I think one of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn over the course of my #Runtober training is that, in order to be an efficient, healthy and – most importantly – injury-free runner, I can’t run every day.
That’s right. To train for a race, an “extreme” distance (translating to above 3-4ish miles a day), you cannot run every day. And, if you run on days that are back to back? You shouldn’t be running on the same kind of terrain, the same amount of mileage, or at the same pace or intensity.
There’s a science to it, though:
1) Running correctly can work almost every muscle in your body, consistently and for a very long time. The biomechanics of running says that you lift your body up from the ground by the ball of your foot, elevate into the air, come back crashing down into the Earth and your muscles help sustain you and prevent you from collapsing into the ground when you do, in fact, crash into the Earth and come back down, landing on your alternate foot. The body needs to be able to rest and heal from that.
2) If your body doesn’t heal properly from its most previous run, you’re flirting with the risk of injury. Sore joints directly affect the behavior of the muscles surrounding it – if you hurt your left ankle, you can expect your foot and your calf to behave differently to avoid further pain – which then overworks those muscles, prevents them from operating fully and then invites even more injury.
3) Running makes you hungrier than you could possibly ever imagine. Your metabolism goes bat sh-t crazy, because your body is so used to you running like there’s a zombie behind you all day, that it feels more comfy burning calories faster. (No, really – I accidentally burned 5400 calories in a 24-hour time period last week.) You try to run ten miles a day, every day? Rest assured… you’ll be not only eating all day, but sleeping when you’re not eating, because the carb loading would quickly trigger post-prandial somnolence… also known as “the ‘itis.”
4) Running the same way, on the same kind of track, at the same pace every day almost entirely ensures that you’ll never become a better runner and, almost always ensures injury. If better is defined as “quicker, stronger, able to adapt” then varying your training grounds are the only way to make that happen.
So… what are the key components of a good training program?
1) Running, of course. And… lots of it.
2) Strength training. Running requires a ton of muscle, and in some cases can actually burn off valuable muscle when the body isn’t properly fueled. Giving the body the opportunity to rebuild that is essential. Not to mention, a stronger body translates to afaster body, and targeted strength training can help make that happen.
3) Variations of intensity. You can’t go hard in the paint seven days a week. You’ll never give your body the opportunity to rebuild the appropriate stores of energy, and can actually gain weight if you’re not careful. You’d always be tired. You’d always be sore. You might could even go six days a week, but at least three of those days would have to be super duper easy, and super duper low-mileage.
4) Increasing mileage… and variations in the increase. Only one day each week should be the day where you’re pushing yourself to test whether or not you can handle the full distance of your race. Especially for the every day person with a job or other responsibilities besides running, it’s simply far too much of a burden on your body to go that kind of distance on a consistent basis. One day has to be light, a couple of days have to make you step up to the plate, but there should only be one day when you aim to hit it out of the park and round all the bases to bring it home.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Baseball.
So, to put it into context, your first week in training for a 10-miler might look like four days of running, with a strength training day, followed by a 3.5 mile slow day, where you push yourself, followed by a 2-mile easy day, followed by a day of strength training (who wants to do lifting after a hard day on the pavement?), followed by a 3.5-mile day where you push yourself on speed, followed by a rest day to gear up for your tough day, where you go the distance with 5 miles.
The following week, you might bump everything up anywhere from .5 of a mile to a full mile. It looks better when you write it out… so I wrote it out.
No training program is perfect for everyone, but there is one that comes close. Hal Higdon, writer for Runner’s World and author of the very awesome Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide has a website full of training schedules for every race, starting from the novice 5k to the advanced 5k all the way up to the novice, intermediate and advanced marathon. Considering the guidelines I’ve shared here for things to consider in creating your training program, any person could take his training schedule and modify it to fit their individual needs. I’m definitely holding fast to my copy of the 15k training program, and will soon be enjoying my taper down to the day of my race!
What tips can you share about how to build an effective training program? How did you create your training program?