Training and racing smart is just one piece of successful running.
Patience, often learned the hard way, is critical in a sport that demands so much from the body. Long-term progress can only be achieved with patience. PR’s then, are rewarded most consistently to those practicing the two prior.
Be Smart, Stay Patient
A runner can’t race if he is injured, and neither can he race WELL if he’s not training smart. Part of training smart is utilizing patience.
“Patience is critical for runners because distance running is a long-term sport that requires years of diligent practice,” said Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified coach and founder of Strength Running. Staying patient means looking at your goals as long-term, both in full seasons and years down the road.
Runners by nature thrive on setting big goals, and can fall into the tendency to want to hit those goals NOW. But your body can’t race and train at your peak 12 months of the year.
“Too many runners ignore where they are and instead think about where they want to be, so they train for where they want to be,” Fitzgerald said. “But they’re not ready for that level of work yet and injury almost always happens.”
Workouts build off of each other; remain patient, do today’s workout at an appropriate level for today, and then watch things progress.
The mental energy used also isn’t an endless well of reserves. Be selective with how much of that you use throughout the season so by the time your key races come, you’re able to really elevate your performance. Professional runner Sara Hall admits it’s hard to resist pushing workouts too hard.
“I’m notorious for ‘racing my workouts,’” Hall said. But she’s learned to keep her effort levels in check. “It takes confidence and self-control, but I know it will pay off in the long run.”
Taking time to recharge mentally and physically after your races is another good time to practice patience.
“After a marathon, especially one that went well, most runners are eager to continue training and keep setting new personal bests. But the damage from a marathon goes beyond just muscle soreness,” Fitzgerald said. “It includes fatigue to the central nervous system, changes to hormone levels in the body, and even damage to the heart that takes up to a month to fully recover.
“Post-marathon patience often means the difference between running healthy and a serious injury, so I always recommend at least a full week off from running after a marathon. And no hard workouts for at least two weeks!”
Progress In The RIGHT Direction
Maintain patience as you build through the season and progress is its own reward. Using certain workouts as check-ins can be helpful, and so is revisiting a tempo run every 3-4 weeks.
Fitzgerald is more inclined to use races instead.
“The best type of workout to do repeatedly throughout a season is a race! For a runner training for a 5K, racing 2-3 5K’s or even shorter races throughout the season is the best way to determine how their fitness is improving,” he said. Allow at least 1-2 weeks between races.
Remember that while fun, there is such a thing as racing too much. Sometimes you need solid blocks of training time. If you’re using a race more as a workout, be sure to spare that extra mental energy. Racing is fun and always quite tempting but Hall cautions, “You can’t do it all, as much as I’d like to!”
Racing more frequently is easy with 5Ks, not so for marathoners. When solid training time and volume take priority, Fitzgerald advises racing a half-marathon 4-6 weeks out as, “a good way to determine your fitness level and estimate your marathon finish time.”
Noticing progress in the opposite direction? If you’re feeling flat, overly tired, and the times are off for a string of five days, reassess. Ensure your easy days are easy, tailor back your training, and take 2-4 days of only running easy or off. Turning things back around is much easier to do sooner rather than later.
Fitzgerald stresses the problem is often lifestyle, rather than over-training: “Too little sleep, too much stress at work or at home, or poor diet and hydration.” Be extra diligent in these areas and, with the extra rest, you should see improvement.
PR’ing And Putting The Pieces Together
“Workouts need to start looking like the race itself, they have to be race-specific,” Fitzgerald said of the time when your race draws near.
The last few workouts are used for sharpening and getting your legs used to goal race pace. For a 5K racer, Fitzgerald suggests 3 x 1 mile at target pace using 90 seconds recovery between reps.
Sara Hall explains that while her lead-up to championship races means a drop in volume, “I try to make sure to maintain the intensity.” She’s also more strict with her sleeping schedule, careful to limit time on her feet, and being more mindful of her nutrition. “Mentally, I try to redirect the feelings of pressure and nervousness to excitement and focus on how much I love competing and what an incredible opportunity I have before me.”
Elite runner and coach Malindi Elmore’s starting-line tip to racers is this: “Most people start their races too fast and positive split … often people are shocked by how slow it feels so I remind them it should feel easy at the start of a race and that they need to keep their energy under control so they don’t fade in the latter parts of the race.”
Go in with confidence, use the energy of race-day to elevate your performance, and capitalize on that foundation of patience and progress.
About The Author:
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5K record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer, she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.