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Notes from the middle of the pack: December 2020

Ask Dr. Jim

By Jim Nicosia

There is a running magazine out there that we all know and love (okay, maybe we don’t always love it). It is the kind of magazine that new runners, excited to discover as much information about running shoes, race planning, fueling, avoiding injuries and how to tell a running partner he’s running too fast for you, devour—for the first year or two of their running “career.” After that, its usefulness is mostly limited to running-interest stories (if you’re a devout fan of the sport) and the quarterly shoe reviews.

Last year, the magazine began including a Q-and-A section to address common issues in the running community. At first, as a lifelong learner who can never get enough information, I was excited about this new section. At last, someone who has done reliable research for the rest of us so we can discover the insider story about our sport.

Month after month, however, it became clear what this section really was about: filling two pages with bare-bones information and/or answers the corporate running world would like us to believe are true. Woe to us, runners! If the biggest running publisher isn’t interested in doing the dirty work to share true insight, who out there will be the advocate for us earnest runners?

Well, me, I guess.

Now, I don’t profess to being a running expert. I do read a lot, however, and ask a lot of questions of my running friends, chiropractor/running coach, nutritionists and the like. I also know how to research, and nothing can stop me when I am in search of The Truth. And what became clear to me with The Running Magazineis: their answers are, at best, tiny nibbles at The Truth. At worst, it’s marketing hogwash that the corporate running world wants us to believe.

So, without further adieu (because I’ve given you enough adieu already), I would like to augment, improve and/or correct the questions this month’s issue of The Running Magazinefor all of us:

Question 1: Why do running shoe companies change their shoes every year?

Their answer: To continually improve our running experience.

What they should have said, #1: Running shoe companies are in the business of making money. Except in very rare cases where a particular shoe exceeds their wildest expectations, sales of each new shoe spike a few weeks/months after it is released, level off and then bottom out. When they release ZoomyXSpeed v.11 the following year, it spikes, levels off, then bottoms out. Rinse, repeat.

What they should have said, #2: Most runners will stay loyal to a brand and, regardless of minor tweaks, many consumers will buy the new version simply because it’s new, because of new, complex technical terminology for “foam” or “rubber,” or because of the new color (yes, really). Most shoes work just fine for most runners, so there’s no need for companies to be loyal to the most serious runners who are looking for an extra five seconds here or there and have found the shoe that does just that.

Question 2: What’s better for breakfast, a donut or nothing at all?

Their Answer: A doughnut. What they should have said, #1: If the only thing you have to eat in your household is a doughnut, you might want to skip your race registration and buy a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread.

What they should have said, #2: In the Misinformation Age, we can’t honestly tell you to eat a doughnut instead of nothing. For that matter, we shouldn’t even spell it “doughnut,” because that makes it seem more nutritious than a “donut.” The next thing we know, people all over social media will be posting, “The Running Magazinesays it’s okay to eat doughnuts for breakfast #yaydoughnuts #runningnutrition” Oops, too late: it’s already happening.

Question 3: Which foam roller should I buy?

Their Answer:One of these three brands!

What they should have said, #1:One of these three brands, at least two of which have advertised with our magazine, so one hand washes the other.

What they should have said, #2:Whichever one you like best.

What they should have said, #3:You can freeze a water bottle and roll that over your tight muscles. Not only will it gently stretch out the muscle, it will keep the muscle from overheating as you stretch it, save you money, and, when you’re done, you’ll have a bottle of ice cold water to drink (which isn’t good for you, by the way, because excessively cold liquids tax our digestive system by forcing our bodies to warm it up internally).

Question 4: Why does my GPS say I ran more than 13.1 miles during a half-marathon?

Their Answer: GPS systems are inaccurate.

What they should have said: GPS systems are surprisingly accurate. Races, however, are measured at tangents, meaning that, to be certified by the USATF, the minimuma half-marathon can be—if run efficiently, cutting every legal corner on every street—is 13.1 miles. If, like most runners, you follow the left, right or center of a course, you are choosing to run longer than the measured distance. Run a straight line from each inside corner of one block to the inside corner of the next turn, and you’ll run very close to that 13.1 mark. That being said, some races, especially those not USATF-certified, measure inaccurately.

Question 5: How much will a training shoe slow me down compared to buying racing flats?

Their answer: A lot.

What they should have said, #1: It depends. Only buy and use shoes that you are accustomed to wearing. The most efficient, experienced (and lightweight) runners benefit the most from minimalist shoes. If you weigh as much as an average human (that is, more than the average runner), minimalist shoes will not work very well for you.

What they should have said, #2: We’re The Running Magazine. We make money by selling ads to companies who want to sell things to you. Of course we’re going to tell you to buy more running things.

Question 6: Which running sunglasses are the best?

Their answer: Here are the seven coolest brands, six of which cost more than $130 and most of which advertise with our magazine.

What they should have said: Those orange glasses that the ING company used to give away for free at race expositions.

Question 7: Is it good to have a beer after a race?

Their answer: If you like beer and want to reward yourself, yes.

What they should have said: Sure, it will wash down the doughnut, and you can tell yourself that carbs are good for you for the excuse.

*n.b. Dr. Jim Nicosia is a doctor, but not a medical doctor (you know, like Jill Biden!), and his answers do not represent the opinions of the medical community. All information is for educational and entertainment purposes only and should not be taken any more seriously than the information contained in, say, The Running Magazine. Please see your doctor for serious questions you have about health, nutrition and running. But if your doctor immediate tries to sell you something (especially pills), find a new doctor.

**n.b. In the time between when I originally wrote this essay and now, The Running Magazine has since abandoned its Q-and-A column, probably because intelligent readers realized their answers were anything but honest.

You know you’re a middle-of-the-pack runner if:

• You ran a virtual race by yourself, and still didn't win.

• You actually paid to run a virtual race.

• You don't know what a carbon plate is.

• You have a general idea what a carbon plate is, and you buy a $200 running shoe because you think that carbon plate might buy you 3 seconds in your next virtual 5k.

• People yell, "Run, Forrest, run!" out their car window to you, and you want to beat the crap out of them. (Okay, so maybe you don't have to be a middle-of-the-pack runner to feel that way.

• You love running in the snow, because your race times actually get closer to the winners' times.

• You understand that, even if you're male, there's nothing wrong with a woman finishing ahead of you in a race (especially if it's Betty, who is lightning fast!).

• You are tired of winning medals just for finishing, because it now seems insulting.

• You still haven't won one of those Fitzgerald drinking glasses, even though you've PRed four times at that race.


Jim Nicosia is a teacher, author and children’s literacy advocate. He has participated in races from 800 meters to the marathon, proudly finishing in the top half (but not in the top quarter) of most of those races. He earned his first victory in his age group in a race at the age of 50, and placed second in the USATF New Jersey Mini-2 championship, and first in the Mini-3 championship for 2019 (but only because he ran a lot of races).

His website is

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