Hello friends! It’s time for another Featured Runner Tuesday! This week I’m featuring a minimalist runner who has learned so much in his own running journey. Be sure to keep reading to learn about his bumpy road and how he’s grown from it.
Name: Paul McAllister
Location: Heathsville, VA
How and why did you start running?
When I got to college for the time, I found myself unable to resist the allure of having a limitless amount of food available to me, so I inevitably ended up gaining the “freshmen 15″ and then some. In 2007, my sophomore year, I knew I had to get things back on track, so I took up running as a way to drop the weight that I had gained. I improved quickly, much quicker than I should have allowed myself to, and I became seriously hooked on running.
Which race distances have you run and which one is your favorite? Why?
I’ve run everything from 5K to marathon, but I really went about racing in entirely the wrong way. When I first started running, I immediately set my sights on doing a marathon, and this proved disastrous as I repeatedly failed and dealt with chronic overuse injuries. I eventually got smarter though, and have since been gradually working my way back up the race distances in the more logical order.
Now that I have a good grasp on how training and racing should work, the 10K has definitely become my favorite distance. It’s the perfect mix of speed and endurance, and training to run one well doesn’t conflict with life’s other requirements as much as training for one of the longer distances.
You ran the Disney World Marathon as your first marathon. Tell us a little bit about why you chose it to be your first and about your journey. What did you learn from it?
I was young, foolish, and overly ambitious when I started running, and within only a few month of taking up the sport, I found myself wanting to do a marathon. I tried to train for the Rochester Marathon in the fall of 2008, but I ended up injured and dropping to the half. Then I tried to train for the Buffalo Marathon the following spring, and the same exact thing happened. At this point, I knew that it was time for drastic measures if I were ever going to actually run a marathon, so I figured if I spent more money I’d have more incentive to achieve my goal.
I signed up for the 2010 Walt Disney World Marathon with grand plans of making it an epic trip. I told myself that I was going to commit to the training and get through it injury-free at all costs, and almost immediately I fell right back into the same patterns. Nevertheless, despite the fact that my longest training run had been just 10 miles or the fact that I couldn’t go more than 3 miles without experience some kind of pain, I lined up at the start, utterly and completely unprepared. As if all this weren’t enough, Florida was experiencing an unusual, record-breaking cold snap; it was literally 26ºF at the start of the race and I hadn’t even packed long pants with me. I battled it out though, made it to mile 18, and from that point on I was forced to alternate between running, walking, and shuffling until I finally gritted my teeth and hobbled across the finish line in a time of 5 hours and 8 minutes.
The race left my IT bands completely wrecked, a recurring injury that would end up sticking with me for years. As I limped around the parks for the next week, I was proud of my accomplishment, but deep down I knew that the whole thing had been a mistake. Looking back on things, I know that I was guilty of doing too much too soon and being a slave to my training plans. I’m only just now starting to be able to run the distances that I’d like to again, and it’s all because I finally came to understand the importance of taking it slow and listening to my body.
Have you dealt with any injuries or health issues in your running journey? What were they and what did you do to overcome them?
I’ve dealt with everything from plantar fasciitis to hip bursitis, but it was always IT band syndrome that would incessantly come back time after time. No matter what the injury was though, it was always caused by me attempting to do too much, too soon. I was finally able to overcome these issues when I basically started my running over from scratch and switched to minimalist running.
Last year you transitioned to minimalist running. Tell us about why you chose to and how your journey has been.
Even after creating all of those terrible injuries for myself in my attempts to rapidly become a distance runner, I still desperately wanted to run. When I finally recovered from the Walt Disney World Marathon, I still found myself unable to go more than a handful of miles without my IT bands acting up. I tried everything to combat the problem. I incorporated foam rolling, and stretching, and strength-training, and everything else you hear recommended into my routine, but nothing seemed to completely absolve the problem. I was skeptical of minimalist running, but it was the last thing I hadn’t tried and I really didn’t have anything to lose.
I took the transition to minimalist running slowly, and I followed all of the advice that goes along with it. I was landing with a forefoot strike, and I was doing all of these different calf exercises and Achilles stretches. And I was decreasing my stride and increasing my cadence. To my complete surprise, my IT band issues actually vanished. Within 4 months of ditching my shoes, I was running my original distances again, and I was getting faster while doing it. I felt like I had been released from the prison of my past errors and chronic injuries, and now that it’s been a year since going minimalist and running injury-free, I feel like a real runner again.
Why do you run?
I run primarily to better my health, both physically and mentally. I love the extra energy that comes from exercising regularly, and running is the best form of stress relief that I’ve come across. My wife and I also really like traveling, so we do a lot of our running to prepare for weekend “run-cations”. It’s nice to have a race on the calendar as an incentive to run consistently, and even nicer if getting to that race means the opportunity to explore a new place and go on a little trip.
Which race was your favorite and why?
Hands down, my favorite race is the Rockland Road Runners 5 Mile Turkey Trot held in Valley Cottage, NY. It’s everything you want in a small town race: it always offers up a cool shirt, you see the same faces year after year, and there’s always a small band of enthusiastic spectators. The main reason I love the race though is because it takes place near my hometown and my best friend and I have run it every year for the past seven years. It doesn’t matter where either one of us is living or what we have going on in our lives, we always end up home for the holidays to visit family and to brave the cold as we make our way around the familiar course.
How do you fuel for your runs and/or races?
I have a pretty tough stomach, so prior to a race I really don’t put too much thought into it. It’s definitely nice because a lot of the races I do involve traveling, and when you’re away from home there’s no guarantee that you’ll have access to the things you might normally eat. On the actual run itself though, I used to use gels because everyone else was using them at the time and I thought that they were my only option. I’ve since learned about all kinds of alternatives to the sickly, sweet glop, and have been really happy with Electro-Bites as of late. They have a great texture to them, and they’re more salty than sweet. I’ll take a pack or two along with me for any run or race longer than 6 miles.
Do you listen to music while running? Share a couple of your must haves for your race playlist!
I usually prefer to listen to the sounds of my surroundings, but I’ll plug the earbuds in on longer runs. And when I do plug-in, I almost always choose podcasts over music. I’m a huge fan of good story telling, so Snap Judgement, RISK, and The Moth are all in regular rotation for my long runs.
Are you brand loyal or do you use different brands? Tell us what your favorites are and why!
I’m extremely brand loyal, but it differs depending on the piece of gear. For me it has to be Adidas shorts, Balega socks, and Under Armour base layers. There are probably brands that I would like just as much, maybe even more, but when I find something I like I end the search and stick with it for as long as I can. There have definitely been times that a particular model of something I love has been discontinued, so now I just make a point of it to stock up on my favorites whenever I have the spare cash to do so.
What is your favorite running gear item and why?
My Garmin Forerunner. I used to plan out all of my routes on Google Maps so that I would know the exact distances, but I went through this long stretch where I was moving every year or so and I just hated having to come up with new routes for any given distance that I wanted to run. I don’t even know what model it is, but I bought the watch used for a great price, and it’s been incredibly liberating. Now I run wherever I want, and I always know exactly how far I went. Now that I’ve used a GPS watch, it’s definitely something I couldn’t live without.
What time of day do you prefer to run and why?
Always in the morning, right after waking up. It’s definitely not pleasant in the winter when you end up finishing your run before the sun even comes up, but as a run streaker, running in the morning ensures that it gets done for the day. You just never know what’s going to come up, so it’s better to be able to check that one off your list as early as possible; plus it’s a refreshing way to get your energy elevated first thing in the morning and to set a positive tone for the day ahead.
How has running changed you?
It’s made me a much calmer, more grounded person. There’s just something about being outside day after day that really helps to cleanse the soul and clear one’s mind. Running has made me more patient, more in tune with my body, and more confident. Running brings with it an incredible transformation that I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone.
What advice would you give your former self or someone just starting out?
Take things slow and try your best to do things right the first time around. In the excitement of seeing progress when you first start running it can be awfully tempting to go at it full steam ahead, but if you really want to turn this into a lifelong pursuit, then you need to know when to ease up. When all is said and done, it’s better to take a couple of rest days at the first signs of trouble than it is to lay yourself out for months with an injury for ignoring your body’s warnings.
What is your greatest running achievement to date?
In my transition to minimalist running, I ended up recovering from my previous injuries so well that I started a run streak. I set out to do the Runner’s World Holiday Run Streak this past November, a streak that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, but I ended up having so much fun with it that I kept right on going and now I’m well on my way to hitting 300 days.
I view it as my greatest running achievement because it perfectly sums up how far I’ve come as a runner. It shows that I’m really committed to the sport, but at the same time, the fact that I’ve done it without injury demonstrates that I’ve put into place all of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. My plan is to definitely make it to at least a year, which incidentally coincides with the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot that I run every year where the streak began, and then I’ll decide whether or not I want to continue.
Besides running, what other passions do you have?
I love hiking and cycling, anything that gets me outdoors really. I also really like photography. I don’t get it to do it as much as I like because of my busy schedule, but I really enjoy the whole process of combining creativity and technology to make something visually pleasing. Lastly, I love reading. I read a little bit of everything, but inevitably I end up reading a good bit about running. In addition to the usual fare found in most runner blogs, I actually write reviews for books related to running in hopes that it will help other runners decide what they should read next if they’re in need of some inspiration.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Paul!
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See you on the road!