FOR THE LONG RUN. As the saying goes, we must learn to walk before we can run—or at least take the time to learn how to properly get into serious distance running
There’s an old joke about running that goes something like this: A guy, let’s call him Steve, sends a letter to a popular fitness trainer. “Dear Popular Coach, how far should I run each day? Sincerely, Steve.” He gets a reply that reads simply, “Dear Steve, run until you’re tired. Sincerely, Popular Coach.”
Jokes aside, there are plenty of veteran runners who did quite well with the “run until you’re tired” approach. On the flip side, it isn’t exactly the most effective method to turn yourself into a bona fide distance runner. This is especially true for those of us looking to get into marathons, triathlons and the like, or those of us who have spent years mostly sitting behind a desk.
Even if we’re in pretty good shape, there are many miscellaneous factors that might affect our progress early on and might even have long-term consequences. We’re talking about things like, say, ankle mobility or ankle dorsiflexion. If, for instance, a person’s ankle lacks adequate range of motion for distance running, his or her body will “look for it elsewhere” and add tiny bits of extra movement to the knee, the lower back, the toes, etc. Those tiny bits can really add up.
In short, becoming a runner—a serious distance runner—is not as easy as it might sound. Thankfully, it’s also not that hard. Beyond the obvious basics (invest in a good pair of proper running shoes, don’t forget to stretch, etc.), prospective runners should really look into following these three basic phases:
1. WALK BEFORE YOU RUN
Well, actually, it’s more like run then walk, run then walk, repeated ad nauseam. See, the first two things a novice runner should focus on are mobility and stability; and the best way to develop these two traits is alternating walking and running. Again, this goes beyond “run until you’re tired then walk until you catch your breath again.” It’s best if we approach this systematically.
Say you’re going to start running 30 minutes a day, two times a week. First we break this half hour down to five-minute segments, and then we break each five minutes further into running and walking parts. At the very beginning, jog for a minute then walk for four. Repeat this sequence until you’ve exercised for thirty minutes. After a week of this, switch it up to two minutes of jogging and three of walking and so forth until you get to four minutes jogging and one minute walking by the fourth week.
On week five, you can switch to 10 minute segments, starting with six minutes of jogging followed by four minutes of walking until you get to eight-two. Then you can move up to 15 minutes (starting at 12-three until 14-one) and push the total time to 45, followed by 20 minutes segments (from 17-three to 19-one) for a total time of 60 minutes until you’re basically running for an entire hour nonstop.
2. RUN LONGER, NOT FASTER
After mobility and stability comes speed, right? Wrong. Basically, after getting to the point where you can run for an hour, it’s time to add some real endurance. In practical terms, try adding an additional longer run session (one-and-a-half or perhaps even two hours) to your weekly schedule. The weekends would be the ideal spot to add this extra run. Again, the focus here is building up endurance and training your slow-twitch muscles (which, by the way, are also responsible for balance). Prepare to spend about half a year or so in this phase.
3. NOW YOU CAN RUN FASTER
Finally, it’s time to add speed to the mix. One big misconception when it comes to speed training is that this is where you “run until you’re tired” and learn how to do flat-out sprints at top speed. Instead, this phase is all about making your body gradually adjust to a higher pace than you’re already used to at this point.
Just like the previous phase, the speed training phase entails adding yet another session for interval training where you go through a warm-up jog, several runs at higher-than-average pacing, interspersed with light jogging and, finally, a cool-down jog.
The road to becoming a solid long-distance runner is certainly, well, long. But by the time you’re well into the final training phase, you’ll be able to take on half-marathons and endurance events (like, say, Tough Mudder which has just arrived in Indonesia) with relative ease. More importantly, you’ll have developed a physique that can endure long runs while staying injury-free. And you’ve probably found a passion that, in a way, really sets you free.