Train to gain

Why smarter training leads to greater success

Ten years ago when I started running, I thought in order to build speed and endurance, you must run as fast as you can, for as long as you can.

Turns out, I didn’t make it even to the top of the footpath in the field at the back of my parents house. All out of puff and sweating like a monster, I thought ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ‘Am I just severely unfit?’ ‘Does this get easier?!’

Turns out, yes – it gets easier – but only if you listen to your body, build up a decent base of fitness and train smart. Nowadays, I’m pretty confident I could make it to the top of that footpath now, having run 19 marathons and collected a nice collection of trophies and medals along the way.

When I say train smart, I don’t mean you have to do everything by the book doing this rep at this pace and that rep at that pace – all that will do is suck the fun right out of running and leave your racers collecting dust under the stairs.

In fact, I’m pretty unconventional with my own running – I don’t belong to a club, I don’t follow any set plans (other than my own) and I don’t take my long runs up to anything over 15 or 16 miles. But that’s what works for me – and I know, from experience, that running your own path is golden in this sport.

So here’s how I train smart and how I have achieved success in running plus maintained satisfaction in the everyday run:

  1. Listen to your body – if you’re physically or mentally exhausted, running is not going to give you a new lease of life. It might give you a temporary kick but in the long run (pun intended) it will leave you even more tired and vulnerable to injury.
  2. Decide what your goals are – remember, running for fitness alone is perfectly acceptable. If you don’t want to run a 5k or half marathon at any time soon, don’t. The running police won’t arrest you if you don’t sign up to an event within 6 months of the sport.
  3. If you do want to race, always compete against yourself, aiming to PB rather than competitors and never beat yourself up about your performance – all experience is good experience.
  4. Mix it up – aim to build variety of distances and paces into your schedule. Make easy runs easy(ish) and thrash it out in the tempo sessions. A typical week for me will look something like this:
    Monday – 5 miles
    Tuesday – track session
    Wednesday – 6 miles
    Thursday – 8 miles
    Friday – 4 miles
    Saturday – rest
    Sunday – long run of 10 – 16 miles depending on forthcoming events
  5. Forget the fads – runners that rarely get injured (including myself) keep things simple and don’t experiment all that much. They know what works for them and don’t buy into the latest fitness fads promising quick fixes.
  6. Because I’ll let you into a little secret of distance running – there are no quick fixes! It’s a long old hard slog but the pay-off is the most satisfying thing in the world. Vivo Five Fingers, KT tape and all those diet supplements celebs endorse, I’m talking about you.
  7. Accept that you’re not invincible – Let’s be honest, we’ve all got our running hey-day and one day we’ll all be past our prime. So until then, it’s all about packing in the PBs while you’re young enough and fit enough. But that’ll never happen if you’re hammering the miles around the clock and substituting a rest day for a hard parkrun. I know plenty of runners who have got injured at parkrun Saturday then can’t run their target race the next day. Don’t let that be you! No one is invincible but with smarter training, you can avoid niggles and notch up more miles with a sensible approach rather than having an overzealous attitude.

Hope you’ve found those tips useful and that you’re all enjoying your running :]

Keep up!