Sunday, May 15, 2011

Running Controversies (Part I of III)

Welcome to my three-part controversial blog series!

My husband suggested I write another poetic blog about running in the humidity, but the creative juices aren't really flowing that way. So in this three-part series (to be written over the course of the next several weeks) I'll share my thoughts on what I perceive to be the most highly debated running topics among runners.

The debate: Some runners insist on always racing with headphones, while other runners get annoyed with the headphone wearers because they can't hear what's going on around them.
10K from 2007 after removing my headphones.
My personal preference: I used to always train and race with headphones and music was a large part of my running. I stopped racing with them just over two years ago when I wanted to be "free" of equipment. Also, sometimes the songs would get on my nerves when it was late in the race and I just wanted peace. Then I met my husband and we started doing most of our runs together, which meant no headphones so we could chat. So now the only time I would ever listen to music on the run would be if Greg wasn't with me and the run was on the longer side. I enjoy racing without them, but I do sometimes think that the extra "pick me up" might help motivate me.
My stance: I don't agree that safety is a valid reason for banning headphones in most races. The exception is if it's a smaller race and the road is not blocked off from cars. Then safety does become an issue. Otherwise, it might be annoying for others trying to pass you, but you aren't at a high risk for being trampled on. . . I don't think! I think there are things that people do in races that are much more "unsafe" than using headphones, such as jogging strollers in the front or middle of the pack, suddenly stopping to walk without pulling over to the side, throwing your cup on the ground where someone else can easily slip on it, etc. As for the rules, people are going to break the rules and wear headphones, which is why I don't agree with banning them. The fact of the matter is, A LOT of people like running with headphones, so banning them isn't really practical.

Minimalist Shoes/Barefoot Running
The debate: Minimalist shoes, designed to mimic barefoot running, are becoming increasingly popular because it's seen to be more natural. Many runners believe that barefoot running will make them faster and less injury prone.
Vibram Minimalist Running Shoe
My Personal Preference: I've never been tempted to do this. I like my running shoes. When I wear less supportive shoes or worn-out shoes I definitely feel it in my legs. I tried running in the Kinvaras (which aren't even minimalist-- just a lot lighter than most shoes) at an expo once. I only made it about 5 or 6 strides until my legs and feet started to feel unhappy. I do realize that minimalist running is something you have to work your way up to, but it's just not a goal of mine.
My Stance: My husband brought up a good point: although humans were meant to run barefoot, we were not meant to run marathons on asphalt or concrete. Maybe if all races and runs were in the grass or a dirt surface, I might be more open to the idea of it. I also think that the amount of research that has been put into making today's running shoes what they are far outweighs the theory that barefoot is best.

Junk Miles
The debate: One school of thought is that the best approach to getting faster is to run more miles. 50 miles a week is better than 40. 60 is better than 50. The other school of thought is that the quality of the workouts is more important than the quantity of the miles. Unless a workout has a specific purpose, then it's just "junk miles".
My Personal Preference: Before my recent injury, I took the "more is better" approach. I didn't consider any miles to be junk miles because if I wasn't doing speed work or a long run, I was simply building my aerobic capacity and training my legs to spend more time running. Usually I only did one speed session per week (alternating intervals and tempo runs) because I thought more than that would be too much, given my relatively high mileage. However, when I trained for my best marathon ever back in the spring of 2008, I was running fewer miles but with two speed sessions per week. Now I am not sure what's best. I still think you need high weekly mileage to succeed at the marathon, but I might be better off reducing my overall mileage in exchange for an extra speed workout each week. In thinking about how I will train for my next marathon, I know I'll be doing a lot more cross training than ever before, so it will be lower mileage, and some of the weeks will likely include two speed workouts.
My Stance: I don't really believe in "junk miles" unless you are running so many miles that you are over training and wearing yourself out. I think that running an 8-miler at an easy pace for the sake of "general aerobic" fitness is just fine. However, if this run comes the day after a 20-miler just to get some more miles in, then maybe it's moving toward "junk".

I'll cover more exciting and controversial topics in the next blog in this series. Meanwhile, I ran 33 miles this week, plus 80 minutes of pool running and 1500 yards of swimming. Half marathon in two weeks!


  1. I can't run without headphones! I think I'm the opposite of you, toward the end of my run, I need some kind of motivational song to keep me going when I feel like I'm going to die. I always keep the volume low enough to hear what's going on around me though, there are a lot of bikers that use my running route and I don't want to get hit!

  2. Great post! I used to run with headphones (the old tape kind b/c it was a long time ago), but when one broke, I decided to go sans music and found I enjoyed it. It wasn't until my husband got me the Oakley Thumps that I started listening again, but only around the neighborhood. I do think depending on where you run, they are a safety issue, and actually, races having the least danger aspect.

    My junk miles are in the pool! ;)

  3. Great topics!!! Looking forward to the next ones.

    I run with headphones too but once in a while. I ran a 10K on Sunday and was fine without them. However, I do run with them on the treadmill.

  4. I firmly believe that there are no junk miles so long as the runner is following the common sense guidelines you stated, and not in some unhealthy overtraining situation. Those easy "extra" miles actually help with recovery in my opinion, and boost overall endurance.

  5. Headphones: I completely agree. I have almost gotten killed (or killed someone else) because of an abrupt stop from someone wanting to take a picture or say hi to family. Headphones should be allowed to be worn, but at the runner's risk. Just like anything else.

    Vibram shoes - no way. Too much junk in my trunk. Besides, don't they say that it is better to run on grass/dirt/track than cement/concrete? Why? Softer surface. How is that any difference from a cushioned shoe and a non-cushioned shoe? If you focus on form and fore-foot landing, you should do just fine.

    Junk miles. I had a TOP NOTCH coach for Boston. He had me doing less miles w/ more quality runs. I also used the FIRST program for my 2nd marathon. Both produced horrible results for me. Junk miles mixed w/ quality runs works best for me. Everyone is different and everyone has different tolerance levels. When I qualified for Boston I was running 2 quality speed work days a week and 2 days of junk miles and 1 long run. I never exceeded 55 miles in a week. I know my body doesn't like doing quality and quantity miles that add up over 55.

    Great posts, Elizabeth. Glad you are back into the groove. And as for Boston - my recommendation to you a while back is just enjoy running. Find where you are comfortable and just let go. If you squeeze onto it too tightly you will lose focus of the 'love of running'. That 'love' is what pushes us at the last minute and what puts us in the zone to give us that PR. And even more importantly - DON'T GIVE UP ON BOSTON. It was the single most amazing time of my running life (and I have been a runner for 18 years). There is nothing that compares to qualifying and running that race.