We runners know to take training, racing and any advice with a grain of salt. What works for one runner may or may not work for another. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to listen to advice and make your own call.
Here, five long-time runners share advice that helped them and some they’re still trying to forget:
Trust your training.
Longtime runner Christina Manoto’s best running advice for newbies in her Baltimore-based crew is: “Trust your training!” When you head into a race day, know you’ve done the work and trust those training runs to get you the result you want. On a daily level, trust that your training is there to help, not wreck your day. “Even if you are not feeling it, lace up and get out there,” she says. “You always feel better after!” That’s the advice she was given when she started, and several half-marathons later, she’s one of the most positive runners in the community.
The race is your victory lap.
November Project runner Gail Betz’s favorite advice is something we all need to remember: “If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it; and the race is just the victory lap of your training cycle.” We put so much stress on race days as the culmination of all of our running hopes and dreams, but in reality, the time spent training, enjoying those solo runs or having fun at the track with friends … That’s where the real magic happens.
Let yourself simply run.
“The best advice I ever received about running is, ‘Just go out there and run. No watch, no phone; just have fun,’” says Patrick Rife, founder of Pixelated. “While silencing the internal monologue is a challenge in and of itself, I find the times I’m enjoying my run the most are when I’m free of expectations and my mind is adrift.” Rife never considered himself a runner until he got involved in the Baltimore area running community after working at a few races, and he got hooked — now, running is how he does his moving meditation and stays grounded even during stressful times.
Never wear anything new for race day.
Another gem from Manoto: New clothing has no place on race day. Unless you’ve run a few times in a pair of shorts or a new sports bra, don’t wear it to the start line, no matter how tempting it is to wear your new shiny stuff. That’s because sometimes, clothing feels comfortable when you try it on, but a few miles in, you start noticing small problems, like a seam that’s rubbing you the wrong way or shorts that are giving you a wedgie. The same applies to race-day eating: Don’t try new foods on race day, stick to foods you know and love.
Bank pre-race sleep.
“Sleep well the days leading up to race day,” says Staples. “You’ll be too anxious to sleep the night before.” Especially if you’re prone to pre-race anxiety, this tip is priceless. While you still might feel groggy on race day, that banked sleep helps keep your body going strong through the finish line. While normally, you should aim for 7–9 hours every night, as you head into race week, try to boost that to 8–10 hours if possible — and even sneak in naps when you can in the two days ahead of your race.
You don’t look like a runner.
Betz has also heard some terrible advice: “You should look more like a runner if you’ve been running.” She hates this particular comment because, of course, it implies there’s a certain body type that means you’re a true runner — and anyone who doesn’t fit that stereotype can’t possibly be a ‘real runner.’ If you run, you’re a runner. It’s that simple.
You need huge hours to race a marathon.
The best advice Alison Staples, Run4allwomen ambassador for the Baltimore area and co-founder of RIOT squad running, ever got was that “It’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.” On the flip side, the worst advice was when she was told, “You need to run a 7-hour training run to prepare for the marathon.” While long runs are great, the full-time physical therapist assistant knows that huge volume isn’t always a key tenant of running success — different bodies need different stimuli, and it’s a very rare runner who needs a 7-hour run under his or her belt to tackle a marathon. Staples’ number 1 priority is reducing the risk of injury before toeing the start line, and she knows over-training is much more likely to lead to race-ending injury than being slightly under-prepared.
You can just quit.
“The worst advice I was given was, ‘Well, if it gets too hard you can just quit.’ This was said to me after months of training for a marathon,” says Devon Ritchie, a middle school run coach and teacher. While there’s nothing wrong with pulling out of a race if you’re injured or not feeling well, heading into a race thinking, ‘If it’s not easy, I’ll just stop,’ is a terrible strategy — that negative thought process makes it a lot easier for you to make even the smallest setback in a race feel like a monumental failure. Approaching a race with a finisher mindset gets you much further.