There are some things all runners know to be true—like that chafing happens and so do emergency bathroom stops. Then, there are others that most every runner knows to be true like a cold shower after a hot run is the next best thing to the glorified runner’s high itself. Less well known? There are actually quite a few running rules to break…and I mean right now, thank you very much.
What exactly am I talking about? Everything from the well-held misconception that eating a banana can help cure you of an ache or cramp to the idea that running can destroy your knees (which TBH isn’t true if you’re doing it correctly). So, to dispel the myths that might keep you from hitting the open road, here are six myths worth second-guessing—and the truths behind them.
1. You need to carbo-load before a big race or long run
Remember that scene on The Office where Michael Scott, convinced he needs to carb up before the office 5K, inhales a giant portion of fettuccine alfredo? It didn’t work out well for him, and while most runners believe they need to increase their carbohydrate intake in the days and weeks leading to a big race or long run, it’s not actually necessary. “When you hear about carbo loading, you get visions of runners gorging on giant pasta dishes and loaves of bread the night before a race,” says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, New York City-based sports dietitian. “But more often than not, this can lead to some pretty uncomfortable GI symptoms, like bloating, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation—none of which are recipes for race-day success.”
So what should you be eating before game day? First, it depends on how long or far you’ll be running. “Runners don’t need to carbo-load for every distance,” says Hogan. “A 5K race isn’t going to use as many glycogen stores as a marathon.” For a race lasting less than 90 minutes, Hogan recommends eating normally—including some carbohydrates, some protein, and some fats—up until race day.
If you’ll be running for more than 90 minutes, Hogan suggests tweaking your intake, not your portion sizes. “After months of hard training, your carbohydrate stores—glycogen—are in a chronically depleted state to keep up with your body’s demand for energy,” she says. “As your mileage decreases in the days leading up to the race, your body is able to replenish more glycogen stores because it’s not using as much.” The key, Hogan says, is to use the three to five days before the race to slowly adjust your meals to include more carbohydrates and fewer non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, or other low-carb substitutes. “This doesn’t necessarily mean eating more food overall, but simply focusing more on carbohydrates than the other food groups for a few days. This will make sure your glycogen stores are topped off and you have maximum energy to use on race day.”
2. You shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week
It’s true that if you want to be able to run longer, you need to, well, go out and run longer distances. But, doing too much too soon will likely lead to an overuse injury. That’s why for a long time, runners swore by the 10 percent rule or resisting the urge to increase weekly mileage by more than 10 percent per week. Now, says Mary Johnson, USATF-certified coach and founder of Lift.Run.Perform, “this rule is a bit antiquated.”
While, yes, Johnson says it’s smart to be conservative and to increase mileage slowly—especially if you’re coming back from an injury—the blanket rule no longer applies. “It really depends on the situation and the person,” she says. So instead of the 10 percent rule, Johnson’s athletes swear by The Daniels Method, where increases every four weeks are perfectly acceptable, and the jumps in mileage should be one mile for the number of days the athlete runs in the week. In other words, if you’re averaging 35 miles per week for four weeks and running five days per week, then after four weeks you can increase your mileage to 40 miles per week. If you’re running 35 miles per week for four weeks and are running seven days a week, however, you can jump to 42.
3. Running gets easier
It would be nice if this one were true—but running may never feel easy. “I think telling newer runners that running will get easier is primarily done in an effort to be motivating, but it can often end up being discouraging,” says 36-time marathoner and running coach Dorothy Beal. “You want to believe that at some point it won’t feel awful, because at the beginning it might. And in many ways, it does get easier, but not always in the way you think it will.”
What will change, though, is your perception of what’s easy and hard. “The ‘easier but still hard’ paradox doesn’t make sense until you’ve been running for a while,” Beal says. “Saying it gets easier does a huge disservice to runners who struggle. They feel isolated when things don’t get easier, like they are the only runner this is hard for. That’s not the case! Sometimes it’s hard for all of us, and hating and loving it is just what it means to be a runner.”
4. There’s a “best” running shoe out there
Despite mythic tales of a “best” running shoe, there is no magical, perfect option that works for everyone. “There has not yet been a single shoe made to fit every runner’s needs and desires,” says Mary Arnold, an ultra-marathoner, co-leader of November Project NYC, and founder of Active Brand Consulting. “But you can find the perfect shoe for you.”
Your best bet, Arnold advises, is to visit a specialty retailer and get fitted by professionals. “The shoe should feel like a part of you,” Arnold says. “You shouldn’t notice anything about it. When you walk or run, it should feel like an extension of your foot.” If you get down to two different options and can’t decide, put one on each foot and run on the treadmill or around the store. “Focus on the shoe you notice the least,” Arnold says. “That’s probably the one you’ll be happiest with.”
5. Heel striking is bad, you should change your form
False. Just false. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with heel striking, and many runners are able to run very fast with a heel strike,” says Johnson. “Evidence has suggested that no matter how your foot strikes the ground, your body still absorbs the same amount of force—the strike just distinguishes where that force is absorbed.” So stop believing landing heel-first is a sin, and run with the foot strike that feels most comfortable and natural. Even if it means you run like Phoebe Buffay from that iconic episode of Friends.
6. Running is boring
Many newcomers dismiss the idea of running because it seems solitary and boring. But there are loads of ways to keep running fun. “First, consider how and where you run,” says Arnold. “If you’re always inside on the treadmill, try getting outside. If you run the same three-mile route every day, switch it up by taking a treadmill class or running your route in the opposite direction. If you normally fly solo, grab a friend to run with, and if you always run the same pace, add some pick-ups or intervals to the run.” Making small changes can help you get out of a slump.
If you still can’t find your groove, consider your overall relationship to running, Arnold suggests. Do you run because you feel like you have to? “Every runner has days when they don’t feel like running, but if you’re gutting it out and hating it, take a few days off,” Arnold says. “Try a new fitness class, go for a hike, do yoga, or just rest. But take time to think about why you run, and get some fresh insight and perspective.”