Background: In HS I was a distance runner - even being short. We won the GA state Cross Country championship, for two reasons:
- We had 3 Junior Olympians on our team, and one was a 4min miler - in HS. I was the slowest - and all seven of us could all do the 3mi CC course (called "Golfmore" in DeKalb county, GA) in sub-17min. We even finished a "tri-meet" (against 2 other HS) with all seven of us crossing the finish line, holding hands - before any other runner.
- We had an outstanding CC coach. He taught us, early on, how to properly train to be an effective distance runner.
Now I don't run anymore (injuries from a car crash prevent it), but I still coach my kids to help them, and help out with the track teams at their schools. Here are the tips I wanted to share:
- It's been said before, but it must be said again - you MUST get the right shoes for your type of running, body type, etc. Go to a store dedicated to runners (they're still around, if you look), and have them fit you properly for your needs and goals. And once they wear out, get new ones. Immediately. I don't have to say to never wear someone else's shoes, do I?
- Running Style: Running should be a relaxed effort, not stiff or strenuous. Your arms should be comfortably at your sides, moving as they must, forearms parallel to the ground, hands relaxed and open. Your stride should also be comfortable - not teeny steps, not huge strides - it must be your pace, your style, for your body.
- Warmups and Cooldowns: These are IMPERATIVE. Warmup should be a slow jog interspersed with stretches to get the joints loosened and muscles warmed. Cooldowns should be the same - slow jog interspersed with stretches. You will be AMAZED how much less your legs will hurt, because it helps your body break down the lactic acid buildup in your muscles.
- One more thing on stretching. It is a must - why? Because running is an action that is mainly a "short muscle throw" action, meaning that your muscles - and related ligaments, tendons, etc. - will tighten to the repetitive "throw" of those muscles, which can lead to sprains, strains, and even tears. Stretch. Alot. And when you think you've done enough, do it more. You can't stretch too much.
- Eat properly. If you're racing or training for one there are great menu plans for you to help you in both training and the race itself. The latest thoughts on this change a lot, so look on the 'net for the latest info.
- Speaking of racing... I was a LONG distance runner. I ran 50-60 mi/week. The Atlanta Track Club (ATC) has races in the ATL area every single weekend - from 5K (3.1mi), 10K (6.2mi), half marathon (13.1mi), and full marathon (26.2mi). This kept me interested, and gave me something to shoot for every weekend. I also liked the t-shirts and medals ;) Anyway, I mention this because it may help you stay focused and committed - it gives you continuous goals. Additionally there are races that "seed" the runners based on confirmed speed, and those confirmed races must come from sanctioned track authorities, like ATC. So if you want to get into some of the bigger races, and don't want to be stuck at the back, then go do some local races and improve your times.
- Finally - the most important, as it encompasses many of these things: Vary your workout routine. Racing, especially long distance racing, requires different muscles and styles at different stages. You use burst/sprint speed maybe at the start, and definitely at the end; you have coast speed when things are flat; you have uphill and downhill styles - you get the idea. The best way to make sure you're training for all these styles is to vary your workouts - here are my training tips:
- Have an "LSD" day - Long Slow Distance. This is a leisurely, long, run that is comfortable enough where you could carry on a conversation - but go 1.5 - 2 times your normal running distance. This builds coasting and mainly endurance.
- Have a day of fartleks: Fartleks, in the running sense, is an easy way to help build your burst speed in a fun way. Basically you run your normal training distance, but every few minutes you pick a start and end point - say from one light pole to the next - and you sprint that distance; then you drop back to normal cruising speed.
- Have a pyramid day: Go to a local track, and run what are known as "pyramids" - it would go something like 200m, 400m, 800m 400m, 200m - and then back up and down. As you build endurance and skill, you can vary and increase the pyramids, and how many reps as well.
- Have a "hill" day: - find a bigassed hill in some neighborhood near you - preferrably that begins or ends in a culdisac (less traffic), and work on your technique going up and down hills. Your technique will differ based on your body type and height. For instance, because I'm short, I'm better going uphill, because I have a naturally short stride, so going uphill feels more natural - so I trained to become a beast at uphill running, because I knew that would give me a physiological (and psychological) advantage. If you're tall, uphill is harder (so you need to train for it more, and learn to shorten your stride) but downhill is easier (longer strides naturally). Either way, it is a very good thing to do.
- Have a day or two of your normal speed and distance - or the distance, at a minimum, of your next race (unless it is over a half-marathon). Now the reason I mention that about the distance is that, in a race situation, the normal person can run about 1.5-2.5x their normal training distance (but if you're not in shape, you'll hurt like a MF the next day). So, when I trained for a marathon (the first time), my average distance was about 13-15 miles. Once every week - 10 days I would make sure my LSD day was at least my race distance. This helped me not overtrain but made sure I had sufficient endurance to finish the race, no matter what the speed.
- TAKE A DAY OFF. Your body needs time to heal and recuperate. Constant training will lead to physical burnout - the dreaded "wall", which can actually be hit at any distance, based on the runner.
Eventually, if you train long and well enough, you'll get to the point where running doesn't hurt, at all. You finish running feeling relaxed, tired, but great (runner's high rocks!). The point where you get there is fantastic - and is a great accomplishment. When I got there I used running to help me calm down - from my stepdad, my dad, etc. Get pissed? Go run it off. I even ran 2x/day - lunch and evening, year round. That was too much, but like I said - I was addicted ;)
One more thing to optionally add to my training regimen above. IF you feel comfortable doing this, and IF you are at a point where you can run a pretty long way, Go for "exploration" runs. I would deliberately run down roads I had never seen before, and just get lost - it was easier in the rural area where I lived, but it can be done elsewhere - and I would just continue going until I recognized where I was, and then I would go home. This was often combined with my LSD day, unless the race the next weekend was short (10K or less). I loved these runs, and it was a blast finding new places to run.
And a final "old runner's" suggestion - if you're running, and a dog starts chasing you - and is aggressive - turn around and act like you're going to throw something at them - every single time I did this, the dog stopped, quickly backed up, and then stood there barking. I would either wait until he walked away to continue running, or would go ahead and start if I thought he was sufficiently scared enough. If it happens - and it will - this may help you avoid an adverse - and painful - situation.