How To Become A Better, Stronger Lifelong Runner
Posted on 08 Sep, 2016
“I’m an overnight success, but it took me 20 years.” — Monty Hall
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’d love to run fast with no injuries and always be consistent with my training”?
I think we all have. The sense of achievement we feel for being consistent is powerful stuff.
Indeed, consistency is what I like to call the “secret sauce” of good training. It unlocks faster race times, fewer injuries, and more motivation in the runners that I coach.
But how do you continue to grow as a runner? What should you do to stay motivated and progressing toward your goal of healthier, faster running?
Today, I want to explain the running principles that have helped me run more than ever in the past three years — with not one major injury. These are the same strategies that help my runners achieve dramatic breakthroughs in their performance while staying injury-free.
The Tortoise Always Wins
We’ve all heard the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare: Even though the hare is obviously faster, the tortoise won the race because he never gave up and persevered to the end.
The same is true with running. Results come after months — and years — of hard work and consistent training. There are no magic workouts or secret training principles that will propel you to age-grouper celebrity status in just a few weeks.
While it’s not sexy to admit, good training is typically boring: consistent (relatively) high mileage, a solid long run, and 1-2 faster workouts per week. The “secret sauce” I mentioned before is this pattern, repeated week after week for years.
No multi-month layoffs. Just running, almost every day. I told you it wasn’t sexy!
But when you make running a habit, you’ll soon discover that your runs get a little easier. Your 5K pace might become your 10K pace. Before you know it, you’ve taken a half hour off your marathon and you’re eyeing a Boston Qualifying time. That’s the stuff motivation is made of.
3 Keys to Long Term Planning
Alright, you’ve seen how long-term thinking can benefit your running. But how exactly do you get so consistent?
There are three important ways to make running a permanent habit — something you “just do” instead of always planning to do, but never get around to.
1. Injury-Proof Yourself with Regular Strength Work.
The benefits of strength exercises for runners are undeniable: They increase strength, correct imbalances, and strengthen important muscles that are inherently weak in runners (like the glutes and hips).
(Here’s how to schedule and plan your strength workouts. No gym needed!)
Injury prevention is so critical that it’s the primary way to develop as a runner. You can’t accomplish anything significant if you’re always hurt and missing your workouts. Invest in 20 minutes a day of core and strength work and in a few weeks you’ll notice the difference.
Soon, you’ll feel “off” if you skip it. Injury prevention work will become second nature and a natural extension of the run itself.
2. Connect with Other Runners
No runner should train alone all the time. The advice and encouragement of other runners can help you stay motivated and energized.
Humans are social animals and the running community is large and thriving — especially online. Join a training site like dailymile, sign up with your local running club, or hire a running coach who can write a custom training plan personalized to your goals and history.
A subtle but powerful benefit of being part of a running community is that social pressure leads us to conform. Your behavior and mindset are heavily influenced by the people you hang out with. Are you hanging out with any runners?
3. Think in Months, Not Weeks or Days
Successful runners know it’s taken years to get where they are today. There wasn’t one particular workout or mega-week of mileage that catapulted them to greatness. Instead, it’s the gradual accumulation of fitness over months and years.
To take advantage of this principle, it’s helpful to plan backwards from your goal race. If you give yourself less than four months before a marathon or half marathon, you’re probably rushing yourself. Remember: Even the most perfect plan must be changed so give yourself extra time to prepare.
It’s also helpful to think in terms of monthly mileage instead of weekly mileage. Why? It forces you to be more conservative and prevents dramatic jumps in volume that might tempt you to fall prey to the three too’s (too much, too soon, too fast).
If you think that “I just need to run 40 miles a week” and you’re only used to 20 per week, that increase is much too large! Instead, build to 30 miles per week over a month or two, then stay there for a few months. It’s safer and you’ll still reap big endurance rewards for boosting your mileage by 50 percent.
Patience always prevails.
When in Doubt, Sit It Out
Lifelong runners know that they’ve patiently executed their running consistently month after month, sometimes for decades. It’s become a natural part of their day, like brushing their teeth.
Success is a long-term endeavor. Successful running and fast racing can’t be rushed.
If you’re ever in doubt about an injury, a particular workout, or the length of a long run, don't be afraid to scale it back or take the day off. Good runners listen to their body and don’t hurry the adaptation process.
When you rush your fitness and push beyond your capabilities, the injury cycle will persist and consistency will be just a pipe dream. Who wants that?
These principles will help make you healthier and, in the long run (ha, running pun!), a faster runner. Motivation is born from consistent improvement. You have the framework — now go have fun with it!
Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and USATF-certified running coach at Strength Running.
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