As kids, my friend Rachel and I loved myths. Not the Greek god kind, although those were fun, too, but the ideas that floated around the playground that were often accepted as fact. Swallowing a watermelon seed would make a watermelon grow in your stomach. Hair and nails grow forever after you die. Chewing gum sticks in your stomach for seven years after it’s swallowed. If you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, it could kill whoever it hits.
While those myths are harmless, others are harmful and could discourage people from trying a new adventure. When it comes to running and fitness, the myths are plentiful. Here are a few.
- No pain, no gain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Pain is not the same as feeling uncomfortable or muscle fatigue. We want to be pushed to our limits, but if we reach the point of pain, we risk injury and setbacks. The takeaway is if your shin aches or your calves are still talking back to you long after your workout or run, take a break until you can return to activity pain-free.
2. You can eat whatever you want if you train for a marathon. I initially lost weight training for my first marathon. But after 46 marathons, I can tell you I watch my intake as closely as if I never ran. Many actually gain weight training for a race, often overestimating how much they burn and underestimating how much they eat. More importantly, when training, it’s even more critical to make sure you’re getting the important nutrients to keep your body running efficiently. An occasional doughnut is fine, but not even a 20-mile training run can justify an entire dozen.
3. Always load on carbohydrates the night before a marathon. Without going into too much detail, this is simply not necessary. While everyone’s body is different, few need to eat three plates of pasta to fuel up for a race. Anyone see the episode of “The Office” when Michael Scott stuffed his face with spaghetti to prep for a 5K? It did more harm than good. Once I reduced my carb intake, upped my fat and protein, and only slightly ate more carbs the night before a marathon, my stomach issues disappeared. I’ve not dealt with them in over 30 races.
4. To be a better runner, all you need to do is run more. Certainly nothing trains the legs for a marathon like running, but that shouldn’t be the only thing you do. Strength training is a critical element to any good training plan, whether you run a 5K or an ultra. You will run stronger and safer. Cross-training with low-impact activities like biking, swimming and yoga can speed up recovery between hard runs, keep your endurance up and provide a mental break, too.
5. There is only one way to train for a race. Our bodies change. It’s the one constant in life. The way I train as a 41-year-old is far different than the way I trained at 31. My training cycles are longer to incorporate more rest days and allow more time to build up my long run mileage. I do fewer track workouts and more tempo runs. What works for one may not work for another. Ask advice, research plans and then play around with them until you find what works for you. Be flexible and open to new ideas.
6. Once you find a workout that works, stick to it. Once again, our bodies change. They also adapt and are really good at that. I mentioned earlier how I lost weight training for my first marathon. I was an eating machine and still lost weight. Over the years my body has adapted to the mileage and the workout. If I ate now the way I did then, nothing in my closet would fit. Throw in some speedwork. Add some mileage. Try a new cross-training activity. Change won’t happen if you don’t make it happen.
7. Real runners race. Simply not true. Real runners run. Slow or fast. Short or long. Runners run. Period. I’m no less a runner today than I was when I ran eight marathons a year.
My running path and the gym are my playground now, but myths still abound. Don’t believe them. Don’t let them hold you back. Let them go and embrace reality. Keep myths alive in literature and school yards, not your workouts.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor, marathoner, Feetures! and Strong Mom Fit Mom ambassador. You can follow her running and fitness adventures at www.kiminthegym.com.