For me running isn’t just a thing I do now and stop if the next best hobby comes around the corner. Running has become an integral part of my life and probably the main contributor for my overall health.
I see running more as a lifestyle thing that goes way beyond the I’m-gonna-run-a-marathon-once scheme. And I also plan to keep on running for the reminder of my life.
For that reason I don’t put performance first in my training but focus on staying healthy and don’t wear down my body too much.
So in this article I wanna share my views on why long term thinking is good for runners and how to adapt your training for not just one race but for a lifetime of running.
Two things come in mind here: Passion and health.
I’m certainly not the only one who fell in love with running. Often it starts out with the wish of being healthier, lose some weight or finish a half or full marathon. But for most running over time becomes a matter of passion.
And it’s kind of obvious. If you like doing something it makes sense to strive for doing it as long as you can. That’s probably my number one reason why I think long term when it comes to endurance running: I still wanna be able to do it decades from now.
The other thing is health. It happens quite fast that an ambitious goal leads to heavy training that the body is not (yet) ready for and the result is an injury. Getting injured is of course the opposite of improving health with running.
So again I see running as an awesome thing of improving health constantly and long term. If I only look at achieving the next PB, chances are that I decrease health and get long term damage.
Having a long term running attitude doesn’t mean you can’t improve, get faster and achieve awesome things in running. It just means you shouldn’t rush anything and have a realistic and conservative idea of when to achieve those goals.
I’ve recently written about dreaming big when it comes to running and why you should have ambitious goals. But if you dream of running the Boston Marathon but haven’t done anything but sitting around for the last couple of years, qualifying for Boston within three months just isn’t a healthy goal.
Your running dream should be a long term goal without a specific date. It should rather be something that motivates you to keep going for years, something that makes you dream.
Until you’re ready to tackle your big dream, you should set small, healthy goals. Goals that are possible to achieve without a huge increase in training.
I recommend you to set 2-4 of those goals each year. And make little steps to lower the chance of injury. Remember you only need small progress to stay motivated and to get closer to your big running dream. But if you’re overly ambitious, chances are that you lose your health focus and damage yourself.
The key in your goal setting should be to run consistently throughout the year without any breaks due to injury, lack of motivation or anything else of more than 10 days.
If you stay consistent, improvement comes automatically.
Not only your goals but also your running regimen should always be on sustaining and improving your health. If you prioritize long term running over short term success, this should be reflected in your training program.
Make sure you keep an eye on these things:
Most runners just plan their workouts. They look at the calendar seeing seven days a week for training. But as I stated many times, recovery is where you actually improve and is therefore one of the most important things in training.
In my opinion training quality always beats quantity. I proofed this to myself by training for my first marathon and on most weeks only went running twice a week. But these two workouts were very specific and greatly improved either endurance or fitness.
After each intense and/or long workout I planned in at least one recovery day where I didn’t do much. I focused on healthy eating and did some recovery activity like massages and going to the sauna.
Only when my muscles weren’t sore anymore I did my next workout. Make sure you do at least a long run at low intensity and one speed session a week and plan your recovery accordingly. If you become more advanced you’ll recover faster and can do more workouts each week.
In a world with mass transportation and a huge focus on comfort and pleasure, being active and standing, walking and running on our two legs isn’t a key ingredient of our lives anymore.
So when you decide to start a running habit and go out there working out regularly, that comes with some challenges for your body. Not only your heart, lungs and legs are undertrained but also your lower back, your abs, hips, probably your mind and almost any other part of your body that is involved when running.
So you shouldn’t just lace up your shoes and go running. That might work out for some if done right, but for most I recommend including some additional healthy habits in the weekly training routine.
First, and probably most important, is stretching. Try to stretch your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, IT band and hips after every run. This is to avoid muscular dysbalances, one of the key contributors for many running injuries.
Also strengthening your muscles is very important especially as you become older. I recommend you to focus on your core muscles to foster a healthy and upright running posture.
And also keep an eye on nutrition. It’s no surprise that healthy food like vegetables, fruits and nuts help you also for running and recovery after your tough workouts.
If you’re not into any of the hundreds of diet trends out there, make sure you take in enough carbs on training days to cover your energy needs. On recovery days or the diner after your workout especially after intense runs, you should look at sufficient protein intake. About 1-2 grams / kilogram of body weight should be fine.
I‘ve already mentioned that you should plan in one day of recovery after each hard training session. This is for immediate recovery after setting a training stimulus.
But I would also recommend you to have an eagle eye perspective on your entire training block. A training block should be somewhere between eight and twelve weeks and have one specific focus area that you want to improve.
For example you could train for increasing your 10k speed or to gain endurance. Pro athletes often go all in during these training blocks and train as hard as possible for each week.
For amateur athletes this is quite dangerous. If you don‘t have a coach, know your body very well and know exactly where your limits are, chances are that this approach can easily lead to injuries. So exactly the opposite of a sustainable, long-term training focus.
I usually follow the Two-One Rule. Training hard for two weeks and then take things easy for one week to give my body time to recover. On these recovery weeks I cut running by about 30-40%, do some cross training like cycling and focus on recovering activities like foam rolling, healthy eating and getting enough sleep.
Running with a long-term, health-first attitude can be very simple. Just run a little bit like once a week with an easy pace. For most however this is not an options as it doesn‘t support why we run. If you wanna run for losing weight, relieving stress, achieving new PBs or just to have fun several times a week, chances are that you want to go out there for a run several times a week with a plan in mind.
For an increased training volume that you wanna keep up for years or decades, it‘s therefore important to reflect on your running and do some analysis.
In order to have something you can analyze, it‘s crucial to track your training. I‘m a software engineer and so gathering as much data as possible, is something I naturally do.
And for that purpose the times are great nowadays. There are many tools, apps and gadgets that help you gathering many important things.
So I suggest that you use a heart rate monitor with GPS and with that track distance, pace and heart rate in your training. Most suppliers also provide a piece of software where you can analyze your training data. I personally use Strava that works with most fitness tracker brands.
But tracking your training data is just one thing. The other is learning how your body works, how much training it can take and how fast it can recover. To track this, I recommend you to keep a running journal.
The running journal is where you note everything that is very subjective and can‘t be tracked by a device but only by yourself.
I suggest you note these things in your running journal:
If you keep a running journal and track your training data you have everything to analyze how your training progresses and what impact it has on your body.
Be aware that all this changes over time. Obviously your abilities improve as you keep training and your body can take more workload and can recover faster. So make sure you build analyzing your training into your weekly running routine.
As you can see I recommend you to take things slowly and carefully. There‘s no need to rush anything when it comes to running. You have time! Running is an activity you can easily do for many decades.
So I hope this posts helps you to have a long-term view on your training and you now have the tools at hand to plan and conduct your training to foster a healthy but still well performing running routine.