A Few Rules To Run By

Running is simple.

You don't need a room full of pricey equipment or to phone in advance for a tee time. Running doesn't even require much skill — nothing could be easier. Naturally, there are tons of rules. Not for the act of running itself, but about the code, largely unspoken, that governs behavior and informs decisions in situations that every runner encounters sooner or later: Did that driver really just cut me off, and am I within my rights to flip him the bird? What do I tell a marathoner lurching along at mile 20 like a zombie in search of brains? Here are some answers to such quandaries. None of these are rules in the USA Track & Field Competition Rules Book, because you won't find rules there on passing gas during a group run. Instead, these are guidelines to make running a little bit happier, healthier, and more fun for everyone. Because the first rule of running is just that: Have fun.

Have Fun

No other fact is so fundamental to running: Done properly, running is fun. Even when you do it improperly, running is still inherently, liberatingly fun. If you doubt this, just spend a few minutes watching a child or a dog in any wide open space. Their glee is instinctual and undeniable. I believe it was Aristotle who said, "Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run." Enjoy it. After all, there aren't many animal impulses that we can act on in public without getting arrested.

Expand Your Sense of Fun

As a runner, your definition of fun — which might once have included water parks, screwball comedies on DVD, and scrapbooking — must be, well, let's just say broadened and might include:
  • Waking up at 5:30 a.m. to run 10 miles
  • Running in blistering heat
  • Running in the rain
  • Running in 400-meter circles
  • Feeling as if your lungs are about to explode
  • Paying good money for the privilege of turning your toenails black
  • Any combination of the above
  • Running can hurt. One writer gets to the bottom of why she runs

Black Toenails Are Badges of Honor

Run long enough and you'll wind up ruining a toenail or two. Whether it's because your shoes are too big or too small or because you've run a race with punishing downhills or the toenail gods happen to be in a foul mood, someday you will peel off your socks and see black where once there was pink. Congratulations! These bruised nails are tiny trophies conferred upon you for toughing it out. Just don't flash them in public.

Run Like a Dog

My dog, a shepherd mix named Cooper, doesn't care where we are or what time of day it is, or even what the weather is like. He doesn't know what his resting heart rate is and rarely bothers to wear a watch. He just loves to run. And every time he does, his face and his body telegraph one simple message: This. Is. AWESOME. I'm runningrunningrunningrunning!

The "Run Like a Dog" Workout (Including Warmup and Cooldown) Walk 8 seconds. Trot 4 seconds. Stop. Sniff. Sprint 7 seconds. Freeze. Walk 5 seconds in any direction but forward. Stare 9 seconds. Lunge at rabbit. Double back, walk 3 seconds. Urinate. Repeat six times. Collapse on rug.

Let Angry Motorists Go

I understand the impulse when a driver has just pulled out in front of you or turned directly in your path or otherwise behaved like a jerk. I know how much you'd love to slap the trunk of that driver's car, or shout at the person behind the wheel, helpfully suggesting that he or she "learn to drive." Or extend a certain digit in a certain direction. Do yourself — and all runners — a favor and fight that impulse. Smile. Your lashing out isn't likely to change the driver's behavior, and may, in fact, worsen it. For all you know, the still-seething guy may drive extra close to the next runner he sees, just to make a point. Let him go.

Learn how to protect yourself when running on the road.

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