Monday, 23 February 2015

#138 The Simplest Thing

I've been running, training and racing for several years now and during that time have achieved a relative degree of success. 

I'm not a pro, nowhere near elite and very rarely win races, but having become a student of the sport and learned a great deal from others, I possess a specific set of skills, knowledge and experience on what it takes to run, train and race well and on how to improve. And because I often see and hear others giving, receiving and acting out bad advice and information, I'd like to share and impart with you what I feel it takes to be and become a better* runner.

Here then are a few (perhaps debatable) running, training and racing tips that I ascribe to and which I believe to be true:

1. Run more. Mileage matters most of all and less is rarely more. Rest and recovery are of course important but if, when and what you can, adding more mileage to your weekly, monthly and annual training will go the furthest in helping you to improve.

2. Consistency is king. Success in running is about the accumulation of training over weeks, months and even years. Becoming better takes time and small incremental improvements should be the ultimate goal. Staying healthy and injury-free is then of utmost importance and all actions should consider this outcome.

3. Speed is essential, but also overrated. I am not a fast runner. I suck at speed training. I do it of course and so should you, but running faster in practice does not necessary translate into automatic improvement. Running too fast on easy days is the number one thing that can hold you back from realizing your true potential. Specific runs, namely workouts and long runs, do require speed training in some form. Long intervals, hills, pick-ups/fartleks and track repeats all have their place in a successful training program. Know why, when and how to use them.

4. Know how you recover. Some believe that (passive) rest is best, but I am all about active recovery. After a 20+ mile run on Sunday, I get up on Monday morning and run 10 miles. I don't like taking days off and only do so when absolutely required (for injury or tapering). There are more ways to recover than running less and running more may in fact be the most effective.

5. Races are for racing. When I sign up for a race, I race it! I aim to give it my all and see where I'm at regardless of whether I like the outcome or not. Bad races do and will happen: they need too. But I don't make excuses for a poor performance or a bad race. Excuses don't serve anyone and are all too convenient to depend upon.

6. Mental training and the right attitude are key. Not only do I strive for consistency with training, I also actively train to be more mentally tough. I know where I'm at and train at my current ability (not the one I want to be)! I visualize success, reflect on past training, set ambitious but reasonable goals and can adapt and endure when things don't go to plan. Learn how to persevere and have perspective on yourself as a runner.

7. Don't be obsessive (about the little things). I am/can be neurotic about some aspects of training (you have to be), but generally I do not preoccupy myself with minor details. What I eat, when, how much sleep I get, what gear I use? Those are mostly insignificant to success. Know your body and do the things that work for you as often as you can.

8. Stuff is stuff and it doesn't make a (big) difference. As anyone does, I definitely have my favourites, but I also have no allegiance to any particular brand or product. There's no such things as a superior shoe, shirt or energy chew. Again, find what works for you.

9. You can't do it alone. Training with a group, a club, a team or even a training partner will provide accountability, support, and a shared experience. We often overvalue ourselves and our abilities, but running and training with others will put things in perspective and provide the much needed motivation and desire to endure, compete and improve.

10. You're only as good as your numbers. It's very easy to state grand goals, attempt tough workouts and retrospectively come up with excuses for why you failed, but if being a better runner is your ultimate aim, you have to do the work and perform when it counts. You are only as good as your last race and will only be remembered for your fastest one.

*An assumption/bias I always have is that being a better runner means running faster, farther and enjoying the process in a healthy and sustainable way.

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