17 Training Myths, Addressed by a Running Coach

(Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

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.”

(Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

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.”

(Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

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.”

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