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Reasons to run: Marathon myths debunked

By Kimberly Cowart

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, July 27 2011 8:00 a.m. MDT

When I was little, I was told that if I made a face long enough it would freeze that way. Not true. I was also told that if I stepped on a crack I would break my mother’s back. Again, thankfully untrue.

For whatever reason, we’re told a lot of things that simply aren’t true. A lot of these myths are passed down from others as scare tactics to keep us from behaving badly. Other myths are created in our own minds through our own faulty observations.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that people have interesting reactions when I tell them I enjoy running marathons. The reactions range from shock to scorn, and I must admit, I am often a bit taken aback by this.

I have come to realize that a lot of these reactions are based on incorrect assumptions about running and specifically about running marathons. So I’d like to clear up a few of these misconceptions.

Myth No. 1 — You have to run a marathon. No walking is allowed.

This is probably the biggest myth. Let me tell you a not-so-secret secret. I walk during my races. For me, I find that I run better if I know that at every aid station I can take a short walk break. These usually come about every two miles. It’s a mental boost, and I never have to worry about dousing my shoes with Gatorade as I try to run and drink.

Jeff Galloway, former U.S. Olympic marathoner, has made a name for himself peddling his run/walk marathon training plans. He encourages marathoners to take walk breaks early in the race on a consistent schedule. Many people swear by his training plans and credit them for their injury-free status.

Myth No. 2 — You have to start running marathons young.

Old dogs can, indeed, learn new tricks. As marathoning becomes more popular, plenty of people over 50 — which I don’t consider old, by the way — are taking up the 26.2 challenge. In fact the fastest growing age group is the 80-plus category. Of course anyone who dares to cover the distance should be in relatively good physical condition, but there’s no reason why age should be a limiting factor.

Myth No. 3 — Only super skinny people run marathons.

While you won’t see the range of body types that you might see at your local 5K, not everyone who runs a marathon has the long, lean, gazelle-like body type of Ryan Hall. Yes, cranking out the miles over months of training will make you a more fit, lean athlete. But every body is unique. That’s why races even offer X-large race shirts.

Myth No. 4 — Running long distances is dangerous to my health.

I heard this from someone as they puffed away on a Marlboro. True story. Yes, there are stories of distance runners who have died from heart attacks. Ryan Shay is a tragic example. But most of these people had pre-existing conditions they were unaware of. Running in and of itself is a very healthy activity. It won’t cause cancer, but from what I understand, smoking can.

Myth No. 5 — Humans are not meant to run so long. Distance running will only lead to injury.

Again, I find this is a convenient excuse for the sedentary or misinformed. If done properly, not only can you run free of injury, but running will strengthen knees, which is usually the most common argument against running.

Myth No. 6 — Marathoning is a solo suffer-fest.

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, my most memorable moments in marathons have all been when I’ve either run with a friend or made a friend on the run. While running the Boston Marathon this past year, I took a FlipCam along with me. Every time I needed a pick-me-up, I pointed it toward the crowds and got a surge of energy and encouragement in return. If I’m running out of state and see someone wearing a shirt from a Utah race, it’s almost a guarantee that I’m going to make a new friend.

Myth No. 7 — You have to be fast to run a marathon.

Because many races have to close roads to accommodate throngs of runners, there are usually time constraints that the runners must meet so that roads can reopen, volunteers and police can go home and race organizers can break down the finish lines, barricades, etc. But that doesn’t mean you have to run like you‘re being chased by a rabid chihuahua. Most races give you at least six to seven hours to make it to the finish line. Some are able to extend that time even more.

If you train properly and pace yourself accordingly, this is plenty of time to finish.

Myth No. 8 — You have to be an experienced runner with shorter races under your belt to do a marathon.

OK, there will be plenty of runners who will disagree with me here, but you don’t have to run a slew of 5Ks, 10Ks or even half marathons to be able to tackle “The Big One.” In fact, my first race was a marathon.

That being said, there is some race etiquette you should be aware of and that is best learned on a shorter race, but there are no race police to pull you over if you decide to start big. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a solid running base before taking up marathon training. But if you’ve been running consistently and can handle the mileage, there’s no reason why you can’t jump in feet first.

Myth No. 9 — You must live a monk’s life to prepare for a marathon.

Hold onto your seats, folks. I like cake. I love diet Sunkist. I hate track workouts and happily avoid them during the summer months. Sometimes I cut my long runs short and lounge lazily at the pool with my family instead. In other words, you can have a life and enjoy some of the “sweeter” things and still run. It’s all about balance.

Myth No. 10 — Running is for other people.

Running is for everyone. Maybe marathons aren’t your cup of tea. But how do you know if you never try? I had a friend in high school who would go out for a daily five-mile run and I thought she was nuts. Two months ago, I ran part of the Ogden Marathon with her. Who knew?

Now, will someone explain to me why I eat carrots every day and still don’t have X-ray vision?

Kim Cowart is a wife, mom, 24-Hour fitness instructor and marathoner who still shuns touching toads for fear of getting warts.

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