Runners love to talk about running — and with those conversations come all kinds of training tips and tidbits. Though you may be tempted to follow their advice, even the most trusted running buddy — who may have your best interest at heart — won’t always be able to take your pace and fitness level into consideration when laying out the way the sport works.
We talked to five different coaches to find out which running rules are OK to break and what you should be doing instead.
When it comes to running long distances — especially when it comes to the marathon or ultra — many runners are told it is going to be painful. While it does take some grit, as long as you are taking care of your body during training, you shouldn’t be suffering. “There are some points in a competitive situation where you are going to have to gut it out,” admits John Busing, former NFL safety and co-owner of GATA Running. “However that should be the exception, not the rule.”
Overtraining is a very real thing and if you are in pain, it could be the culprit (or may be the reason for an injury that has flared up). Yes, you want to follow your training plan as close as possible, but not at any cost. Running should be enjoyable — not painful — and it is important to realize you may have some limitations that require you to make adjustments.
“If your training program calls for a two-hour run, but you spent the previous night taking care of a crying baby and got two hours sleep, sticking to the plan is probably not in your best interest,” reasons Busing. “When you are properly rested and recovered, hit the gas pedal and get a long run or some intense interval work. On those days when you haven’t recovered properly or are feeling sick, pump the brakes, back off a little from your training program and live to fight another day. It does no good to run yourself into the ground just because it’s written in your plan.”
The truth is, just because you can walk doesn’t mean you are innately a runner. There is a proper technique to implement when running — and even walking — that isn’t natural. Working with a coach or trainer on running mechanics is what will help you overcome this myth and avoid injury.
“Every athlete in other sports works on mechanics and technique; basketball players work on their shot constantly, rowers work to perfect their stroke and swimmers constantly finetune their technique,” notes Tim Edwards, head coach and owner of North Coast Endurance Coaching. “Why should it be ‘natural’ for a runner to run and not see the need to work on mechanics and technique?”
Even if you don’t do a full overhaul of your technique every time you run, it is good to focus on one thing — such as foot strike, cadence or arm swing — as you run. As always, practice makes perfect. You could try to do this on your own, but if you aren’t doing it correctly, it could result in reinforcing bad habits. That is where a coach comes in.
“Physiology, strength, technique and how to train smart are all things that some people have bits of wisdom in, but a professional will be able to bring a wide range of knowledge to bear,” adds Edwards. “I run into this often when I start to coach a new athlete; they tend to not train hard enough on their hard days and train too hard on their easy days. A coach with a solid knowledge base will set up a program to eliminate this. It will also decrease the chance of injury and burnout or fatigue.”
One of the rules runners often hear is that you know you are running a good pace — for long runs in particular — if you can talk to other runners. However, depending on your goals, this isn’t always the case when it comes to training. Sometimes, it is OK to push the pace a little; the key is knowing when.
“It’s OK to [run at a conversational pace] if you have no time goal in mind and are just aiming to finish the race,” explains Carrie Miller, owner and coach at On Pace Coaching. “However, if you are shooting for a specific goal time, it’s best to run at least some of the miles on your long run at race pace. This will give you confidence on race day.”
It is important to learn when to run fast and when to run slow. In this case, having a coach is best; they can work with you to understand how your pace affects your body during training and on race day. Keeping the same pace for every run — especially if you are shooting for speed every run — actually holds you back.
“It’s not ideal to run fast for every workout,” cautions Miller. “Not only could this lead to injury, but also you need to train the different systems of your body. There are times to run fast and times to run slow — and they are all important.”
With so many connected gadgets and gear, it can be easy to get lost in the numbers. You may even find yourself obsessing over them. It is great to use metrics to track your progress in real-time, however, you should be able to unplug — at least for a few runs.
“The art of understanding one’s own body has fallen to the wayside with a replacement of fancy metrics overriding internal self awareness,” observes Kelly Fillnow, professional triathlete and co-owner of Fillnow Coaching. “Fully relying on metrics can potentially inhibit peak performance. Often times athletes set a race pace or heart rate target for their race, yet the metrics hold them back.”
At least once a week, try paying attention to how your body feels. It may take a bit but you will fall into your natural rhythm. In fact, Fillnow shares that this state is often where the magic happens.
“Don’t be afraid to ditch the watches and run by feel,” she continues. “Running by feel leads to a better sense of self-awareness which is a key element of success!”
Of course running should not be painful; however, struggle and pain aren’t always synonymous because struggle isn’t always painful. Running may always be a challenge — and something you might struggle through at times — but you shouldn’t compare yourself to others who may have an easier time at it and let that dictate your training plan.
“You will encounter someone who is having an easier time than you are, even though they may look just like you (or even less athletic!) and have the same amount (or less!) of experience,” confirms Marty Beene, owner of Be The Runner personalized run coaching and personal training. “Don’t let that discourage you.”
When it comes to the sport, remember that sometimes the most challenging runs are also the best because they help you grow as a runner. As you get better, you will face new challenges and struggles and that just means you are making progress. Once you accept that, you can make new breakthroughs and shift your focus to build new strengths.
“We have a tendency to push ourselves a little harder as we get more fit without realizing it,” Beene adds. “You may be running up the same hill every week and it may always feel challenging, so you may feel discouraged. Chances are, however, you’re probably running faster than you were a month ago but just don’t realize it.”