“How to get good at running” or Coach Blog: Winter Training Feb 2-8

This week was kind of one big long progression. Starting on Monday we went from 20min steady to 12min tempo to 8min at 10k effort. Then on Wednesday we did 2k at 10k pace, 1k at 5k pace, 800 at 3k pace and 2x400m at 1500m pace on the track. Monday was very cold and windy and snowy, though the roads were clear enough. I was actually pretty warm, but 4 layers on top and on the bottom plus a double tuque and a facemask will keep you toasty! Saturday as has been the trend recently was an easy long run. One more PB to add as Dan from varsity popped off a nice 8:47 3000m at the Dome in Ottawa. 400m track but still, a big enough PB (8:57 two weeks prior at Team Challenge) that it counts, no question.

That’s it for training this week. In order for you to get your money’s worth out of the blog, however, I wanted to answer a kind of big, obvious, but simple question: how to I get better at running. Obviously, the answer to this question could be book length, or longer. It could be as short as two words: run more. It could be as short as two other words: it depends. But I wanted to share a couple of answers that were given to me when I asked the question.

When I finished my university athletic career, I still had a year left of school (since I had run 4 years in undergrad and 1 year out of a 2-year masters). So as we were driving back from the Fredericton airport, I asked UNB coach Tim Randall what I needed to do to get better, to keep running and be the best I could be after school. After all, I was only 23 at the time, with plenty of time left for improvement. I should say that the relative lack of improvement should not be construed as being Tim’s fault! Nor the fault of anyone else who gave me advice. Indeed, all the advice in the world is worth little without proper execution. But that is another story.

So Tim said, pretty simply, well you should try and get to running at least 60 miles a week. Now, keep in mind this is no magic number, really, and probably Tim said 60 because he had followed my training for at least a year and he knew what I had already done. So 60 mpw for me was a step up, significantly so. In the next year, with Tim’s guidance, and with the guidance of Mel Keeling, a coach in the mould of the “old general” and who also knew his stuff, I boosted my volume and by the time my time was over in Fredericton, I was up to about 70 mpw. That summer I managed to run a PB in the 5000m, (despite also dropping out of a few races: see above re: proper execution), and the following fall I managed to knock a minute off my 10k time. Just by running more.

Another example of advice that was given to me quite generously and freely is this one: probably around the same time (I can’t seem to find the email now), I sent a message to Steve Boyd, probably after reading a bunch of his stuff on the old TNF North message board. The simple question I had was, again, how do I get better. Steve’s answer was simple: try to run 60min every day. No magic numbers here, it was, also relative to me saying to him how much I was running at the time. So he basically was saying, look if you are hitting 50-55min in your runs, just boost it up to 60. What he didn’t say, but knew well, was that once I did this, 60 would become the new normal, and then I’d be pushing it up to 65 or 70min.

A few years later, a post appeared on the internet. This famous post, Wejo’s “Why I sucked in College” came about too late for my college career, but the core message (“keep it simple”, “consistency is key” and “you gotta believe”) was useful to help me take on my first (and second) marathons with some relative success. Again, I blame the execution and not the planning for my own mediocrity. Read Wejo’s post, and get it.

Around that time as well, I read, almost completely, Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running. There’s so much in there that it is impossible to do it justice but one of the best breakdowns of “what it takes” comes in the form of the 15 laws of training. I won’t list them here, but do read the link.

If I had to summarize all this advice, it would be as follows: run more, mostly easy, rest up. That’s my philosophical mantra, and though I was pushed on the “easy” part recently, I have decided to keep it (note that “mostly” easy leaves room for the fast running that needs to be done). Distance running is a simple sort. Simple but not easy. The theory, the philosophy is as straightforward as it gets. Now you know it. All you have to do is get out there and execute.