As a coach and writer writer I have always struggled with “top” lists. Whether it is the Top 10 Beaches in America, Top 11 Taco joints in Boston (I prefer Anna’s incidentally), Top 8 Ways to Tighten Your Butt or in our world of running the ubiquitous – “6 Ways To A Great 10k” – type articles have now become inescapable and part of the print media vernacular. And yes, this soap box comes to you from a writer and coach as guilty as any in disseminating these types of articles.
The truth is there are not 10 ways to a great marathon, or 5 ways to run a great mile. In full honesty there are a thousand or more elements to a great running performance of any distance. There are, however, a variety of simple elements – some newer, some tried and true – many often overlooked for lack of being reminded to consider them, but all of which can increase your chances for a solid running performance on race days.
I have decided to bestow on you a choice handful of items to consider for your tweaking. Some of what’s to come is repetition; some will challenge widely held beliefs (this is a good thing), but all can and will give you the extra .5% – 1% which often leads to bests. I promise to avoid making any more important than any other and to wholeheartedly avoid numbers.
A. Take a Down Day.
Distance runners are as anal as they come, and most struggle with rest and time away from running. Rest isn’t you NOT training. Rest is part OF your training. Shift your thinking in this respect and remember that rest augments other than inhibits hard training.
B. Run with others.
I understand that by and large distance runners are an introverted intellectual lot and the thought of time away from your Fareed Zakaria podcast is akin to Chinese Water Torture, but know this……more than a dozen studies over the last 20 years have shown that training with others will enable you to run faster at the same level of perceived exertion as you would running alone. Call running with others the poor man’s caffeine (which also reduces perceived exertion). Find a partner!
C. How Much You Run Matters. Full Stop.
I won’t tackle specifically how much (very individual), how many days per week, should I double on certain days? and similar nuanced questions this month, but suffice to say that Gladwell was somewhat on target with his 10,000 hour theory in “Tipping Point.” Time on your feet matters. Time on your feet matters for oxygen transport and uptake capability, for the ability to prepare the body for the rigors of harder training over years, for the strength of connective tissue and even for the mental malleability so important to distance running success. So whether you are a miler or a marathoner, be okay with a bit more running each session. Your PRs will thank you.
D. Be a complete athlete.
Don’t just be a runner, be an athlete. Implement drills. Do some work that involves lateral motion. Involve yourself in a body stabilization (aka “core”) routine. Lift weights. Toss in 1-2 non running workouts each week (pool, stationary bike, Elliptigo etc. as a way of providing additional aerobic benefit with reduced impact). In the end becoming more “whole” as an athlete will reduce your likelihood of injuries and keep you excelling in the sport longer.
E. Give Yourself Time and Set Goals.
In an increasingly impatient world, distance running is a sport rooted in delayed gratification. Know that whatever your goals in running, realizing your full potential takes time. And with greater numbers of folks taking up running later in life (including many with little to no athletic background), the necessity of patience must be underscored further. Have goals (both process and outcome); put them in writing and reassess each year as you move forward in the sport.
Today’s distance runners are far more careful with their race selection than athletes of a generation ago. Additionally, I now encounter more athletes who will only toe the line if they feel they are in the best shape of their lives. Run low key races to gain fitness. Race as fitness tests even amidst build-ups for larger races. Competing makes you a better competitor. Embrace racing as your opportunity to test and build fitness, rather than fearing racing as a “do or die” scenario.
G. Take Risks and Try Differing Tactics / Approaches.
Nothing great in sport occurs without some degree of risk. Are you the runner who always feels the need to be out quickly in a race and hang on? Why not try being more conservative through half way and slowly pick it up? Are you always the controlled even splitter? Why not occasionally let a flyer go and open up the first 1/2 of your race 4-8 sec per mile quicker and see how you handle the quicker tempo. Never trained or raced on the track? Try implementing a “once per 10 days” on the oval strategy for increased efficiency. Take risks and try new things. For as easy as it is to become stagnant in our sport, a change in approach/routine can as decisively bring you out of your rut.
In the movie “Dumb and Dumber” Lloyd asks Mary to hit him with the truth of their chances together as a couple. – – – – – – “Not good,” she responds. – – – – – – “Not good like one out of a hundred?” he asks. – – – – – – “I’d say more like one out of a million,” Mary slowly tells him. – – – – – – Lloyd’s response is one from which we as coaches and athletes can all learn – – – – – – “so you’re telling me there’s a chance, yeah!!!” Lloyd’s cognitive reframing of Mary’s negative response is a teachable moment. We all have the power to take the athletic lot we are given and make great performances happen. These great performances and the full realization of potential, however, are more likely if we shift small elements from time to time. Because we all know what doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is called……