When people think of distance running, they think of many things – energy, adrenaline, pain is probably top of the list. I would say that the single most important thing in distance running is patience.
It’s easy to think that by knocking out a really hard workout you will become a stronger runner, or by running more miles than ever before. But the truth is, running ability will develop best through a long period of consistent training, uninterrupted by injury, apathy or laziness.
I’m not talking about weeks here, or even months, but years. This is difficult to deal with in today’s society, we’re used to getting anything we want, if not immediately, at least within 48hrs. That is about enough time for one run and recovery cycle, at most two for ordinary people. You might work hard, enjoy it, and feel good, but you’re not going to get in shape from one run.
Running is about the long game, planning where you want to be in 3-5yrs, and slowly working towards that. Of course, you can run without a long term plan – you just won’t progress as well and may be more likely to get injured. You don’t need to know exactly how you’ll be running in a years’ time, but you should have intentions and ideas.
How to be a patient runner:
- Never increase your mileage by more than 10% each week.
- Be sure to back off regularly- take your rest days, have an easy week every so often.
- Listen to your body – really listen, if something hurts, don’t ignore it.
- Don’t add more than one extra training day per year, if you ran three times a week last year, don’t run more than four times a week this year.
- Don’t add more than one new element to your training each year. If you started speedwork this year, wait ’till next year to do plyos.
I know all of this because I am not patient with my running. I was amazed how quickly I developed from a hobby jogger to a serious runner, and I didn’t realise that the first gains are by far the easiest. I started running twice-a-day for my second marathon, not only an insane level of commitment, but alhtough my body could cope with the increase it wasn’t optimum for improvement as I wasn’t giving myself enough recovery time.
I sat out most of last year with shin splints, an incredibly frustrating injury, that left me unable to run at all for six months, and having to return painfully slowly. I was finally coming back from this injury, and I went and injured myself again. I was in a new city, the weather is getting better, and I went further than I should have, over tougher terrain (just how I injured myself almost exactly a year earlier…)
I pulled a tendon in my left ankle – I was unable to walk normally for 2 weeks and unable to run for six. I hope I will learn to follow my own advice in future. I need to be patient with my body. I can’t rush out the door thinking I’m in the shape I was 18 months ago – it will be at least another 18 months before I’m there again.
I’ll just have to be patient and wait for my fitness to catch up with my ambitions.