.

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Dress Code The basic rule is to dress for the weather conditions, with as many or as few layers of clothing as needed. Some experience helps, because what's comfortable while standing still will be too much while running. The main determinant is the temperature, with wind, cloud cover vs. sun, and precipitation also playing a role. For me, on the coldest days (below 20 degrees F.), that will mean a sweatshirt with long-sleeve shirt and undershirt under it, as well as tights with running shorts over them. I'll also wear a woolen hat covering the ears and insulated ski mittens. 

As the temperature increases, I'll go to first to undershirt with long-sleeve shirt covered by a thick T-shirt, then to undershirt and long-sleeve shirt, then to undershirt and T-shirt, then to T-shirt, and then to singlet top. I'll go to shorts above 25 degrees F., unless it's very windy. The woolen hat goes away at about 40 degrees. The gloves go to double (one inside the other), then to single, and then none at about 50 degrees.
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Winter Running Putting on and taking off all these layers take more time, and make dressing for winter running a much greater effort. But it's still worth it, and there's nothing like a sunny, crisp winter day to make one feel alive. In winter one must take much greater care to monitor road conditions and footplant because of ice and snow. It's better to keep one's eyes on the road, to take smaller steps and try to make footplant more vertical to avoid slipping and sliding. Every step can be a potential slip, so it helps to keep the knees loose and to be ready to transfer weight to the other foot. 

Roadways are oftener narrower because of snow pileup, so one should be even more aware of car traffic than usual. It's best to choose less-traveled roads and, if possible, avoid peak travel times like rush hours. Unfortunately, roadways are often the only place to run because so few people keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice. 

Personally, I need to take particular care with the choice of gloves, because my hands get numb easily in the cold, and re-warming them can become agonizingly painful (holding them above my head while they warm helps a lot).
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Shoes The right shoes are clearly one of the most important choices for a runner. But there are so many companies with so many types of shoes, so many features and such a wide spread of price, that it's not easy to choose the best one for you. And of course those same companies are constantly "improving" their wares, so when you look for the same shoe a year later, you'll probably find that this model is no longer available. 

Some general recommendations: New shoes should feel very comfortable right away, neither too loose nor too tight when worn with the usual running socks. There should be absolutely no thought of needing to "break them in" (see How many steps? , above). Even then, it's best to start with shorter runs in new shoes - no matter how comfortable they are, they could press on slightly different part of the feet and cause blistering until new calluses form.
My shoe of choice has been New Balance, for several reasons: They're local to this area, they have an outlet store for seconds, they have a large variety of sizes and widths, and their toebox extended over the big toe (my active big toes seem to put holes in the tops of other shoes). New Balance also appears not to be a fashionable and trendy choice, nor does it go for big-name endorsements. 

Note added: Unfortunately that extended toe box no longer exists, to my annoyance. 

Given that new models appear frequently, I'll generally buy two pairs of shoes at the same time. This means that I can also alternate shoes from one run to the next, to make sure that they dry and air out before the next use. 

Shoe Goo (or similar products) become invaluable for prolonging shoe life. I'll wear down one side of the heel before other parts of the shoe, so build up the worn-down heel with a layer or three of Shoe Goo. 

One helpful hint: I've found that occasionally while running I kick up some small road debris that gets caught between the shoe and sock, and then works its way down into the shoe. It's worthwhile shaking out the shoe before a run to get rid of any debris that may have accumulated there.
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Socks By which I don't mean the Clintons' cat (a dated reference that). The right socks are probably just as important as the right shoes. After all, they're right between the bare foot and the shoe, so any friction or pressure will act directly on the foot. For all the attention that the choice of shoes gets, very little seems to be paid to socks. The main culprit for discomfort for me from socks seems to be the location of the front seam. In most socks, the seam is either at the front of the toes, or across their top, and that's where it causes the most irritation and blistering on my toes. Because of this, I look for tube socks where the seam is not across the front, and wear these in such a way that the seam goes under the toes in the hollow between the toes and the rest of the foot. Unfortunately, these seem to be hard to find.
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Runner's High? If you've experienced a euphoric feeling of running effortlessly, breathing easily, with your whole body harmoniously in synch; in short, the feeling of being able to run forever, then that should be enough of a high. I've most consistently experienced that while running at the seashore, on firm sand just at the water's edge. 

But if you're looking for that, mind-altering, out-of-body, reality-warping "high" comparable a drug-induced one, then running is the wrong place to look for it. Besides, the runner's euphoria comes at a price: the investment of personal effort and time to first attain that level of fitness. I suspect that price is too high for those looking for a quick fix. 

Then, of course, there are also the runner's lows: running out of energy, where every step becomes an effort; handling blisters and pain; having to deal with injuries, etc. 

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Road Races Running alone or in a group for fitness is great, but every now and then it's also fun to participate in a road race, with a number and measured times. It's a bit of a test of yourself against fellow runners, a friendly competition. 

If part of your race objective is to beat out some other runners, then here are some tips. After all, it feels a whole lot better to pass others during the race than to have them pass you.
Take a rest day before the race; you'll be stronger for it. 

If at all possible, take a run over the course before the race, or at least look it over. That's invaluable for planning race tactics as to where to run hard and where to ease up (it's very tough to run up a steep hill or two if you haven't left yourself some reserve). 

Line up no further forward than your expected finish. The further back you are, the more runners you'll pass during the race. 

Line up somewhere near the side of the street instead of the middle, where it's most crowded. I've been tripped from behind by over-eager runners when there's little space to maneuver. 

Start out at a comfortable pace, well within yourself, leaving some reserve to pick up the pace during the second half of the race. This is not at all easy to do - at the start, you're eager, enthusiastic and feel strong - but the penalty is wearing yourself down early, then having to slow down and struggle to the finish line. 

Run on the inside of a curve - the distance is shorter. 

In warm or hot conditions, look ahead for shady spots, and run through as much shade as possible. This will be more important than running the inside of curves. 

Take advantage of waterstops and cooling spray, especially on hot days. On the other hand, that drink before the last mile won't do you much good, so it's a good time to pass those that stop for a drink there. 

Especially on hot days, wear as little as possible, so that evaporating sweat can cool you. It's very tempting to wear the race t-shirt, but on a hot day, it can feel like a suit of armor once the sweat accumulates on it. If you know some physics then it's also clear that a black outfit on a hot day is a terrible idea because it's a superb heat absorber. 

Run to your strength. If you're good at downhill running (my strength), then plan to run fast and to pass other runners there; in fact, start to accelerate as you crest a hill. 

To pass others, pick out one runner or group in front of you and make that your target. Then pick another. 

Race in the spirit of fair and friendly competition. Always be courteous and considerate: don't block out anyone, step aside if you're stopping or slowing significantly, etc.
Training for races: Hills, interval training and more. Hills are good for fitness anyway, so include them on your runs. I've never found running uphill to be that enjoyable, but it does feel good to run downhill fast and comfortably. And because I live about 1 mile from the famous Newton hills of the Boston marathon, most of my running routes will include at least one of those hills. 

Intervals, or repeated sprints followed by short rests, are really tough, so you'll enjoy the results rather than the process. 

Especially when doing serious training, it's a good idea to follow a hard day with an easy one. 

It's also not a bad idea to practice some race tactics on training runs, like picking out other runners and deciding how, when and where to pass them.

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I used to run road races, from 10k to marathons, but have mostly stopped doing so. The one exception is Chatham Harbor Run on Cape Cod, which has a 10k run and a 5k walk in mid-to-late June. The course goes along a part of the seashore and includes a set of three rolling hills. My race results, 57:36 in 1997 and 56:10 in 2000 are not as good as I would have liked, but respectable.

       [1997 picture with Paul Ippolito, race walker]

Note added June 29, 2005: After a five-year absence, I ran in the Chatham race again. It was a warm and windy day, but the course was delightful, as always, scenically beautiful and a challenge to run well. With somewhat cautious tactics, but a strong finish that passed several younger runners, I ran the 2005 race in 58:54, not bad for a 66-year-old. I also noted that there are very few runners 70 years old or older, and that they're not too fast, so I may have something to look forward to in a few years. 

Note added June 27, 2008: Three years after the last race, I'm in Chatham again, and I take part in the road race again. It's a hot day, and I'm not in my best shape, so it pays to stay in control and to watch the pace, especially on the hills. My time for the 2008 race was a somewhat disappointing 1:05:34, but that still put me ahead of a number of significantly younger runners.

Closing in on the finish line. 
(Click on image to enlarge)

Note added July 1, 2009: Back once more for the Chatham Harbor Run, with a time of 59:34 in the 70 and over age category. More details ... 

Chatham is a wonderful place that we're always glad to go back to; as a tourist area, it has none of the tackiness that some do. Part of the pleasure is staying at the Old Harbor Inn because the hosts are like old friends to us. Then there are our two favorite restaurants, The Impudent Oyster and Bistro on Main Street (previously Vining's Bistro); on the other hand, Campari fell off the list many years ago when they changed from a small, romantic bistro to a large new site with big portions of undistinguished food. Meanwhile, Abba in Orleans has become our special-occasion restaurant (for a while, one server was a runner who usually finished second in the Chatham race).

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Marathons The marathon seems to be the holy grail for runners, an athletic feat that's actually within the reach of us ordinary mortals. All it takes, after all, is dedication, perserverance and a great deal of training. My own first marathon was one of those peak experiences in one's life. It took place in 1978 at Boston, running as a bandit (i.e., without a number) from the back of the pack. When I took the right turn into Hereford Street not far from the finish line, the street felt like a narrow canyon resounding with uplifting crowd cheering. Yes, it was possible - I was going to finish (in about 3:40). 

The next goal was, of course, to qualify for Boston to run with a number. This goal coincided, happily, with my 40th birthday, usually a slightly traumatic signpost of aging. At the time, Boston had a qualifying time of 3:30 for age 40, compared to 3:10 for those below age 40. So now the 40th birthday became something to look forward to. Yes, I did qualify, first running in Buffalo (3:30:13 against a strong headwind), and then locally in Newton, MA (tough course with seven hills, in February). 

All in all, I ran 10 or 11 marathons before cutting back on distance. They required a lot of time for training; I found that unless I put in at least 45 miles/week for many weeks, the marathon run became a struggle. 

My favorite was the Ocean State Marathon, which was then in early November in Newport (now in October in Providence). It was three loops, much of it along the ocean. The New York City Marathon took place at about the same time, but despite its fame, I decided never to run where I could "see the air".

Updated Oct. 7, 2017