I have seen a lot of idiosyncratic behavior from runners. We are, to be blunt, a weird bunch. In addition, we each have a unique way of approaching our beloved pastime.
The word “idiosyncrasy” refers to a behavior that is considered unique or peculiar to an individual. It could be the way you tie your shoes or eat your peas before your potatoes. It might be how you wear your hat when your favorite team is playing. Or, in the case of many runners, how we run and what we do to keep running.
I have seen a lot of idiosyncratic behavior from runners. We are, to be blunt, a weird bunch. In addition, we each have a unique way of approaching our beloved pastime. Be they superstitions, habits, good luck charms, or innate behaviors, the way we warm-up, cool-down, plan our races, don’t plan our races, cross train, stretch, eat, rest, etc., is truly unique to each of us.
The great running philosopher George Sheehan once said, “All of running is an experiment of One.” He simply meant that we each need to find our groove, that which works for us, and stick with it. This statement is the primary reason that I find it hard to train with others. I don’t want to disturb their groove and, more to the point, I don’t want them disturbing mine! I can count on one hand the number of people with whom I can run comfortably. Sorry, but you’re probably not on that list.
In my younger days, I used to race with a gentleman named Ben. He was about 15-20 years older than I but we were fairly close in ability. Ben’s unique habit was eating raw garlic before races. Stand next to Ben at the starting line of any summer race and you were instantly protected from the vampire apocalypse. My race strategy was to stay behind Ben for the first mile, then pass him. Why? Because he could clear out the competition better than anyone I knew.
Idiosyncrasies aren’t just for the running part. I know of people who do heated yoga, ocean swims, unicycle rides (okay, maybe I made up that one), and more and swear that is the reason they are able to do whatever it is they do. Race fast? Complete an ultramarathon? Break a 5-minute mile on the track? Why, it’s my own unique approach and you should try it!
I wanted to write about these behaviors with a point. Training on a unicycle might make one runner feel invincible and ready to tackle the challenge, or eating raw garlic might give Ben the mental and physical edge he seeks, but it won’t always work for you. Remember, it’s an experiment of One. Try these things at your own risk.
I am often asked about training strategies and patterns. I’m also often asked about “that extra edge” that I and others seem to have. And though I’d be happy to share with you that I do pool run four months a year, and I do yoga somewhat regularly, and I used to use a pogo stick when I was 15, I can’t say whether those strategies will work for you.
Running faster, longer, or stronger does have a risk, and to improve you need to be willing to do more. Of all the suggestions I can make about risking more and trying new things, the most important two would be to proceed with caution but definitely proceed, and to add only one new element at any given time. Like any good science experiment, change only one variable, wait a few weeks to see if it takes, then move on.
Making someone else’s behaviors your behaviors may or may not pan out for you. However, to get to the next place you want to go, change is often inevitable and necessary. I would suggest not eating peas while using a unicycle during a heated yoga class.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails…
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.