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  • Don’t Make DNF a Four-Letter Word

    by Jean Knaack | 02/13/2017
    By: Amanda Loudin

    bigstock-Muscle-injury--Man-running-cl-74257552Like many runners, Washington, DC-based health policies analyst Dylan Landers-Nelson, 30, uses the sport as a stress reliever, so when he was sidelined with injuries and health issues for a good chunk of 2015, he struggled. When he was finally cleared to run again, taking on his first race in ages was high on his priority list. He signed up for and started the local Parks 10k with friends.

    It wasn’t very long into the race that Landers-Nelson started feeling pain in his abdominals, something that had been lingering for a few weeks. “My right side felt, not just uncomfortable, but painful,” he says. “I slowed down, thinking that I could just finish the race, but slower running wasn’t even helping.”

    After careful consideration, Landers-Nelson decided that the sharp pain he was experiencing meant that dropping out—or DNFing (did not finish)—was the smart course of action. He hoofed it back to the start line and waited for his friends.

    A subsequent doctor’s visit showed a severe abdominal strain, which told Dylan-Landers he made the right move. The DNF, however, still stung a bit emotionally. “I felt bad about stopping, but not awful,” he admits. “In the end, I was back up and running within a couple of months, so I know it was the right move. For a big goal race, however, I know it would be tougher to make that call.

    Indeed, Landers-Nelson is in good company: most runners struggle mightily with the idea of a DNF. “Most runners are type-A personalities, goal driven, and have a finish-what-we-start mentality. That in and of itself makes the thought of ‘quitting’ a hard one to swallow,” says Cecilia Murach, an RRCA coach based in Maryland. “In addition, we have usually been training hard and preparing over a long period of time for a particular event, so the negative connotations are compounded.  I think it can be extremely hard to recover psychologically from a DNF, even in case of injury or illness.”

    Too often, this negative connotation is more than what a runner can handle, and he or she ends up sticking it out in the race, to his or her detriment. That’s what happened to one of Landers-Nelson’s friends who remained in that same race, in spite of potential injury. “She powered through a lingering foot injury to finish, but this contributed to a spiral of injuries for her that she still hasn't recovered from 13 months later,” he says. “DNFing wasn’t a happy decision for me, but it was certainly the correct one.”

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    Like Landers-Nelson, 37-year old Lisa Ballew of Melrose, Mass., took a DNF this year, although her reasons were much different. She was part of around 3,600 runners who lined up to run the race Memorial Day 2016 and found they were staring down 90-degree temperatures. “It was a disaster,” she says. “It’s a regional race and no one was prepared for that heat.”

    Ballew tried to carry on in spite of the temperatures, but upon seeing her family at mile 15, made the tough call to drop out. Race organizers eventually stopped the race at the 3:30 mark, but the DNF still haunts Ballew. “I am told that police were asking people to stop and walk, and telling them they continued at their own risk, because aid stations would not be supported,” she says. “So I guess I made the right decision. Even though I know that, I still beat myself up all the time.”

    The coaches’ perspective

    RRCA- and LTF-certified run coach Mary-Katherine Fleming understands that athletes have a difficult time pulling the trigger and taking a DNF. However, she is a big believer that there are plenty of situations where runners should take that step and never look back, in particular, when gunning for a marathon PR. “I coach my clients to set up DNF parameters before they even begin their races,” she explains. “If a PR is what you are after, you must embrace the possibility of a DNF.”

    Murach takes a different approach, believing that every runner should set an A, B and C goal for race day so that they can walk away satisfied, provided they are healthy. “For a runner who is just not having a good day, the psychological impact of not finishing the marathon would be far greater than any benefit gained from stopping,” she says. “So I would strongly advise adjusting the goal, still finishing the race knowing that it was the best outcome for that runner on that particular day, and try again at another event.”

    In Fleming’s case, if a client has trained long and hard for a big effort and knows the goal time is within the runner, she’d rather see the runner bag it if something is amiss on race day. “Why not wait for another day?” she asks. “There are so many races out there to fall back on. If you push through and end up far off your goal time or hurt, what was the point?”

    That doesn’t mean that the decision is ever easy for her runners, says Fleming. “I had a client who was far off goal time and his set parameters at mile 10,” she says. “I wanted to see him drop out because it was next to impossible that he would be able to PR at that point. Instead, he stuck it out and was crushed with his finishing time.”

    Fleming says that too often, ego gets in the way of a smart race plan and then there is no room for recovery. “A DNF shouldn’t be considered quitting,” she says. “What does staying out there prove?”

    Murach gets uneasy when runners refuse to quit in the face of potential injury or other harm to the body. “Runners should seriously consider not finishing an event when they realize their health would be compromised by continuing to run,” she says.

    When an injury is potentially on the line, Murach wants runners to remember the pay off to a DNF. “Sometimes ‘pushing through’ pain is not advisable, and can cause more damage to the muscles, tissues, and bones, leading to a more severe injury than would have happened otherwise,” she says. “In my book, stopping when the signs of an injury are clear is always the most advisable.”

    In other words, live to run another day, or another PR. “The problem is that most runners lack perspective,” Fleming says. “I recommend that all runners volunteer at a race before I train them so that they can see that runners who DNF are not sissies.”

    Ballew recognizes this, but also admits that had the Vermont City course not been clover shaped—thus allowing for an easy quitting point when she spotted her family at mile 15 near the start/finish—she might have gone on, in spite of the heat. “Everything might have been different had it been point-to-point,” she says.

    As for Fleming, she’d like to see the attitude about DNFing radically change. “We need to break down our perspectives and expectations about it,” she says. “At the end of the day, the only thing you should care about is your race plan, not your ego.”

  • 2017 Spring Shoe Review

    by Jean Knaack | 02/10/2017

    Welcome to our first Shoe Review for 2017!

    Even after all these years, the smell of running shoes straight from the box is still exciting for me. My first pair of real running shoes was Onitsuka Tiger Cortez. I purchased them—well, my mom, Marilu purchased them—for $36. She waited a few days to tell my dear father, as we had never spent more than $5 on a pair of running shoes in my first few years of running.

    My white Kmart tennis shoes would be nearly pink from the blood blisters I would develop getting them “broken in.” Hard to believe, but in that era blisters were a rite of passage.

    In today’s performance running world, our RN footwear guru, Cregg Weinmann, assures me that shoes are much better now than then. And I concur.

    The key is to find the right pair of shoes for you. Don’t be swayed by social media hype or some blogger who’s paid to write about the shoes. At the Running Network, we review product from more than 40 brands, and about a dozen support our efforts through advertising in our various media platforms. If you see a shoe recommended here, rest assured that Cregg and his tireless wear testers have tried the shoe and taken it through at least 100 miles. All shoes submitted for our testing get the same treatment, whether or not the companies advertise with us. It’s a point of pride that we keep those two undertakings separate from one another.

    We’re in the process of putting all our content online: on social media and on mobile media as well. We appreciate your patience and support as we work our way through this process. And as always, a special thanks to our fearless team of Kristen Cerer (designer), Marg Sumner (proofreader), Cregg Weinmann (reviewer), and Christine Johnson (project coordinator and editor)—the team that has worked together on our Reviews for more than 15 years.

    Remember to purchase your running gear from a real live running store. Thanks for your support!
    Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 4.55.35 PM

    Download the 2017 Spring Shoe Review >>

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    Download the 2017 Spring Shoe Review >>

  • Running Through the Parenting Years

    by Jean Knaack | 07/09/2016

    By Amanda Loudin

    Before becoming a parent, most runners have a good amount of freedom for training. Yes, there are job, family, and social obligations, but for the most part, carving out time for their favorite hobby is something most runners can pull off pre-kids. In that state of ignorant bliss, these same runners assume that adding a child to the picture won’t change much—the baby will adapt to the schedule, and the runs will continue uninterrupted.

    As most running parents will tell you, that’s a lovely fantasy. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and runners who want to continue training will make it happen. Parenting at any stage makes finding time for running a challenge, but these parents make it work.

    In the Beginning

    Washington, DC–based attorney Ariel Rayman, 39, is getting his first taste of life as a running parent. His baby boy was born last November, and Rayman and his wife have slowly been adjusting to running with kids.

    Prior to becoming a father, Rayman ran several times each week, even completing the 2014 New York City Marathon. For now, however, those long-distance days are on hold. “The schedule has really changed,” he says.

    Rayman and his wife—a shorter-distance runner, who also likes yoga and barre classes—both want time for their workout routines. This has meant forming a loosely structured schedule each week. “We need to make sure we both get our exercise in, so we do a lot of switching on and off,” he explains. “I typically get in two or three short runs after work and then something longer on the weekends. She usually takes classes on Mondays and Fri- days, so I’ll watch the baby then.”

    Where Rayman used to put in 20-plus miles each week, he now averages somewhere around 15. But, he says, he’s become more efficient. “I make sure that the miles I run are quality miles,” he explains. “I haven’t seen much of a drop in my race times, so I guess it’s working.

    At some time in the future, Rayman would like to get back to longer mileage but for now, he’s happy where he is. “We still keep an active lifestyle, so I know I’m in decent shape,” he says.

    The Preschool Years

    Mother of two Carly Pizzani, 38, of Burlington, VT, also understands the quality-over-quantity formula. A per- sonal trainer with 4- and 1-year-old sons, Pizzani leans on a combination of good communication with her hus- band and “flying by the seat of my pants,” she says.

    At the center of her ability to run, however, has been a running stroller. “It’s a lifesaver for me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to get in the runs I need without it.”

    Pizzani just finished a training cycle for the Ver- mont City Marathon and used the stroller when her el- dest was in preschool, timing her runs to her baby’s naps. For the most part, long runs happen on weekends. “This training cycle has definitely been challenging,” she ad- mits. “It’s hard because I haven’t been able to run as much as I would like.”

    Her solution, like Rayman’s, has been to eliminate “junk” miles. “If I have the time to run, I make sure that run has a purpose,” she says. “I have to make the most of it.”

    Pizzani admits she looks forward to a time when the schedule eases up and running becomes easier to fit in. “Sometimes it’s a miracle I get the run in,” she says. “It will be nice when I have enough time for more relaxing, unstructured running.”

    The Veterans

    Fifty-three-year-old Marcia Kadens, mother to 10- and 14-year-old girls, has been running since before her kids were born, so she’s experienced just about every stage of

    parenting as a runner. The Long Grove, IL– based mom says dark o’thirty was her running time of choice when her girls were very young. “I’d get out at 5 a.m. every morning,” she says. “It was my ‘me’ time. I think it’s easy to lose yourself when kids are young, and running helped me avoid that.”

    Today, the time challenges come in the form of an on-the-go family. “With one in high school and one in elementary, I’ve lost my ear- ly-morning time slot,” says the stay-at-home mom and popular blogger. “To make it work, I try to run as soon as my youngest is out the door.”

    This does have it downsides, she says. “Obviously, it’s warmer at that hour than in the pre-dawn hours. Plus, traffic is heavier.”

    Evenings, once an option with young chil- dren, are off-limits to Kadens now, as activities require plenty of time shuttling kids here and there. Still, she makes it work, and her passion for the sport has influenced her girls, both of whom have become runners in their own right.

    Bob Gaylord, 67, is a long-term ultra runner, with a grown daughter and one still at home. “Back when my oldest daughter was born, we had no running strollers,” he says, “so I depended on my wife to watch her while I ran.”

    Today he runs with his youngest. “I get my long runs in on the weekends and that’s my wife’s time with our daughter,” he says. “Week- days, I’m out first thing and in the office by 7:30.”

    Lately, Gaylord has switched his normal long-run day from Saturday to Sunday in or- der to coach his daughter’s basketball team. He strongly believes that any parent who wants to run can make it happen. “It’s all a matter of time management,” he says. “Parenting is just another issue to include in your plans.”

    All these parent–runners agree that fitting the two in can be challenging, but none would trade it. “Regardless of the schedule change and the limited ability to run,” says Rayman, “it’s certainly all worth it.”

    Make the Going Easier

    Whether you are planning a race with kids in tow or just trying to get your daily mileage in, our cheat sheet can make the going easier for everyone involved:

    • Coordinate your training schedule and racing plans with your spouse/partner
    • Be flexible about the time of day you run:Take your schedule, your partner’s schedule and your children’s schedules into account. These scheduling challenges may ebb and flow as your children get older.
    • Consider breaking it up: If you are tight on time to fit in one long session, consider splitting your runs into two sessions to help build mileage.
    • Take advantage of your children’s activities: This can be a great chance to use downtime for training.
    • Find opportunities to engage your child in running: Whether in a baby jogger when they are young or including them in training for an upcoming 5k as they get older
    • Bring your family to your races: Watching mom or dad finish a race can be an inspiring experience for children. Many races also incorporate short children’s races as well which is a good opportunity to get the kids in on the act.
    • Consider getting up early/staying up late: These can be the easiest hours to run when you are part of a family life jam-packed with activities.

    Amanda Loudin’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Runner's World, Baltimore Magazine, the Daily Burn, Weight Watchers magazine and many others. She has tackled 15 marathons, an Ironman triathlon, and hundreds of other races over the years.

  • Why Aren't Men Keeping Pace with Women in Event Participation?

    by Jean Knaack | 05/26/2016

    By Heather Johnson

    A little more than 40 years ago, the prestigious Boston Marathon barred women from running. A little more than 30 years ago, women couldn’t compete in the Olympics in any distance longer than 1500 meters.

    To paraphrase those women’s lib–oriented Virginia Slims ads, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

    For the past two years, women comprised 57% of running event finishers. The margin hasn’t been this wide since 2000, when men eclipsed women at 58%.1

    “In a way, we may have won the battle,” says University of South Carolina exercise science professor Dr. Russ Pate, who also chairs the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. “[The] sport clearly set off to make itself more attractive to women, and we succeeded.”

    To be fair, men still have a large presence. With the exception of 2014, when numbers dipped slightly, the number of male participants has increased each year. But women participate more.

    With nearly 20 million Americans showing up for road races, our sport is thriving. The not-for-profit organization Outdoor Foundation reported running as the most popular activity for outdoor recreation in 2012.2

    However, if participation trends continue to rise disproportionately, we’ll face an ironic turn of the table. It’s time to refocus, as a robust running community depends on equal participation. And at a time when nearly 70% of adult Americans are either overweight or obese,3 it’s critical that more people, regardless of gender, participate in physical activity.

    Title IX: The Game-Changer
    To consider how to balance the ratio (keep in mind that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women comprise about 51% of the population4), we must look at the first and second running booms.

    Ryan Lamppa, researcher, media consultant, and Bring Back the Mile founder, cites Title IX, the legislation passed in 1972 that prohibited sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity, as the linchpin for women’s running.

    “Title IX allowed women and girls to participate in sports at the high school and collegiate level,” says Lamppa. “It made it okay for women to sweat. Without Title IX we would not have these record participation numbers for women nor the number of running events in this country.”

    Title IX made it okay for women to sweat, but not many of them did. During the 1970s running boom, women comprised less than 20% of finishers. In 1990, that figure had only climbed to 25%. 1 But Title IX did create a ripple effect that continued into the second running boom, which exploded in the mid-1990s.

    Move Over Bill Rodgers, Here Comes Oprah Large training programs such as Team in Training (founded in 1988), national events such as Race for the Cure (1983) and the Rock ’n’ Roll Series (1998), and the Internet, which made training plans more accessible, have ushered in a wave of new runners, both male and female. But it was media superstar Oprah Winfrey’s 1994 Marine Corps Marathon that really inspired women to head out the door. In early 1995, Runner’s World put her on the cover with the headline, “Oprah Did It, So Can You.” Many women took that to heart.

    “Oprah helped break down the stereotype that running isn’t for big-boned people,” says Lamppa. “Oprah will never have an ectomorphic body, but she’s a runner, too. So she debunked that excuse, and thank you, Oprah, because that mindset change was very important, as it showed and inspired millions of people, men and women, that we all are runners regardless of body type.”

    This new crop of “I can do it too” runners tended to focus on participation, camaraderie, and completion rather than fierce competition. Events catered to women’s needs with fun, family-friendly environments, music, and a festive finish line atmosphere. Women, generally social crea- tures who want to round up friends or family for a lively weekend outing, took to these events like bees to honey.

    “Events [that] centered more on health and fitness, community, and fundraising got more women involved,” says Lamppa. “They told their friends, and participation truly snowballed. Later, sharing on social media got even more women into sports.”

    To further encourage women’s participation, companies and organizations launched women’s-only events, leading to skyrocketing numbers. The Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco (to be in 20 cities worldwide in 2015) attracted more than 25,000 runners last year. Disney’s Princess and Tinker Bell Half Marathons welcomed about 24,000 and 16,000 runners, respectively.

    Gary Westlund, a fitness instructor, coach, and race director for the Charities Challenge Series in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, sees women’s races as a positive force in that area. “These events have helped women recognize that they have an equal place on the starting line, on the podium, and in recognition. If it took women’s-only races, running clubs, and programs to get to that point, it’s working.”

    Shifting the Balance

    Large-scale women’s events have done wonders for participation numbers, but they only cater to one gender. Directors of coed events must remember that men, despite that cool exterior, need encouragement, acknowledgment, and peer support too.

    “The most important thing that we can provide at our events is hospitality,” says Westlund. “Men and women both want to be recognized. If we bring that Cheers TV show atmosphere to our running events, we’ll see

    more men come and come back, because somebody knows their name.” Race directors should consider ways to tap into uniquely male characteristics, such as competitiveness, which running events natu- rally lend themselves to. The Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an event that combines a road race with muscle-burning obstacles, welcomed nearly 2,000 participants to its San Francisco event last year, about 70% of them male.

    Samantha Gattsek, a coach for Gotham City Runners in New York City, suggests holding events that weave in other sports and interests, such as races tied to local football or baseball teams. “In the winter New York Road Runners held a football-throwing contest after a local race,” she says. “That could have a big appeal.” That race, the Gridiron 4M, saw 5,051 participants this year, 2,577 of them men. The balance of male-to- female remained a pretty even split, even with the football toss.

    Pate says that fundamental marketing principles don’t vary by gender, but it could be time to conduct male participation-related focus groups. “Race organizers can ask themselves the same questions for men and women: What’s going to make this event more enjoyable, more memorable, and bring them back next year?” Pate also sees the benefits in tying properly led group training runs to a race for added support.

    While men plot their next move, women can help them get off the fence. “Particularly in families where the husband may have spent the past 20-some years involved in his career, having the wife or children encourage Dad to do that first mile or 5K goes a long way,” says Lamppa. “With the cost of health insurance and health care, more men take their health and fitness more seriously now than [they did] 5 or 10 years ago. Women can help reinforce that awareness, because they are well ahead of men on health and fitness and seeing the doctor.”

    A study from the Commonwealth Fund showed that many men, more so than women, fail to get routine checkups and preventative care and often ignore symptoms of illness.5 Men also show higher rates of obesity and higher incidents of heart disease6—conditions helped by exercise.

    “One thing’s for sure: Regular running exerts an enormous positive effect on health. That’s true in women and men, young and old,” says Pate. “We also know that selling health effects of physical activity in general is not enough. The most powerful influences are more proximal than that. Whether people continue to exercise regularly depends on whether it’s accessible, whether they enjoy it, whether they are successful in the activity, and whether they have sufficient guidance to minimize injuries and maximize improvements in fitness.”

    Start Young for Long-Term Success

    The running community can provide the proximal benefits Pate mentions for adults as well as kids. Many active adults started as active kids; however, the number of youth aged 6–12 who participate in track & field declined by 13.7% from 2008 to 2013. Only 26.9% of youth participated in any activity three times a week.7 This means we must continue to expand and encourage gender-neutral youth programs such as RRCA’s Kids Run the Nation.

    “It’s important to introduce kids to physical activity in a way that doesn’t create a lot of pressure and stress,” says Pate. “We need to start by giving them positive experiences with activity and hope that it sticks.”

    “Sports should provide young people with enjoyment, confidence, and ways to use a variety of motor skills,” says Dr. Jackie Epping, health scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She notes that a main reason young people drop out of sports is because it’s no longer fun.

    If we can encourage more people to walk and/or run and support men and women, boys and girls in their efforts, we will have made great improvements in our population’s health while creating a more gender-balanced running community.

    “When it comes down to it, most men just want to know how to be a better man,” says Westlund. “They want to know, ‘How can I do what I have to do for my family, my business, and for myself and always have the courage to keep going?’ That’s what we learn in road racing.”

    Heather Johnson is a writer based in Oakland, CA and a member of Pamakid Runners, a club formed in 1971 for men, women, and kids.


    1 Running USA 2013 National Runner Survey.
    2 Outdoor Foundation, Outdoor Participation Report 2013.
    3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Table 64. Healthy weight, overweight, and obesity among adults aged 20 and over, by selected characteristics: United States, selected years 1988–1994 through 2009–2012.
    4 United States Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Selected Age Groups by Sex for the United States, States, Counties, and Puerto Rico Commonwealth and Municipios: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014.
    5 Sandman, D. R., Simantov, E., & An, C. (2000). Out of Touch: American Men and the Health Care System: Commonwealth Fund Men’s and Women’s Health Survey Findings. Commonwealth Fund.
    6 Blackwell, D. L., Lucas, J. W., Clarke, T. C. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.
    7 Sports & Fitness Industry Association data provided to the Aspen Institute,
    based on 2013 stati

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