Back to Basics
Take a look at your current training program and ask yourself if you are upholding some basics of training.
If you are new to running and honest in your response you may say that running hurts and you do not enjoy it. Well, for those of you be patient. Generally, it takes about 8 to 10 weeks for our bodies to become conditioned enough for the minor aches and pains we have in the beginning to go away. You can then start to enjoy your running and have fun. To start with in the early part of your journey, try to find a buddy to run with. Having a friend to run with will help you distract yourself from the physical process of running and provide you with the motivation to continue.
If you are just starting or coming back to running, run for time not distance. Your muscles, tendons and bones need to adapt to the stresses of training. As they become stronger, you can add more distance or intensity. A good rule to follow is no more than 10% per week in additional volume. Do the talk test while running: if you can carry on a conversation, you're running at about the right pace; if you cannot talk, slow down.
With each run, you want to challenge yourself, so that on completion you will have a sense of accomplishment and pleasant fatigue. The talk test will keep you at about a 50% to 70% effort in relationship to your maximum heart rate. This is endurance (fat-burning) running, and it builds up your base training. This base training is the foundation of your running.
A rest day can be a complete day off training, or it can be an alternative day of training. Tri-athletes call this cross-training, a day to swim, bike or walk. Stress and rest is a basic law of training. The rest and recovery days allow our bodies to rebuild and get stronger and fitter. Rest helps prevent injuries by allowing the muscles and tendons to recover. Rest days also assist in keeping our motivation level high. For the seasoned runner, a rest day may not even be a day off; it could just be a very easy running day, a day where you leave your watch at home and just run easy and enjoy the scenery, or run with a buddy.
We have all heard the saying, "no pain, no gain," or that "your fitness is like your bank account: hard to build up, and easy to lose." Often runners try to emulate the performance and training programs of the elite athlete and then wonder why they are injured. Our genetic abilities have a profound effect on our running performance. Few of us get to choose our parents. Abilities differ from person to person. We must realize that if we train like the gifted athlete, and we aren't one, we will be injured. Being injured is no fun and therefore breaks rule one—run the least amount at the least intensity to allow you to stay injury free and perform at your best. A word of caution: this is not an excuse to not train. I am trying to get you to adopt an intelligent training program. Do not skip your long run, do not skip your hill work, and do not skip your speed work or even your rest days. Listen to your body and its feedback and modify accordingly.
Do not mix speed with endurance. Keep your training specific, and race on race days. The number one rule broken by runners is that they run the long run too fast. They are left physically and mentally fatigued. If this situation sounds familiar, you need to think specifically about your running goals. The physical fatigue prevents you from doing your other runs at the program quality of intensity and volume. You are too tired and sore to perform, so you skip a session or day of running. The other damage you do is to your mind. This is not good; training too fast dulls our motivation and affects how we look at our running goals. Running takes confidence and the belief that we can achieve a goal; running fast on a long slow day can adversely affect your confidence in your own capabilities.
Train in all kinds of conditions. You may end up running a race in the wind, rain, snow or ice. Run easy on flat surfaces, run hard on the hill run and run with some surges (speed play) on speed day. Train for endurance on long slow days, train for strength on hill days and train for speed on race days. Finally, rest on rest days.
Running is a terrific sport, but with it comes the risk of overtraining. Few sports have high incidents of overtraining as running does. Running by its very nature produces this fast endorphin-filled sense of "I feel good juices" every time we run. We often set our goals and target for running and then find ourselves enjoying the benefits of training. If we are not intelligent in our training, we easily suffer from overtraining. It may be that type A personality hidden within all of us that strives for perfection and the achievement of our best. It may also be the sheer joy that our daily run provides, or it could be the stress-busting ability of running that gets us hooked in the trap of overtraining.
The simple solution is often a rest day or two. You will be amazed at the positive effect that rest can have on you.
A program provide structure and discipline to your training. Sign up for a running training program, enjoy the information and the group system. Meet some new runners all at the same level and with similar goals. If your schedule doesn't allow for a training program, convince a buddy to train with you and follow one of the training programs in Running: Start to Finish. Regardless of your choice, stick with a proven program.
Cut down on fatty foods, drink loads of water and follow the national food guide. This isn't rocket science, and I know there are a number of various diets and nutritional guides to follow, but the one that has passed the test of time is the Canada's Food Guide. This particular rule of running becomes even more important as we age. Personally, at one time I could eat anything and everything, and it had little effect on my running performance. For whatever reason, the older we get the more profound an effect fatty foods and water will have on our running. Once you have the fuel under control, think about the amount of sleep you get and the amount of stress you are under, and then adjust accordingly. Running should be adding value to your life and should be fun. This is adult play time, so keep it enjoyable.
Training with a group will keep you inspired and provide knowledge, emotional support and fun. If the group training or training program doesn't fit in your personal schedule, share your training and goals with an interested buddy. Report your progress and have them share in your celebrations along the course of the program. Tell them about your new long run achievement or new weight or time goal. Personal success starts with the ability to critique oneself combined with the humility and modesty to be honest. Running is the purest of sports; it is you and your own personal goals. Heck, no one but you will ever know you succeeded at your goal. Running allows us to be equal with each other, running allows us to be our best and running increases our awareness of ourselves and the awareness of others. Running is pure and simple, running is complex and running is at times uncomfortable, but running is always good.
Consistency is the key, so no excuses—get out there and run.