17 Training Myths, Addressed by a Running Coach
Should all your training be hard? Do you need to stretch? We've got answers.
Ever wondered about something running related and looked for an answer on the internet? It can be very confusing: questionable advice, mansplaining, conspiracy theories, products that could either change your life or permanently maim you by accident, flimsy anecdotal evidence, amateur medical diagnoses, and other bullshit. It can all be hard to wade through. I wanted some real answers to some of the stuff I’ve seen, so I reached out to a successful running coach: David Roche, who, along with his wife Megan Roche, coaches runners through Some Work, All Play, coauthored the book The Happy Runner, and hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast. David was a good sport and provided some great insight.
Myth #1: Training should be painful.
“The goal of running training is to make faster, more efficient movement take less energy with time. As an athlete’s running economy improves, most training should feel easy, and even workouts should only be harder in small doses, primarily involving super-compensation stimuli, like races and extra intense workouts every few weeks. An athlete that pushes to pain will aerobically regress, even with consistent training, as their base foundation erodes away. And that’s if they somehow manage to avoid the nasty outcomes of choosing to do something that is actively painful. Examples of such outcomes include stress fractures, overtraining syndrome, or waking up one morning and realizing that running sucks and should be reserved as punishment for our most violent criminals.”
Myth #2: If you want to run fast on race day, you have to run as fast as you can every day you train.
“Runners are not the bus from the movie Speed, set to detonate if they go below a certain pace. Sometimes that’s hard to remember, especially early in a running journey. As an athlete starts out, there are enough low-hanging aerobic fruit that consistently faster running may be rewarded. You’ll often see that in college teams, where easy days can turn into low-hanging-fruit-measurement contests. But later on, those same patterns that may be rewarded at first start to be punished. The aerobic system can even regress, as musculoskeletal output and biomechanical efficiency go down with it. That truth leads to what all athletes learn, if they are lucky enough not to blow up first. Long-term progression is about making easy running easy, fast running purposeful, and avoiding too much of the gray area where injuries and stagnation await.”
Myth #3: What works for the fastest runners in the world should work for everyone.
“Interpolation from outliers is a dangerous game, because what makes someone a gold medalist also makes them respond to stimuli differently. Background genetic realities are overlaid with environmental influences to create superhumans. Hard work matters, sure. But often part of what we’re seeing is the genetic talent to respond to hard work in a nonlinear, anomalous way. Throw the same hard work at someone who responds a bit more slowly, or just a bit differently, and their physiology could rebel from the cellular level on up.”
“The body doesn’t know miles, it knows stress. If an athlete does the same types of miles as a gold medalist, there’s a good chance the stress could turn their body and spirit into a pile of smoldering rubble.”
Myth #4: Stretching before you run, every time you run, will cause you to become weak, sad, and develop new food allergies.
“Numerous studies show that pre-exercise stretching can reduce subsequent power output from muscles and it has no protective effect against injuries. However, go to a professional running race, and you may see some of the best athletes in the world doing light stretching before and after their events. And stretching or yoga could have long-term benefits that are difficult to measure in a single-variable study. The moral of the story is that different things work for everyone. Find what works for you, and don’t be too swayed by what the pros do or how I characterize exercise-physiology studies if your experience varies. Actually, I take that back. Listen to everything I say. On a related note, numerous studies show you should get a dog. It’s science.”
Myth #5: You should always eat pasta the night before a race, and the night before a long training run, and the night before a short training run, and the night before a rest day. Pasta, pasta, pasta, yay, pasta!
“There is some truth to the pasta legend. Glycogen availability is important for athletes, with even moderate depletion reducing performance in studies. In addition, long-term low energy availability can hurt hormone balance and contribute to amenorrhea. Some fascinating new science is finding that, even controlling for daily energy intake, higher amounts of within-day deficits can cause increases in cortisol, along with sex-hormone disturbances. So, yes, one way of interpreting that information is that pasta and other foods are important for sexual health. The fact that I am not sponsored by Noodles and Company is a travesty.”
“Underfueling can have long-term, disastrous health consequences that go far beyond the racecourse. But avoiding underfueling does not require pasta. A well-balanced diet can keep an athlete with plenty of glycogen availability performing their best at running and in life. That can include some pasta, but make sure it includes whatever else you enjoy, too, with one underlying rule to fuel an athletic life: Eat enough always. Eat too much sometimes. Eat too little never.”
Myth #6: It’s not a legitimate trail run until everyone participating is completely soaked in blood.
“A general medical rule is that it’s optimal to avoid having your insides on the outside, or your outsides on the inside. A spattering of blood is likely OK—think a drizzle of olive oil on your baguette. A soaking, like a piece of battered French toast, may require medical attention.”
Myth #7: Vegetables are good for you.
“Fiber is important and connected to heart and colon health. Like most rules, though, that applies in moderation. I have seen athletes who get MRIs and the report describes entirely full colons, like it’s a pre-COVID line for Space Mountain. Subsequent visits to specialists revealed that the findings were products of the high-calorie eating required of athletes and the high-volume eating required of high-fiber diets. It’s all about balance. Some vegetables are likely good. Lots of vegetables are possibly good. All vegetables are that moment when the kids in the Space Mountain line are screaming and smell bad but permeating your whole existence.”
Myth #8: You should never ever miss a workout under any circumstances.
“Running training is about consistency. Workouts may get those sexy Strava kudos, but at the cellular level, the body is interpreting that workout as one of many stress signals that can spur a number of different responses. If you’re healthy and ready, the response may be adaptation. If you’re tired or dealing with a potential injury, the response to the very same workout may be a blowup that derails the coming weeks or months of training. Lots of athletes can do workouts. Show me an athlete with the courage to miss a workout when something is off, and I’ll show you an athlete that can nail the long-term consistency needed to get close to their ultimate potential.”
Myth #9: If you have to smoke while running, you should vape.
“While vaping may be slightly less harmful than smoking, it is still not safe, with significant cardiovascular and addiction risks. Plus, if you started smoking or vaping due to tobacco-industry propaganda saying it’s cool, the joke is on you two times over. One, it’s not healthy or cool. Two, even if it was cool, you’re a runner, so that cancels out any background coolness.”
Myth #10: If you sweat a lot, that means the training is working.
“Sweat rates are highly dependent on conditions and individual physiology. Some athletes glisten, while others seem like broken fire hydrants that were granted their wish of becoming a real live boy—that’s me. Sweat is a normal physiological response that isn’t a verdict on you or your training. But it may be a verdict on whether you can get by wearing one of those all-natural deodorants.”
Myth #11: Stride length is the number-one determining factor of successful runners. As such, you should work on increasing the length of each stride to nine to twelve feet.
“Stride mechanics are highly individual. The main requirements are to keep your center of mass over your landing zone and to avoid leaning back. To do that, the general rule is that quicker, softer strides are better than long, loping strides. Average stride length at fast efforts will increase as an athlete gets fitter but only as a proxy variable for power output per stride rather than a specific focus on long strides.”
Myth #12: Pheidippides, who ran the first-ever marathon, died upon completing it in 490 B.C. Thanks to the development of training methods, modern-day marathons have a fatality rate of only 50 percent.
“Estimates put the number of deaths per 100,000 marathon runners at around two, or 0.002 percent. Meanwhile, one in 3,000 people are struck by lightning in their lifetimes, or 0.03 percent. Also, a bar of chocolate can have up to 60 insect parts and be deemed safe for consumption. What I’m saying is that there’s a lot that we can’t control in life, and Pheidippides probably had an underlying heart condition.”
Myth #13: Running in winter temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit will give you hemorrhoids.
“Cold-weather running will not give you hemorrhoids. But I suspect that whoever wrote this myth already had hemorrhoids, and maybe it gave them a convenient excuse. So, yes, cold-weather running causes hemorrhoids. You’re safe here.”
Myth #14: Chemtrails.
“I am just now learning that some people on the internet think that chemtrails are a mind-control agent used for nefarious purposes. Remember that context the next time a random person leaves a mean comment on one of your posts.”
Myth #15: Chuck Norris was offered the role of John McClane in Die Hard but turned it down.
“What type of movie is Die Hard? A Christmas movie. If Chuck Norris were John McClane, what type of movie would it be? A bad movie.”
Myth #16: Coronavirus is caused by 5G towers.
“Actually, 5G towers cause chlamydia.”
Myth #17: Kendrick Lamar’s new album is dropping soon.
“Oh damn, really? We need to end this article right now. The bops await.”