Running began for me in 1976.
I was almost 8 years old when I first watched the Olympic men’s 1500m semi-finals on TV. I was amazed at the smooth flowing form and obvious power of the runners in that race and the fascination has never left me since. I decided that I would aim for the 1980 Olympics (after all I’d be the ripe old age of 11 by then) and went out and started training.
At first I ran a couple of times around the block whenever the mood struck me, eventually I went on to join a track club soon after my 11th birthday. I ran for high school and university teams and had some moderate success, not enough to match those Olympians I so admired, but enough to feel some satisfaction with the process.
Now at 43 years old I’m still plugging away, a bit older, a bit slower and (I like to think) a bit wiser after 30+ years at the game. The Olympic dream didn’t happen, but I’ve had a satisfying ‘career’ nonetheless, made lots of lifelong friends, and had some incredible highs and some crushing lows along the way.
Here are some of the things I learned along the way.
1. Consistency is crucial.
This was one of the first topics I addressed in this blog, mainly because I feel it is so important. Toshihiko Seko’s coach, Kiyoshi Nakamura once said,
“One some days the rain falls hard, on other days it falls gently, and on some days it does not fall at all. But in the final analysis, the process cannot be rushed, and we must wait patiently for the natural order of things to run its course before we can admire the final product.”
The people who ultimately are most successful in running (relative to their innate talent) are the ones who are the most consistent. Many, many times in high school and university I’d see guys who were stellar for a few workouts or races fade away as the seasons and years went on. Others who didn’t seem especially talented would gradually move up through the ranks and eventually one day you’d realize, “hey, this guy’s pretty good, I wonder what happened.”
What happened was the guy kept training moderately and consistently and eventually outdid those who tried to rush the process and find success in a short period of time.
2. Train moderately.
This one goes hand in hand with consistency. Trying to rapidly increase your training in a short period of time is virtually guaranteed to result in injury or burnout. I’ve done it many times, I’ll be feeling good, full of motivation and for a couple of weeks attempt to increase the volume or intensity of my runs well beyond my previous level. Inevitably after a couple of weeks this leads to staleness, lack of motivation or an injury.
A corollary to this is that you should expose your body to a variety of training stimuli, and not be hyper-focussed on one or a couple of specific elements.
Some runners think that training mileage is the most important element of training so they’ll plod along for mile after mile without doing much, if any, faster running. Other runners love speed work and feel that if they’re not running as fast as they can, they’re not really training. Neither of these types of runners will fulfill their potential. Virtually all the world’s best runners follow a multi-pace training program which includes a variety of paces and workouts. Long runs, easy runs, interval training, tempo runs, hill running etc. All of these training modalities have their place and should be included in your training plan.
3. Tend to injuries immediately when they occur.
I wish I’d paid more attention to this one when I was younger.
Part of running at your best possible level is dealing with injuries. Long term injuries can seriously set back your development and drive runners (and by extension, their spouses and families) to distraction. The best possible solution is to ice any soreness immediately after your run and if necessary curtail your running until it gets better. Many times I’ve continued to run on an injury, hoping it would go away and turned a minor problem into a major one, requiring 4-6 weeks of recovery. My general rule of thumb is that if you have some soreness that goes away or stays the same as you run, it’s ok to continue. If it gets worse the further you run, stop immediately and get some treatment.
4. Running with a group makes it easier to stay consistent and improve.
Plus, its way more fun. Having a group to run with helps you get out the door to run when your motivation is lagging a bit and some good natured competition in your workouts can help keep you on pace when you’re struggling a bit. It also helps you get used to running in a group with a lot of people around, as is often the case in races. And the friendships you form while working together and sharing a goal can be among the deepest and most enduring you will find.
5. Have fun.
Running used to take on a life or death mentality for me, which often led to me using up too much nervous energy before the race. Often I would find myself unable to sleep the night before a big race.
When I did race, often I’d be tight, unable to relax and start struggling early on, especially in big races. I would run well early in the season in “no-pressure” races and bomb out in important races.
It helps to keep running in perspective of our overall life and to realize that, whether you win or lose, there are always other races and other opportunities. Running is an enjoyable pastime, but runners can and should have other interests and hobbies. Putting all your eggs in one basket leads to pressure and pressure, all too often leads to frustration and disillusionment.
Some of my best races have come shortly after my most major disappointments. Enjoy your successes and learn as much as you can from your failures. If you run long enough, there will be plenty of both.