Littlerunnergurl pointed out to me today that maybe I should start running for distance rather than time. This could be the change I need and give me new goals with my running.
This change though brings up all sorts of questions. Should I concentrate on one distance and keep running that until…
First, let me say that there are as many different training plans and philosphies regarding running as there are brands of running shoes. And just like shoes, you need to find the one that fits - fits your mentality, physical state, and most of all, just feels achievable. If after giving the program a REAL chance you find it’s just not clicking, try something else. You’re not quitting as long as you’re changing it up - you’re just trying to find what works for you so you CAN make progress (again).
As for time vs. distance, I think it depends on your goals and focus.
If you’re running purely for fitness, effort is one of the key points to focus on, which is why many beginner programs key off running for a period of time instead of a distance - the idea being you get your heart rate up and run for a consistent level of effort (or the best you can manage) across the entire period of exercise. If you’re going this approach, you shouldn’t be too discouraged if on one day you run 45 minutes and get 3 miles in, and the next time you do the same duration you only get 2. The idea is over time, with a focus on maintaining a steady pace and steady effort, you will build that endurance and cover more distance for the same level of effort.
The drawback to this approach is it can take a long time to achieve goals related to running (e.g. running a certain distance or time) because your focus really is on effort. You’ll be getting fit, probably lose weight, and feel healthier, but it may be discouraging to not see “running results”.
If you’re trying to train to run a race of a certain distance, I think it’s a good idea to work up your base mileage until you’re getting numbers that indicate you’ll be able to run the longer distance that the race requires. This may mean you have to switch over to a running-for-distance plan at some point to make sure you’re getting the miles you need.
The length of your race will determine 1) how many miles a week you should be running by race-day, 2) the length of your longest run that should give you an indication that you can run the race. Long runs usually build to 60-90% of race length, run at a slower pace, so a long run on a 10K plan (in one of the weeks close to race-day) might be 4-5 miles for the 6.2 mile race, while a marathoner might do a 20 miler.
With the above, yes, you’re trying to work on completing a distance, so if it takes you a little bit longer (i.e. slower pace), that’s ok. Many of the beginner plans that use distance use a walk-run approach - you run for
X minutes, walk for Y minutes (with the running time increasing and the walking time decreasing as the weeks progress). Even if you still feel full of energy, you take the required walk break, and you’ll find you’re going MUCH further distance-wise than you could have just by a continuous run. (This might be something to try in your current plan - run 5 minutes at whatever pace you’re supposed to do, then walk 1-2, then repeat for the duration of your time or distance you’re supposed to achieve - even with the slower pace of the walking, you’ll probably find you went further overall than those days where you just ran until your body gave out).
As for details of a distance plan, you’ll probably want to both increase your distances and your pace, but not so much that your body can’t keep up. A general rule of thumb for a moderate program is increase no more than 10% of your mileage from week to week, and every 4 weeks take a easy week to recuperate, then begin again with a slight pace increase over your previous month’s efforts. If at any point you’re struggling to achieve the plan’s goals, you can either revisit/recalculate a new plan or hold at that level for a couple weeks until you feel you are able to move ahead again.
There are all kinds of training plans out there and many are customizable and/or auto-generated for you based on some information. I’m actually using one of these myself - the Runner’s World’s plan, which starts you off with the following, at a minimum:
- 1 “long” run, with rest days on either side of it
- 1 “easy” day on the first “running day” after your long day
- 1 “speed/intensity” day where you might do a tempo run, speed intervals, etc.
The other days are either rest/cross-train days, or when you’re at the point where you’re putting in more mileage, the plan might have a second easy day thrown in the mix.
If this sounds confusing - that’s because it’s hard describe in general terms. But you can create one yourself for free - go to http://smartcoach.runnersworld.com/smartcoach/ (you’ll have to create a free Runner’s World account and log in first) and it gives you a really easy setup screen to create your own program. By entering basic info like the distance and date of the race you’re training for and how many miles a week you want to start with running (6-11, 11-16, etc), it creates a customized plan with distances AND paces for you. Here’s an example plan I created assuming I was training for a 10K race, with a recent 5K race time of 45 minutes, and a weekly mileage starting at 6-11 miles per week, with a race goal in 3 months:
Set yours up according to your own stats and see how it looks!
The free SmartCoach program only lets you create a plan from scratch - not modify it once you’re underway, but that’s not a big deal to me. If it is to you, you can upgrade to the paid program that lets you tweak paces/distances based on how your fitness is going and any injuries you might get, etc.
Regardless of the approach you choose, there are a few things I think are important for any training program:
1) Don’t over-do it. 3 days of running a week with rest or cross-training on the other days is PLENTY to start with - your body needs time to recuperate and the rest days will make you stronger than if you pushed yourself every day.
2) Don’t get bogged down over a bad workout or even a chain of bad runs - experiment but don’t get discouraged. Everyone goes through it.
3) Listen to your body, and take it easy when you need to. It’s not worth staying “on-plan” if it means you’re going to hurt yourself or overextend yourself. (This doesn’t mean make excuses for not running, but temper your runs if you’re in pain or can’t seem to maintain your previous efforts once in a while.)
4) ENJOY the experience, and try to think of it as more than just exercise! After all, if exercise is all you were after, you might as well be sitting on a stationary bike in front of a television set, right?