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Ask Me Anything
Hey, there. I see you've become interested in running and are trying to make sense of this sometimes very confusing sport. Web sites here, magazines there, books, forums, bulletin boards, all dispensing advice. I know it can be hard to make sense of it all, so feel free to ask me any questions that you have not yet found answers to from more conventional sources.

Ask Me Anything

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By Don Allison
Posted Thursday, 21 January, 1999

Hey, there. I see you've become interested in running and are trying to make sense of this sometimes very confusing sport. Web sites here, magazines there, books, forums, bulletin boards, all dispensing advice. I know it can be hard to make sense of it all, so feel free to ask me any questions that you have not yet found answers to from more conventional sources.

Hey, thanks. Is running really all that complicated? It seems pretty basic to me, but I get confused by all the technical jumbo I see written.

Well, running really is pretty simple, isn't it? You put one foot in front of the other and go forward-at least most of the time.

Well, that's good to know. I was getting worried that I was some sort of running dummy. Is the a "right" way to run?

No, not really, just any way that feels the most comfortable. Everyone is different, and has their own style of running, which you learn after watching people run for a while.

How does one become a "fast" runner, anyway?

Mostly, just by running fast a lot.

Can anyone run fast?

Well, it all depends upon what you mean by fast. A 10-minute mile is very fast for some, while a six-minute mile is an easy trot for others.

I mean fast like those skinny guys and women in skimpy outfits I see ahead of all the other runners.

Oh, fast like that. Well, no, not just anyone can do it. There is one special thing you have to possess to be that fast, and you can't buy it and you can't get it through effort and hard work.

Really? What's that?

Superior genetics.

You mean without God-given talent to run fast, I am not going to win any races?

It's unlikely.

That doesn't seem fair.

Like other aspects of life, running isn't fair. It can be fun, but it isn't always fair.

Well then, what can I hope to accomplish in this sport?

Oh, lots. You can improve your own level of running ability by training consistently. You can enjoy being out in the fresh air in scenic surroundings and the feeling of your legs moving you along conformably. There is nothing quite like it. You can also make friends among people who also enjoy that feeling.

Are other runners friendly?

Sure, for the most part, very amicable, once you get to know them.

Really? I saw a big group of runners last weekend, all running along together. I tried talk with them, but they appeared to be preoccupied, talking with each other and kind of aloof.

Well, yea, that happens sometimes. You need to be a little persistent. Try calling or e-mailing the club organizer during the week. You will learn if the group is a good fit for you. There are all kinds of running groups out there, and almost all runners can benefit from the support and camaraderie that develops over time with a running club.

Great, I'll give that a try. Now, that you mention it, is there such a thing as running "etiquette?" You know, just general rules of politeness that runners are supposed to follow?

Good question. Well, I am not sure those rules are written down anywhere, but they should be! For the most part, you should simply act in a kind and courteous manner, as you would in any social situation. But in races sometimes, I am amazed to see otherwise sensible people throwing rules of common sense out the window. You would not believe some of the things they do!

Really? Like what?

Oh, things such as peeing on people's front lawns, throwing trash such as empty gel packets on the street, walking off with cartons of food that is supposed to be for other runners, and even screaming and yelling at race organizers if things did not go exactly they way they expected them to.

You must be kidding!

No, I am afraid not.

Why would anyone act like that?

Well, the pressure and stress that accompanies having to run all-out in a race to get a fast time sometimes causes people to act irrationally and thus do and say crazy things.

Why would anyone run races, then, if it makes them that crazy? I seem to enjoy my own runs well enough. Should I really bother to enter a race?

The thing about running is that you can run faster in a race situation with other people around than you can on your own.

Really? Why's that?

Oh there are lots of reasons, but it mostly comes down to two factors: competition and ego.

Could you explain that further?

Well, some people have such an inbred competitive nature, that when they see other people running ahead of them, something in their psyche takes over and they are able to get their adrenaline flowing at it's highest possible level, which allows them to run as fast as they possibly can. It can be uncomfortable while they are doing it, but it's the price they are willing to pay to beat other runners in the race.

Other runners, despite their basically shy and introverted nature, are inherently "show-offs." They like to run fast in race so that others will notice them and their accomplishments, either other runners, family, friends, race volunteers, even the policemen that are controlling the intersections. It's good for the ego to have people tell you how well you ran. If you have both the competitive fire and the ego, well, all the better.

Hmm. Sounds interesting. How should I decide which race to run?

Just try out one you think you might like. Best to stick to a smaller, local race before going for one of the "mega" races with thousands of people. That can be a disconcerting experience and throw you off a little.

How about a marathon? A lot of runners I know seem to be fixated on completing 26.2 miles.

Yes, that's true. The marathon distance has never been more popular than it is right now. There are more marathons with more runners in them than at any time in recorded history.

There must be some kind of allure then to running for a such a long way. Why do think that is?

The reason many are drawn to the marathon is for the very reason that they think they might not be able to do it, so when they do, it provides a great sense eof accomplishment, more than running just any old 5-km race. It sounds paradoxical, but it's true. If you think there is a chance you might not be able to do it, or do it well, the allure is going to be greater. It's sort of like paying money to ride on a roller coaster. The thrill comes from the fact that you think you might not survive it.

Do you think I could run a marathon? How should I get started?

Sure, most anyone possesses the necessary endurance to finish a marathon, as long as they do the proper training. But here is the first thing I would suggest you do before you decide to go for the marathon. Volunteer to work at the finish line at a marathon. When you see the runners at the finish line, check them out. Some will be exhilarated, others will be just exhausted. Most will have a smile on their face, but will be hobbling in a stiff-legged gait, just to walk past the finish area. Ask yourself, is this what I really want? If you can say yes, than you are probably a true marathoner.

What's the big deal with the Boston Marathon?

Well, a couple of things. First, it's got more than 100 years of history and tradition, so runners like to be a part of the event and add their small part to the race. Also, it is more difficult to gain entry into the race than in a normal marathon, so that makes it more alluring. There are qualifying standards. Those that are able to meet the qualifying standards establish themselves as a certain degree more accomplished than the garden-variety marathon runner.

That's interesting. But I know runners who take five or six hours to finish the Boston Marathon. They don't appear to be superior runners to me.

You are right. It is the "I want what I can't have" principle at work combined with the "everyone must be allowed to play" doctrine that has resulted in "unqualified" runners being allowed into Boston. It can very confusing, but it's the way of life in this modern day PC age.

Well, o.k. I guess I'll just forget abut that for now. I really appreciate your taking the time to answer some of my questions. I've got a whole bunch more, but will ask you another time. Well I do have one more. I was wondering, know.....are you busy next weekend?



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