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How NOT To Run

"Shouldn't you be gone by now?"

I sprung from bed like a medicine ball off a trampoline. My wife gave me a look that was half-concerned, half-amused, in a "you're clearly an idiot" sort of way. It was the morning of my big race -a half-marathon, the longest event I was to run this year--and there was a problem. Actually, several problems.

In fact, my race this past weekend was a case study in how NOT to run. I'd planned to run the Tour de Ashland half-marathon with a friend as part of the "40 Days of Fitness" Challenge from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve. But I hadn't planned on waking up at 7:20 a.m. for a race that started at 9 a.m. -and still sat 90 minutes away from my house.

But that's only the first example of many flagrant running fouls I committed on Saturday. Here are the others - along with tips to help you do better (i.e. to not be like me) the next time you lace up for a race.

MISTAKE #1: Not Training - I used to take running pretty seriously. To be honest, I scheduled my life around it. For most of the past six years, my calendar was plotted out according to the races I'd take on. This year? Not so much. What used to be a 30+ mile-a-week regimen devolved first into a laissez-faire "run as much as you can, when you can" schedule, then finally into a "ok, well maybe I'll pick up the pace while walking the dogs today" free-for-all.

When I'd originally signed up to run the half-marathon in Ashland, I'd thought I'd break out of that rut by getting back to disciplined, higher mileage weeks. But "life got in the way" (I'll spare you the excuses). By the time race morning arrived, I'd covered only a handful of miles in the previous week.

THE FIX: Develop a Training Plan that Fits Your Life - In fitness, like at the dinner table, our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs, only our "eyes" are our goals and our "stomachs" are the time and resources available to chase them. In my case, I should have realized that the long hours spent logging miles "like I used to" wasn't going to happen and opted for something more efficient.

For example: The FIRST plan by researchers Bill Pierce and Scott Murr, which has been shown to get people to run half-marathons on just 3 days of running per week. Whatever we aim to take on, we need to be realistic about the amount of exercise we can take on in our daily lives.

MISTAKE #2: Pizza - Don't get me wrong, with ingredients that deliver carbs, protein and calcium, pizza can be a runner's friend -during training. But you want to know when you should NOT dig in to a pie? When the starting gun is 75 minutes away and you're frantically driving a car down rural Ohio backroads.

In my mad dash out the door after waking up and realizing just how late I was, I did not have a chance to make my usual pre-run breakfast of peanut butter and bananas on toast. Instead, I grabbed the first thing I could find on the way out the door -a Tupperware full of cold pizza from the night before. The result? Well, I didn't hurl, but my stomach felt like a passenger on the S.S. Minnow for the first five miles of the race.

THE FIX: Develop a Routine and Stick to It

Runners who know what they're talking about will tell you: Never try anything new on race weekend, especially if it's something you chew. You should use the weeks leading up to try different food combinations before, during and after running to see how your body reacts. When something works, you'll feel good. When it doesn't...well, you'll know it. Once you find what's right for you, go with that. And when race morning comes, plan ahead and make sure that the foods you want are available to you.

MISTAKE #3: Freezing

I'd only grabbed what I'd need to run as I fled the house that morning, so I hadn't been thinking about what might happen after the run. Which was stupid. Because after all, what happens when you exercise? You sweat. What happens when you sweat? Duh, you get wet. What happens when you're wet with sweat in Ohio in December, and stop moving? You get cold. Real cold.

So not long after crossing the finish line, a shiver started to set in. That shiver became a shake. And that shake became an irresistible HOLY CRAP LET'S GET OUT OF HERE NOW impulse to flee immediately. So instead of a proper warm-down or post-run stretches, I hopped back into my car, cranked the heat all the way up and drove off.

THE FIX: Plan Ahead

Whether your goal is to run a race, or just to get in an early workout, you can seriously increase your chances of success by preparing the night before. Lay out the clothes you'll need, along with anything else that might come in handy - food, equipment, or in my case, something warm to wear afterwards. Being prepared allows you to rest better, knowing that everything is in place for you the next day.

It also pre-commits you in a way. After all, what's a more embarrassing reminder of how you snooze-alarmed your way out of something than a neatly stacked pile of gym clothes waiting by your door?

Anyway, this isn't to say that the whole day was a wash. I did run, and I did finish the race -albeit slowly. If I did anything right during the event, it was this: I listened to my body. I didn't get hung up on faster times I used to run. I ran as best as I could within the way I felt that day. When I felt good, I pushed a bit. When it felt like too much, I backed off. But I let my body, rather than my ego, be the driver.

The author (left), pictured with his (far better-prepared) friend Damion, who also ran the race.

And along the way, I ran into an interesting character -somebody who inspired me. Around mile 4 of the race, a bigger guy in loud clothing -including a bright neon shirt and tall red socks--passed me on the right side.

"Hey!" He introduced himself. "I'm Doad Edwards. Nice to meet you."

The outgoing Mr. Edwards had wavy hair that made him look like a larger Bill Rogers. I kept stride with him for a few miles, and heard lots of stories -about how he'd grown up in the area where we were running, about how he was a golf pro, about how he'd just started running a few years ago. That last part seemed unbelievable, because he was running so well. But that wasn't nearly as incredible as what I learned next.

"I'm 62 years old," Edwards said.

So waitaminute, I thought to myself. I'm in my early 30s, and I'm sucking wind to keep pace with a guy who's 62?

That sucks.

No, wait.

That's freakin' awesome!

It's not awesome because I was ill=prepared, out of shape and running on coagulating pizza. It's awesome because this guy looks like he's in his early 40s in his early 60s, and is crushing guys half his age while he's at it. After a few miles he pulled away, and I realized that I'd just seen something inspiring. I'd seen what I want to be like three decades from now.

Time to work a little harder.

Anyway, so we're approaching the halfway point of the "40 Days Of Fitness" campaign. Are you still with me? I know a lot of my tweeps out there have been kicking serious butt. You can see for yourself at the #40DaysOfFitness Twitter hashtag. Give yourself a shout out for your own workout while you're there. And if you have a question about your own training, send it my way @BrianDSabin. I'll see if I can get it answered by one of our experts.

Keep it up out there, folks. Let's see this race through to the finish.

Brian D. Sabin is a writer and editor for Follow him on Twitter and Google+

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