There’s no shortage of advice out there when it comes to running further or faster, but what if getting to the start line is enough of a challenge in and of itself?
How do you make training less daunting when running is a total struggle?
I get asked this question a lot from people who are interested in training for a specific event but either A) are new to the game and don’t know how to get started, B) have a history of injury and/or medical conditions that prevent them from following a typical training plan or C) have crashed and burned in the past and realize that a more realistic approach is needed.
Believe it or not, at one point or another in my 20+ years of running experience, I’ve been in each of those places!
Disclaimer: Although I’m a former ACE-certified personal trainer, I’m not a running coach or a medical professional, so seek their guidance before following any advice you read here or elsewhere; this is just some insight I’ve gleaned from years of trial and error.
First, have you cleared it with your doctor that you’re cool to run? If not, that’s priority numero uno. Second, get your expectations in order because there’s no quick fix here; the best approach is to follow the tortoise’s lead: slow and steady.
Also, keep in mind that one of the biggest reasons people “hate” running and/or end up abandoning it is because they get impatient, rush the process and it ends up being a miserable experience all around.
So instead, let’s talk tips for making training less about competition and more about completion so you step up to that start line confident, healthy and ready to run.
1. Take a typical training plan, and double the time it takes to prepare. For example, if your goal is a half marathon and the plan you want to use is four months in duration, give yourself eight to properly gear up for race day. Of course, we’re not talking twice the amount of hardcore training; we’re talking about giving yourself a longer runway to ease into running — without feeling the pressure of time — before actual training begins.
2. Start slow, stay slow and keep it comfortable. There’s a misconception that running has to suck in order for it to be working. Not so. If it’s uncomfortable, slow down. If it’s painful, stop. One tip here, which a lot of my triathlete friends swear by, is to calculate your heart rate ranges and use a heart rate monitor to quantitatively force yourself to slow down. Most of us are pushing too hard, so it’s often surprising to see how slow you really need to go in order to stay within range and build a true aerobic base!
3. Never underestimate the power of NOT running. I experimented with this concept as I was training for my first marathon back after a major injury (stress fracture in hip…followed by years of thinking I would never run 26.2 again). Knowing that when I run every day I can pretty much count on an injury, I found a plan where I was running only three times week and cross training and/or resting the other days. It worked like a charm! Not only did I get a personal record on race day, but I crossed the finish line injury-free.
4. Don’t get fixated on “running” the entire event. Put bluntly, you’ve got to know the constraints of your body, and sometimes running for hours on end in a longer event is just too much. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do it, it just means you may need to adjust your definition of what “running” the race means. If your goal truly is just to finish, make it your mission to figure out the equation that’ll get you there in one piece.
For example, in my last marathon, I had a pre-stress fracture in my tibia and had to take five weeks off during peak training for it to heal. I ramped up as best I could toward race day, but there was no way I’d make up the mileage and be able to run 26.2 without potentially re-injuring myself. So I consulted a coach, and we made a game plan for me to set my watch for 10-min jog/1-min walk increments. It was still was painful, yes, but I made it…and was only 10 minutes off my personal best time.
5. Get up close and personal with all kinds of cross-training. If running beats you up (like it does me), rely on other forms of cross training to develop cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. I cycled like crazy during those five weeks off from running during that last marathon training phase, and I credit it for helping me maintain my fitness despite having an injury. Of course, some running is important to get your body used to the movement, but otherwise swimming, biking, hiking, etc. are all awesome ways to condition yourself silly.
6. Put your faith in preventative care practices. One of the most important keys to success in running is what you’re doing when you’re not running. Think of it as banking good karma with the running gods every time you hit up a yoga class, break out the foam roller or take time for a stretch session. Supple muscles are strong, yet loose, and less prone to injury; take care of your body, and it will do the same for you. Plus, another bonus is that it’s a good brain break from all the other training you’re doing!