Running is a very individual thing. What works well for one runner might cause a different runner to get shin splints. Or chafing. Or a tummy ache. Or all three. Which could be truly disastrous in a race, to say the least. We have all seen that guy struggling at the end of a race, a look of pain and desperation on his face. It's gotta be the shin split - chafing - tummy ache triple combo. It claims millions of runners every year.* (*I completely made up this statistical fact. It is, in fact, a mythical non-truth. But I'm trying to make a point here, so humor me.) That guy probably took the advice of one of his runner buddies who very enthusiastically and convincingly said "Dude, you gotta try this! It has done amazing things for my running!"
While there's generally no harm in trying new things in your running (and some new things can, in fact, lead to increased performance, comfort, happiness, etc), there is a good time to try new things and there is a bad time to try new things. Let's start with the bad time. During a race. Never ever, ever, ever, EVER try new things during a race. I repeat, do NOT try new things during a race. Now, when is it good to try new things? Any other time besides a race, aka, during training. That's what training is for - to figure out what works for you, the individual, so that you will have an arsenal of strategies and tactics to get you through your target race.
With that said, I'm now going to list all of the things that do and do not work for me. I will not say "Dude, you gotta try this!" because I know that what works for me may not necessarily work for anybody else on the planet. But feel free to give these things a whirl in your training (NOT during a race) if you like. However, I do not claim any responsibility for any cases of shin splits, chafing or tummy aches that may result from trying these things.
Things That Work
1. Oatmeal, bananas, green tea, Sharkies, and Bonk Breakers. Not all at once, mind you. My standard pre-long-run breakfast is oatmeal, a banana and a cup of hot green tea. It has been for ages. It's easy on the tummy, provides lots of easily digested carbs (both simple and complex) and gets me going, in more ways than one (I'll let you all ponder the meaning of that) without upsetting my tummy like coffee might. Sharkies are my in-run fuel of choice. I've tried Jelly Belly Sport Beans, and while I love them for the taste, they do not contain any complex carbs. Sharkies are loaded with complex carbs for sustained energy, and they're easy to eat when nothing else is appealing (as is often the case late into a long run). Finally, after a long run, a Bonk Breaker bar is a surprisingly welcome bit of solid food with the optimal recovery ratio of carbs to protein (4:1). The peanut butter chocolate chip flavor is supremely yummy.
2. Injinji Toe Socks. They look weird. They are weird. But they are incredibly comfortable and they keep my toes from rubbing together and making big ugly blisters. Plus, the rainbow ones are made of recycled materials - how cool is that?
3. CW-X tights. You need a giant shoe horn to get them on - they're that tight. But once they're on, they feel fabulously supportive and aerodynamic. Compression speeds recovery, so I leave them on for a while after my long run.
4. The Garmin 405cx. I crave data. The Garmin gives me data. Lots of it. Maps of where I ran, charts of my pace, graphs of my heart rate, plots of elevation... I love it. But, I am an engineer, not a normal human being. I suspect that normal human beings do not need or want all this data...
5. Cross-training. Specifically, resistance and flexibility training. I do weights twice a week. Heavy weights, not wussy pink girly weights. Part of this is because I'm also training for the Pump N Run Challenge. But part of it is because lifting heavy weights works. It builds strength, power, and develops more fat-burning muscle. During marathon training, a time when the body cannibalizes muscle, weight training keeps me from losing muscle. I also incorporate plyometrics into my strength training to build power. Running and lifting heavy weights make a person tight and inflexible. When I get tight, things hurt. I gotta stretch. My new favorite way to stretch is Active Isolated Stretching. I also enjoy doing Yoga.
Things That Do Not Work
1. Frickin' frackin' water bottle holders that go around your waist. I hate these things. They are great in theory - they allow you to carry water with you without having to carry a bottle in your hands. But for people like me, who are high-waisted, and do not want to wear these things right up under their boobs, they are the most annoying thing ever invented in the entire history of running. See, I don't want to wear it around my natural waist. I want to wear it on my hips, so it doesn't cut into my stomach and lungs. But try as I might to get the thing to stay down on my hips, it always migrates up to my waist after a while. So I am constantly pushing the stupid thing down. Unfortunately, I have not found a better solution to the need for hydration, so I suffer with it. Fortunately, I will not have to suffer with it on race day, because races provide plenty of water (usually).
2. Running shorts. You know the ones. The short shorts with the revealing side slits. Yeah, I can't wear 'em. They look heinous on me, for one thing. If I had a runner's body, perhaps they would work for me. But I do not. I have stubby legs. Short shorts just make them look stubbier. And they rub between my thighs, which of course leads to chafing. I am also convinced they cause shin splints and tummy aches. Okay, maybe just tummy aches. The thought of wearing them definitely turns my stomach.
3. Running in the rain. I love the concept of running in the rain. Unfortunately, as a wearer of strong prescription eyeglasses, I find that rain just makes it very very hard to see where the heck I'm going. If someone could invent some eyeglass windshield wipers for just this purpose, I would be eternally grateful.
4. Using races as "training runs". Yeah, refer to last weekend's half-marathon "training run" for the scoop on that. I simply cannot run a race "easy". My brain won't let me.
5. Gels, Gu, Cliff Shots, etc. They cause shin splits, chafing and tummy aches. And IT band syndrome! True story. Okay, maybe it's not exactly like that. For me, it's a texture thing. The mere thought of energy gels makes me gag. So there's no way I'm consuming them during a long run when I am already adverse to food. Lots of people swear by them. Maybe you are one of those people. In that case, I have a collection of various gels that I've picked up at races and expos that I'm not going to use - do you want them?
Peace. Love. Train.