Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 29 Nov 2008 05:10:52 -0500

This I Believe (Part 2)


Concluding the "everything I know about running in 100 words or less per topic" column, which opened in RC 755. These two originally ran together in the November 2006 issue of Marathon & Beyond.

TRAINING IS SIMPLE. Life is complicated, so run to escape the complexity instead of adding to it. Keep your training simple, low-tech and low-key. Training simply balances three needs: long, fast and easy. Train long enough (but at a slower pace) to prepare for your longest race, fast enough (but at a shorter distance) to match the speed of your shortest race and easy enough (many days of this) to recover between your hard runs. Limit the hard days to one a week -- be they long, fast or races. This is all that most of us can tolerate, or can fit into life's schedule.

RACING IS "TRAINING." The best type of speed "training" is regular racing. You can't duplicate the raceday experience as well with tempo runs or intervals. You can't match the racing effort (or the excitement) when running by yourself. The best type of "training" this way is at half your main race distance. That's 5K for a 10K runner, 10K for a half-marathoner, half-marathon for a marathoner. Don't take these races as seriously as your main event, and don't schedule them too close to that one. Remember the even training-races take a toll. Recover as long as you would after a big race.

DISTANCE IS INDISPENSABLE. In marathon training the long run means the most, by far. Take it and nothing else but easy runs and rest days, an you'll do fine in on marathon day. Run daily, sometimes fast but not very long, and you'll do poorly. A big mistake of marathoners is increasing all the runs -- long, fast and weekly distance -- all at once. As the long run goes up in length, the other runs must come down -- in length, frequency and number -- to compensate. Long runs are best taken every other week, or even three weeks apart toward the program's end. Recovery takes that long.

SHORTER IS ENOUGH. You don't need to "finish" a marathon in training. Leave the final miles unexplored until raceday. There are two ways to run long before a marathon. One (which works best for a faster runner) is to build up to the marathon's projected TIME, but to train at a pace one to two minutes per mile slower. This means covering three to six miles less than 26.2 while still seeing how it feels to be on your feet for full race time. Another way a marathoner can train (this works best for a slower one) is to run at projected marathon pace but to stop three to six miles short of full distance.

SPEED IS LIMITED. A little bit of speed training goes a long way, and too much of it leads to dead-ends of injury and disappointment. Limit the interval-training sessions of a road racer to 5K of fast running, and pace to that of a 5K race. The simplest way to improve speed is by running 1-1-1: one mile, one minute faster than your everyday pace, one day a week (with a mile's warmup and another to cool down). Another simple way to train for speed is with out-and-backs. Such as going out for 15 minutes easily, then coming back in less than 15. This teaches you to finish faster, or run negative splits.

RACEDAY IS MAGICAL. The pre-race anticipation and anxiety, the crowds running with you, the cheers for you, the splits, the drinks, the amplified announcements and music -- they all combine to fire up your adrenaline. This has a magical effect on your running. You can run up to a minute per mile faster than you'd go the same distance by yourself. Or you can double the distance you'd run alone at a particular pace. Two cautions here: (1) adrenaline poisoning can lure you into starting too fast; (2) going farther and faster than normal will demand a longer recovery time afterward.

PACE IS PATIENCE. The Bible says, "Run with patience the race that is set before us." Pay special attention to the first and last two letters of "patience." Start at a cautious pace, and let the impatient runners sail ahead without you. You'll likely see them again later while passing them in the late miles, where it's much more fun to be the passer than the passee. This will happen if you pace yourself evenly. You'll feel even better by running negative splits -- the second half faster than the first. That word "negative" is a misnomer, because racing this way is positively delightful.

RECOVERY IS SLOW. "You can't think of running another race until you forget how bad the last one felt." Frank Shorter said that. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It goes through three stages -- muscle, energy and mental -- each taking more time than the last. A good guide for recovery is not to run another race (or even to train long or fast) until one day has passed for each mile of the race. One day per KILOMETER is even better if the race was really hard or you're into your masters years (as recovery slows with age). Treat racing as a prescription item, best taken in small, well-spaced doses.

WINNING IS PERSONAL. "Winning is doing the best you can with what you're given." George Sheehan said that. And, "Winning is never having to say I quit." Winning is also running up to your own standard of success -- be it improving your distance or time, running better in this race than your last one, racing farther or faster than you would alone, or simply being in the running and finishing what you started. Winning is not automatic. You risk a loss whenever you race, but the only one who can beat you is yourself.

RUNNING IS VARIED. Complete running combines three different experiences: contemplation (runs alone where you take the time to think), conversation (with a partner or small group where you have the chance to talk) and competition (in a race crowd where you cooperate more than compete). Running is also evolutionary, as interests change over the years. Runners typically begin with fitness goals, reach them and graduate to chasing racing goals, then finally advance to a goal of running to keep running. Fitness and racing aren't abandoned at that final stage, but become by-products.

IMPROVEMENT IS LIMITED. You can expect PRs to improve for five to 10 years after your racing begins. This happens no matter your age at the start. You can extend that improvement for another five to 10 years by switching to a new type of racing -- such as from short track events to mid-range road races, or from those to marathons or ultras. Eventually, though, your PRs go from targets to monuments. Don't let the old times haunt you. One way to do that is to write a fresh set of age-group records at five-year intervals. Or settle into running IN races for their social side without really racing them.

RUNNERS ARE FRIENDLY. Running is better when shared: as a teammate, a pacer, a coach, a volunteer, a fan. What you remember most, in the end, isn't the fast times run or the honors won, but the people met and the friends made. You already know a lot about the runners you've never met. When you meet one on a run, give a "hi," a wave, a nod, or at least eye contact and a look of recognition. You aren't alone. You never run alone, even when you appear to be by yourself. There with you is everyone who ever advised, inspired or supported your running.

YOU ARE GOOD. Running is too valuable to leave to the best runners (which, inaccurately, usually implies the fastest) runners. If you want to run, you are good enough. There are no "bad" runners, only slower ones. And you're never the slowest. Look behind you at the people you can't see -- either because they dropped out or never started. You don't need speed to outrun them, only starting power and staying power. No matter your pace or distance, you are a runner. You aren't a "jogger." The J-word is used only by non-runners to describe us unflatteringly. Edit it out of your language.

RUNNING IS LASTING. Speed drops, PRs become permanent, medals tarnish, photos fade. Your past is a nice place to visit in memory, but you can't live there. All you can really hold onto is today's run. Make it a good one, make sure you finish wanting to and being able to come back for another, and tomorrow's run will take care of itself. The running life is a pacing exercise, just as a run or race does. One day in the life of a runner is like one step in a marathon, a year is like a mile. Don't do anything in the short term that puts this long run at risk. All that lasts in running is the lasting.

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