Some of what you read here may sound clear. Some other things – very muddled. Let me know if it makes no sense so I can ponder fixing it. I’m trying to simplify, but I know I tend to be verbose – I ramble on and on and on…. – and might make things worse!
1. Any workout you do should not ruin the next one. Workouts have a purpose and if you are too tired and sore to do them right, it reduces the effectiveness of that workout. Exceptions to this include purposely running while fatigued to increase your ability to handle very long races, or stage races. E.g., back to back long runs. Another exception is doing an easy recovery run after a hard workout.
If you find yourself overly sore before a workout even starts “every now and then” it’s no big deal. But you might want to skip that workout, or modify it: shorten it or reduce the intensity. If it happens fairly frequently, then an adjustment to your training schedule is likely necessary, or you need to look at other factors like sleep, nutrition, and personal stress. If this happens many times in a short period, it might mean you need to take a few days (or longer) off from training. You need to be your own advocate, and you need to let me know if you’re too fatigued or sore to do an assigned workout.
2. Missing a workout should rarely be a big deal. You do lots of workouts and if you miss one now and then, it doesn’t matter. The more you miss in a row though, the more you’ll need to ease back into things. What happens SO often is that people miss workouts for 2-3 weeks, and then seem to just give up after that. Don’t give up! Get back on your horse and go again. It won’t take too long to get back to where you were.
How many days per week should you run? That depends. If your goal is to get into shape and have fun AND you also cross train (see below) with other cardio work, you might get away with two runs per week. Most folks will do at least three, and indeed there are ways to get pretty fast with three. Generally if you want to enter races and do fairly well, you’ll shoot for four or more runs per week. You need to communicate with me your thoughts on this, and your goals. We’ll make it work.
Having said that, I can’t think of any reason why anyone can not be *active* seven days per week. Our bodies were made to move. Being sedentary is something that we humans have only experimented with for a few decades, after we evolved to be constantly in motion. But you don’t need to *run* every day, or even *exercise.* Just move. Walk. Have fun. Don’t sit all day. Don’t even stand all day. Move about.
3. There are no magic workouts. Do the work, and your body adapts and you get better. Do too little and, well, that’s still not so bad. It’ll still make you more healthy. Do too much and it can be a problem, so listen to your body! You have to help me find the workouts that you enjoy. That doesn’t mean they are easy or fun while you are doing them. It might also mean you just feel so great after having done them. Don’t just do workouts because I said you have to do them. If you hate them, we can try to find alternative workouts. You can even vary workouts on your own, generally. (Let me know. I doubt I’d ever have a problem with it.) Have fun! You will not continue running if it’s not fun. If you find you hate running, find another activity to do.
4. Nutrition is a crazy crazy science. There are tons of experts who are absolutely sure they know exactly what you should eat, and not eat. (I’m putting ethical veganism aside here. That’s not a nutritional thing per se.) They contradict each other and think the others are clueless. Eat meat. Don’t eat meat. Eat bread/grains. Don’t eat them. Who knows. I don’t bother making any serious recommendations on your nutrition. I do, somewhat jokingly but also seriously, suggest that there are three nutritional facts(?) that it seems everyone agrees upon.
- Eat protein and fat. I have no idea how much fat you should eat. It varies from very little to tons of it depending upon the expert you’re listening to. Trans-fatty acids seem bad. I guess. For now.
- Eat veggies. I actually think no one is against veggies. Yet.
- Junk food is, well, junk food. Avoid eating much of it. We mostly know what junk food is. (It tastes really good.)
What about the touchy subject of weight?
I’m going to play it straight here. No mincing words. But keep in mind I’m not a doctor or nutritionist. These are my thought geared toward Average Jane or Joe. Some folks have diseases/conditions that override anything I say below. Also, be sure to consult a doctor and/or nutritionist before making major changes in eating habits or if you want to lose weight.
First, if you are overweight (and frankly, most of us are) you need to eat less. Period. As you transition to healthier foods, you need to also consume less calories. (You already know this, don’t you?) Maybe just a little bit less. Some tips below. Again: I’m NOT an educated dietician!
- Shop right after you eat and when you’re full, so you don’t buy junk food. If you don’t have junk food at home, that really helps.
- Avoid eating out and avoid processed/packaged foods, most of the time.
- Avoid clinging to any special (fad) diet and to *expert* advice. Make some of your own rules. Even if it works for most folks, it may not for you. Example: I don’t eat breakfast most days (I do before a harder morning workout). This is considered beyond horrible by most diet experts. But it works for me. I do eat lunch a bit early, usually around 11:00am. I don’t starve myself.
- If you find something really healthy you like to eat, eat lots of it! Variety is absolutely good, but not if it means you eat microwavable “buttered” popcorn as your “vegetable” to “add variety.” Personally I love broccoli. I could eat it daily. And that would not be a bad thing.
- Speaking of bad things: No you cannot exercise a lot and then eat all you want. It’s hard to exercise enough to truly affect your weight. Sorry about this. To be healthy, you have to eat well AND be active.
Second, for many of us, the best way to become a better runner is to lose weight. Yes, all that training is awesome, but losing weight is often the best thing you can do first. If a highly overweight person just loses weight, they’ll get faster, without training. Even some of us who are *good* runners could stand to lose 5-10 pounds, rather than trying so hard to come up with the newest super training system or buying “faster” shoes or trying new race day nutrition strategies.
Obviously I am not condoning being underweight, which can cause a lot of problems. And, yet again, I do suggest involving doctors and nutritionists when you decide to lose weight.
5. Like I said in #3, there are no magic workouts. Some “experts” advocate almost all low heart rate running. Others advocate a lot of speed work. Others feel there is a magical formula: 80% aerobic (slower) running, and 20% fast running. It all can work! You need to think about what you like the most and what works best for you. You may train one way for awhile, and then switch things up. You don’t always have to do the same thing over and over. And no two people will work out the same way, unless you and a friend want to work out the same way. Then go for it, but realize that any approach may work better for one of you than the other, so you may need to compromise with each other so you both get what you need.
6. For those of you doing speed work, please note that you should usually finish each effort (repetition, or interval) with at least some energy to spare, whether it’s a Z3/Z4 effort, a 3 minute VO2Max effort, a 10 minute tempo run, or a 30 minute steady state run. You should be able to go longer if you absolutely truly had to. Yes they should be hard efforts, but they are not absolute maximum efforts, unless you are doing some test, or you’re in a race. I doubt that I’m training you to do a 100 meter dash so you may never need to do an “all out sprint.” The point here is that it’s probably too easy to run these too hard and fast. You will still get the good cardiovascular and neuromuscular adaptations even if you back off a bit, your chance of pulling a muscle decreases, and you’ll then recover more quickly.
Another point about speed work: do NOT fret about your exact effort or pace. Are you in Zone 3 or Zone 4? Is this a proper tempo pace? Am I going too slow for this VO2Max effort? Are you at RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of 6, 7, or 8? Pfffft, no worries! You may never quite have it exactly dialed in, and even one day to another things may not feel quite the same. The point is though that you’re moving faster and even if your pace isn’t perfect, you still getting the benefits from the effort.
Yet another point: The whole VO2Max/Threshold/Zone INTENSITY (or pace) thing is not something your body is actively fretting over. You are always burning fat and carbs. No matter WHAT speed you run at, you work EVERYTHING. Running SLOWLY will help you run FASTER. It will build muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and your heart (and your brain!). On the flip side, running shorter faster sprints will enable you to run LONGER. Training at different intensities does stress certain physiological systems more than others, but it’s not trivial to know exactly what intensity works what physiological system the best. Maybe the best reason to invent these particular intensities is that when you race, you will find yourself in one of them. Also it’s just a tricky way of saying, “Run easy today” or “Run moderately hard today” or “Run fast today!” We generally believe running at different intensities is good, and we want to sound all science-y about it, so we created these thresholds and zones!
Honestly, you can just go out and run, and while doing so, sometimes pick up the pace a little, or a little more, or run fast for minute or two, or run hard up a hill. That will probably work almost as good as a super-structured program, as long as you listen to your body.
Which brings me to another point: Never run fast/hard if something does not feel right. Calf a bit tight? Slow down or stop. Knee feeling off? Slow down or stop. Muscles just generally really achy? Slow down or stop. It’s when running hard that you’re most likely to be injured! Rarely do you get hurt running at low intensity, so do that most of the time. If you plan to run hard, be sure you’re warmed up well, and that you’re in a “all systems go” state.
7. The flip side of speed work is running slowly. These are your Zone 1/Zone 2, Recovery/Endurance runs. You should be able to hold a conversation while doing these efforts. For Zone 1 and Recovery, you should almost feel like you’re “wasting your time,” because you’re going so slowly. (Which you are not. There are NO junk miles.) Runners avoid the word “jog” a lot, but I like it. That’s what you’re doing here, barely. And when you hit a hill, you might just walk up it. Imagine you’re just flushing out your muscles, moving blood around, feeling groovy. Zone 2 and Endurance runs are a bit more serious but you can still chat with a friend pretty easily. You might still be walking (usually uphill) in these Zones, but you’re pushing it a bit harder.
And yes, sometimes you just don’t know if if you’re in a Recovery effort or an Endurance effort, or in Zone 1 or Zone 2. On top of that, within a single run you might bounce around. You can very easily start in Zone 1, and after awhile SLOW down, and yet end up in Zone 2. Because you fatigue! No worries. Do your best.
One final thought on this: There are myriad variations to each type of workout. For example, for a moderate distance/medium effort workout, maybe you really love doing 3 x 10 min with 5 min recoveries on the treadmill or on some particular course in your area. If so, that’s great, and we don’t need to also HAVE you do 4 x 8 min or 2 x 12 min or a bunch of other similar variations. That’s not to say we’d never want to vary things because we would. But it’s nice to have these go-to efforts. And then, even if you see “3 x 10 min with 5 min recoveries” you know you can do it, or modify it on the spot if you’re feeling groovy. So, do me a favor and start *starring* your favorite workouts. We’ll use them more often.
8. Injury? First, you need to start learning the difference between fatigue pain and injury pain. If you feel the same thing on both sides of your body, it’s probably just fatigue. You can keep going. If you feel something only on one side, it’s an injury of some sort. If it’s minor or you’ll be done soon or it’s a race, you might just keep going. If it alters your gait (makes you run funny), you really do not want to keep running unless it is very important. The best way to rehab an injury? Rest. Here’s another case of experts disagreeing. For any injury you have, you can find experts suggesting different ways to fix it. And what works for one person may make it worse for another. I’m not a doctor, so don’t hesitate to go to one, or to a PT or chiro or other health professional. But, do not just ignore it or it will get worse.
9. Cross training? (Weightlifting, yoga, other sports) Guess what, yet again the experts disagree vehemently on this. Some say to do none at all. Period. At the other end, some say to do more cross training than actual running. And yes, both approaches can work. My take is that if you like doing other things, do them. Realize that your cross training might make you faster or able to run longer, or it might make you slower or reduce your endurance – but it still might be worth it, especially if you’re not an elite athlete, which probably you’re not. Mentally, if you enjoy them, that seems a good thing. Stretching is another thing everyone argues about. If it makes you feel good, do it. It might just be a way of loosening up for you. It’s probably not good to stretch too much just before a race or workout and/or when your muscles aren’t warmed up. You might check out Active Isolation Stretching.
10. What shoes should you buy? I don’t know! This is such an individual thing. It can be a huge source of frustration. Do NOT be surprised if you first pair (or first ten pairs) of running shoes are just not quite right. Or if your *perfect* running shoes eventually stop working for you -ugh! If you’re starting out, get thee to a running store and see what they have. Here are a few little tips though:
- Find a pair that feels great right in the (running) store. You should be able to go for a short run right away, usually. Shoes don’t need to be broken in very much. One thing to really focus on is width. If you’re lucky you do not have wide feet. Be sure your feet do not slide around in the shoes when you run. And yes, DO jog around the store or even outside the store in them before buying them.
- If you’re running mostly on road, buy road shoes. They differ from trail shoes. “Trails” to runners means running on dirt or grass or gravel. A paved bike path is not a trail and you would use road shoes for that. Trail shoes should be more suited to handle running on rocks/roots and in mud. Some trails are so “smooth” that you can absolutely use road shoes. Some trails are difficult (“technical”) and you probably want trail shoes.
- Ignore price. Doesn’t mean anything.
- Unfortunately, running store salespeople are, well, salespeople. Even though they are great people (they run!), I think sometimes they can’t overcome going into “sales” mode. First, they want to sell you something, sometimes no matter what. Second, they may have their favorite pet shoes that they think everyone should consider, which may not work for you. Third, sadly, I’ve often discovered that they not only don’t have much of a grasp of running shoes, but that they don’t even know a lot about the shoes in their own store. So, you just need to remember all that.
- It’s NOT a bad thing to own multiple different types of running shoes. You might own two, three, or even more different shoes. You can then rotate through them depending on the situation. Roads vs. Trails. Long run vs. Short run. Indoors vs. Treadmill. There is ample agreement that this in fact is good for your body, to change up your shoe choice. Keeps the muscles/tendons/ligaments/bones in your feet/legs/hips adaptable and strong. So even if you end up with a pair of shoes you don’t think are great, you can use them periodically for, say, easier runs. Eventually you’ll still get your money’s worth out of them.
11. Eventually, I want you to know everything I know (or that I think I know!). My ultimate goal is to get you to the point where you do not need me anymore. That doesn’t necessarily mean a coach still will not be useful. No matter what you know, a coach provides two useful things: 1. accountability and 2. a more objective and alternate point of view. Surely most elite athletes know a lot about their sport, but they still find coaching useful at times. But the more you know, the better you will be able to train, I think.