Opening the Mailbag

It’s been several months since our last mailbag column, so as you can imagine, our inbox has been bursting at the seams lately with all the e-mails we receive.

OK … that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But occasionally we do get running-related questions, and we enjoy providing answers whenever someone contacts us. Here are some questions we’ve received over the summer:

“I always see runners jogging in place on street corners while they wait for the lights to change. Is there any benefit to that?” Most people’s reactions to seeing someone bobbing up and down on a street corner dressed in running clothes is a mixture of mockery and pity. It may surprise you to hear that we completely agree.

Let’s face it, bouncing on a street corner looks pretty silly. It’s an open invitation for drivers to scoff at the “silly runner”. And there’s really no training benefit from hopping up and down in the middle of a run just to keep moving for a few extra seconds. So our advice is, just DON’T do it.

If you simply must keep moving, walk back and forth a bit, or stretch your legs until the light turns green. Then run as quickly as you can to a park, recreational trail, or anyplace else where you can run continuously and not worry about looking like a dancing clown.

“I’m 64, is it too late to start a running program?” It is never too late to start a walking or running program! We have had four runners in our Big Sur Marathon training program over the years, who started running when they were 70 or older, and they all finished the marathon. Don’t just take our word for it, though - because scientific evidence backs us up on this one.

Several studies have shown that anyone can reverse many of the negative effects of poor nutritional and fitness habits if they stick to a running program for 6 months and modify their diet. In other words, even if you are a lifetime couch potato, you can still lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, decrease your risk of getting cancer or heart disease, reduce your stress levels, improve your immune system, and gain other benefits from beginning an exercise program.

So stop slacking, and get out there, Grandma!

“Should I say hello or wave to other runners as they go by? We love questions about social etiquette while running. On this subject, the answer is somewhat determined by where you run and how many other runners you see.

Most people enjoy a smile and a hello. But if you’re running on the Rec Trail on a beautiful summer afternoon when there are hundreds of walkers, joggers, inline skaters, or moms with stroller-fitness groups sharing the trail, you’ll lose your voice trying to say hi to everybody.

In most situations, when runners are few and far between, it’s usually a nice gesture to wave and acknowledge other runners as they go by. Just by being out there running, you’re sharing a common experience, and probably have similar lifestyles.

There are two ways to approach the greeting:

When going in opposite directions: Go ahead and say hello or good morning or whatever greeting you are comfortable with. You can also do wordless acknowledgements like a smile or a slight nod, or any slight upward move of the hand and wrist that could be interpreted as a wave.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid high-fives – especially if the lady coming the other way is a 64-year-old woman starting a new running program. The last thing we want is to cause a rash of shoulder dislocations.

When going in the same direction: This is a situation of one runner (or group) passing another, so be careful not to say anything demeaning. A simple hi or good morning works well here, but you’ll probably have a few extra seconds to comment on the weather or ask about a logo on someone’s shirt.

Be aware, however, that some runners aren’t overly chatty – so if you make a couple of charming comments and don’t get a response, recognize that the other person prefers to run in silence. (Either that, or she’s just not into you – but that’s a whole separate column.)

Should I run every day or take a few days off a week? This one depends entirely on your goals as a runner and your reasons for running. Most competitive age-group runners train almost every day. For recreational runners we suggest you run 3 or 4 days per week for 30 minutes to an hour each time.

As a general rule, the more mileage you run, the faster you’ll become – but there is also a direct relationship between increased mileage and higher injury risk. So if you plan on increasing your running days and/or mileage, be very conservative and build up to the new threshold over a period of several months.

If you get “edgy” by having a day without running, you can always cross-train by cycling, swimming, hiking, or going to the gym for some strength work. Over a long period of time, you’ll develop greater overall fitness without increasing your injury risk.

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That’s all we have room for today – but feel free to contact us anytime with your questions!

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