I get asked for advice all the time. Much of my advice is ignored. Often, as I’m telling something to a runner, I can almost see the wheels spinning in their brains thinking, “that’s great Coach, but what else you got for me?” It happens when I tell people something they don’t want to hear. Today, I’m going to tell you the four worst things that you can do to yourself as a runner — and most of you won’t want to hear any of them.
These are the four most common pieces of advice that come up when I’m asked either: “what am I doing wrong?” or “why didn’t I meet my finishing goal time?” And in almost every case, the response is a reluctance to change these very basic things. And it’s not as though these are surprising. They’re just back things that almost always are the things that lead to poor output of training, as compared to the runner’s expectations. They are in fact the worst things that you can do as a runner and they are also the most practiced.
Worst Practice #1 — Running Too Many Slow Miles — There’s sort of two pieces to this first issue. Most runners run too many miles or too many slow miles — or both. The problem here is that running slow miles just teaches your body to run that speed. When it comes to to try to “pull it out” and “push hard” in a race, the speed isn’t there. There’s not enough speed going into practices, so there isn’t going to be speed coming out on race day. The answer is run fewer, faster miles. This is the rub. People often hate cutting their miles and they often hate running fast. But it is almost certain that running faster in practice is going to lead you to run faster in your races.
Worst Practice #2 –Not Running Goal Pace In Practice — If only Coach Dean and I had a nickle for every time someone said, “I’ve been running 10:30 miles in my training runs. I hoped to run 9:30 in the race. Why didn’t it happen?” Bottom line is that runners need to spend time running goal pace in practice. It’s OK that goal paced runs are shorter than the race distance — in fact a 3-5 mile mid-week goal paced run is a great training practice — the idea here is to log mileage at goal pace. If you don’t do it, you can’t expect to run it in practice. I like to think of it this way: if I just wanted to go run world record pace, I couldn’t do it. I can’t do it in practice, so how could I do it on race day? They say practice makes perfect. This is a case where that advice makes sense.
Worst Practice #3 — Not Stretching and Strengthening — I commonly advise people to take yoga, cross-training, lift weights and do other stretching and strength building activities. Unfortunately, this advice is routinely ignored. Why? Because it feels like we’re NOT TRAINING when we’re not running. We just don’t have time to lift weights and take yoga. But the truth is the time we spend doing these strength building and stretching exercises amounts to a huge investment in our performance. Much more of an investment, in fact, than those long, slow miles people like to run. Cutting back on the quantity allows more time to invest in physically training the body. This helps us make huge gains in speed, flexibility, strength and endurance. Adding just an inch to your stride length, for example, yields a massive improvement in speed and efficiency. But to do this, you need to be stronger and more flexible.
Worst Practice #4 — Not Taking a Full Body Approach To Living — Meeting our performance goals comes through training the right way. But our training needs to be backed up by an approach to living that helps us get the most out of that training. It means eating right, sleeping enough, getting rid of stress, and avoiding things like alcohol and tobacco. Often when I explore people’s lives with them and they don’t see why they aren’t getting the most out of their training, it’s in these areas that they are messing it up. We don’t have to live like Puritans to train effectively, but we have to make good choices. The runners that tell me that they deserve those couple of beers after a hard run or those that say they can “eat whatever they want” because they run are not making clear choices in this area. Treat the body like a race car, giving it proper maintenance, fuel and care — and that race car will perform a whole lot better.
Sometimes it is tough to make changes to patterns that we’ve ingrained in our lives over the years, but think about these issues as you train and try to reach your goals. Ask yourself: are you getting the most out of your workouts? Are you making good choices in your life? Are you building the best machine for the task? If you’re not, you’re not alone. But you can make the choices that lead you in the right direction.
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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