"I had to go longer and harder and faster every time"

A few weeks ago I decided to reach out to the running community and ask a simple question that I needed help answering.  I posted the following question on the Go Run Australia Facebook page and could not believe the response that it got.

What is / was your #1 single, biggest challenge when you started running?

Now we’ve all been there as beginners, even some of the fastest runners you know probably began with those awkward, embarrassing first runs / walks and suffered from the same things that we do, but even with that in mind, i did not expect people of all experiences, shapes, sizes, abilities, ages to contribute to this debate.  I don’t know what I expected to be honest, but certainly not the detail and emotive comment that I got back.  The responses really shocked me in to action and I want to try and address the issues that were raised over the coming weeks and months in my blogs.  My hope is that these blogs will be able to help a few people in their own running journey whether they are just getting started, starting again or are seasoned veterans.

Today I am going to address the issue of wanting to go longer, harder and faster every time you run.  This topic was prompted by Ruby, who said...

"For me (the number one challenge..) was the idea that I had to go longer and harder and faster every time. As soon as I was fit enough to run for 20 minutes I'd push for 30, then 40 the next week and so on, unsurprisingly I got injured and fatigued and decided that was a sign I just wasn't meant to be a runner." 

Abbie also picked up on the same theme and said that her number one challenge was …

“a combination of always getting injured by going too hard too soon, and pushing myself to meet previous fitness levels that I am trying to match straight off the bat

This want to go longer, harder and faster every time is actually really common.  People believe that runners run fast, they run for a long time and they run all the time. To be fair that is what it looks like on Facebook isn’t it?  So therefore if I want to be a runner I have to do the same, straight away.  If you are a beginner runner, starting from scratch, that is just not going to happen.  As both Abbie and Ruby said, the result of their efforts to do this was that they got injured and ended up further back than when they started.  Ruby even decided that it "was a sign I just wasn't meant to be a runner.”  How frustrating is that!?!

From where I stand, our want to go longer, harder and faster every time comes from three things:

  1. Our patience (or impatience!) to get better, quicker.
  2. Whether our expectations are actually realistic.
  3. Comparing ourselves with other runners

So, as a coach, what can I say to help beginner runners address these things and get off to a good start?

  1. Start with where you are at.  if you are run/walking, that is fine!  Don’t panic.  Begin increasing the amount of running and decreasing the amount of walking gradually.  So a session one week might look like this: 3 x 5 minute runs with 5 minutes walk in between.  You then gradually move to the next week and it looks like this: 3 x 6 minutes run with 5 minutes walk between and so on…  Don’t make huge jumps in the amount of training that you are doing.  Remember if you go from 20 mins running one day to 30 minutes running the next, that is a 50% increase in one day. Too much, too soon.  Also remember that these runs do not have to be at the same speed as Usain Bolt or the girl down the street who just lapped the Tan track in 14 minutes!  Run slow, easy and controlled, you will feel better for it!
  2. You don’t have to train every day!!  The key is patience and consistent training over time.  That approach will serve you best, not one solid week of training and then a week off because you have shin splints!  Thankfully, consistency doesn’t mean training every day, it means training regularly and recovering properly.  This isn’t the most glamorous or exciting thing to say, but it is what gets results.  
  3. Planning and structure helps. Now that you have realised you don’t have to train every day, and that you don’t have to go loads further and faster each time, it is time to plan. Take a little bit of time to plan and structure your next few weeks.  This plan should tell you what you are going to be doing each day to help you improve, even if the plan says “rest day."  Be realistic in how much time you can commit and base it around your existing work, family and social commitments.  Think about when are the three easiest times of the week for you to run, and schedule runs into your plan at those times.  It could be Tuesday mornings before work or midnight on Thursdays, who cares?  Each person is different and this is your plan, not anyone else's!  The bonus of having a plan is that you can also tick boxes and see the progress that you are making.  Some people decide that this is the point where they would get a coach to help them out, and that is fine too.

I hope those points are useful, but to finish off this post, I just want to say thank you again to all of those who contributed to the conversation thread that I posted on Facebook and I promise to keep researching and writing about the issues and fears that were mentioned in the thread.  Keep an eye out for the next blogs and conversations.  Also, if you think that there are other topics which would benefit you, your friends or other beginner runners, just drop me a message at chris@gorun.com.au and we can chat some more about it.  I read every email and message!

Are you ready to run? If the answer is "YES!" then sign up here for your own running coach and personalised monthly training plan to get you running stronger, longer and faster.  I will get in touch straight away and we can begin working on getting your running to where you really want it to be!