I’ve been studying running, analysing running technique, researching and fixing running injuries, reading and writing about running, following professional runners, supporting or coaching runners, teaching running technique and of course actually RUNNING myself for most of my life, and in that time, there are a few ideas that I’ve formulated about what is required to go from Non Runner, to Good Runner and to Winner.
The Physical –
To get from being a non-runner to someone who can comfortably run a 5k fun run does not take years of hard work. The key factors in making running something you can do and enjoy are firstly making sure you are doing it right. Bad technique or form can be like driving a car with an oil leak. You will be able to get going, but before long, you will break down.
Secondly, learn to run slow. So many people find running too hard simply because they can’t find a pace that is sustainable. Run slow. As slow as you need to. Just find a pace that you can sit in and maintain. It doesn’t matter for how long at first, just as long as it pushes your current ability, you will see improvements. This session forms the basis for the weekly Long Run.
Thirdly, adding 1 to 2 more sessions per week that challenge your body in other ways, helps to develop strength, speed or other facets of your running ability. These additional sessions may include shorter faster runs, some small hill climbs, intervals or any number of different types of run training. The key is to get the long slow run in, and then add at least one more but ideally 2 more sessions to your weekly schedule.
This simple formula is really all it takes to go from someone who BELIEVES they can’t run, to someone who KNOWS they can.
The only other bit of advice I’d give is to get a trained eye to monitor you. Ensuring you stay injury free can be fairly straight forward if you structure and progress your training in the right way, and getting on top of any physical niggles early and quickly.
For the person who is more experienced in their running and wants to move from a middle or back of the pack runner, into top 20% of their category, the formula for success once again does not need to be exceedingly complicated.
Training 4-6 times per week will generally yield excellent results, providing you are getting some really good quality training during the midweek sessions, and that your long slow run includes appropriate distances that build at the right rate and are specific to what you are training for.
More does not always equal better when it comes to running. Yes you do need to log some hours to be able to run longer distance races, but there can be huge gains when training hard in shorter sessions is added. The weekend long run is where you will build most of your endurance, and the distance should reflect what you are training for, but the other sessions are where you will develop the speed and power to get you from the back of the pack to closer to the front.
To become a front runner, your training and nutrition needs to be dialled right in. The body of a runner that snags podiums is often on the brink of injury, but with the right level of conditioning and enough self-control, injury can usually be avoided.
The complexities of an elite level runner’s training program requires too much space to include here, but many of the same simple rules applied to a novice runner’s schedule still apply to the elite. It is just more about balancing the ratios of work and rest.
The Mental/Psychological –
The first and most powerful mental barrier for a beginner runner is the self-talk inside their head. “I’m not a runner” “It hurts to run” “I can’t run that far”. Like anything that appears difficult, once you have begun your journey to the destination, that far off distant goal gradually moves closer with each step, until you realise that impossible things are only impossible until you prove that idea to be false.
Likewise, the mental leap from back of the pack to top 20% requires the self-belief that your effort will reap the rewards you seek. Then it is just a matter of doing the work required. At this level the runner also needs to learn to harness their engine and drive it with control and not recklessly. Impatience and excessive ambition can be a major problem when moving up the ranks.
The mental make-up of a runner that wins races is often very relaxed but also serious. There is a job to do and specific tasks that will be required of them to make it happen Energy wasted on worry or anxiety is simply that – wasted energy.
To run at the pointy end of the pack means the athlete has removed any thoughts of failure and has set their sights on the goal. Shifting your focus from finishing to winning is quite a big leap, and one that can only be made when they realise that it IS possible for them.
The Lifestyle –
Running can be the greatest reliever of stress and worry. It can be an outlet for overworked individuals and it can be a tool for creative thought. Running can be a fantastic vehicle for social interaction and social change, and it can be a leveller for people from different backgrounds.
Running has the potential to enrich people’s lives, improve their health and clear their minds. However, given the nature of many of us humans when things don’t go to plan or move at an appropriate pace, running can be the source of frustration and angst.
To truly enjoy running and allow it to be something that is natural and positive in your life, it means letting go of expectation and just running because it is right.
The difference in how running fits into the life of a beginner runner V’s a podium finisher is vast. Amongst the biggest differences would have to be the amount the individual allows running to encroach on the other things they have in their lives. Obviously being a champion requires some level of personal sacrifice, the challenge is of course to sacrifice only as much as you feel is fair.
When I coach runners, two of the major questions I ask them are 1) What are your goals? 2) What personal/lifestyle factors do you have that impact on your availability to train and race?
My challenge is to then create a program for them that produces the greatest rewards toward those goals BUT stay within the boundaries of their personal/family/work/etc situation.
Running is meant to be fun. It is meant to be enriching and it MUST not be all consuming. After all, it’s just running…