Read an Excerpt
Flying without Wings
The Thrill of Running Fast
The feel of the wind in your hair. That's the best way I can describe running fast. Doing it provides almost a sensual pleasure. Simply stated, running fast feels good. It doesn't happen in every workout, or in every race, but on those special occasions when you're rested and eager and ready to run and you've found a perfect course featuring breathtaking scenery or you have a pleasant running partner, nothing could be better. Our urge to run fast is what pushes a lot of us out the door and down the road or onto a winding forest path each day. We like running, and we especially like running fast.
"When you're running fast, it's pure joy," says Julie Isphording, a marathon runner on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team. "It's the exhilarating moment--the moment when you are breezing by the world. It's hot-blooded ecstasy, soaring intensity, when you can't feel the pavement, you can't hear your heart pounding and you're flying without wings."
Can anybody be taught to run fast? I think they can.
Fast, of course, is a relative term. Fast for one runner is slow for another--and vice versa. Recently, I competed in the Vulcan Run, actually a weekend festival of races (5-K, 10-K, half-marathon, marathon) in Birmingham, Alabama. It was my second trip to Birmingham for Vulcan. In 1984, I had competed in the 10-K, running it in about 35 minutes. On my second trip 15 years later in 1999, I competed in the 5-K, running slower than 25 minutes. Speaking at the postrace dinner, I joked to the audience, "As I age, my times for the 5-K have begun to sound like my former times for the 10-K."
But it didn't really matter. I felt fast on both occasions. You should have seen me coming down the final straightaway of the 5-K: I was flying! Toward the end of his racing career, Jack Foster, the New Zealand Olympian, once commented, "I feel like I'm running as fast as always--as long as I don't look at my watch." You might not be able to break 30 minutes for a 5-K, or 60 minutes for a 10-K, but you can still feel fast doing so.
Running fast requires mainly a change of attitude and a willingness to experiment with different workouts and training methods.
Running fast doesn't take special talent. You don't need expensive equipment. You don't need to hire a coach or train on a track--although good coaching certainly can help, and tracks are where a lot of fast runners do hang out. Some skills are required, but the average runner can learn those skills. You don't need to participate in 5-K and 10-K races every weekend, although many runners enjoy a full racing schedule. Running fast requires mainly a change of attitude and a willingness to experiment with different workouts and training methods.
If you're a beginner, running fast means merely getting started. If you've never run before, except when you were a child (when running was perceived as fun and not as hard work), simply to jog for a few hundred meters is to move faster than if you were to walk that same distance. Improvement comes rapidly--if not always easily--when you begin from a base of zero fitness.
Your First Steps to a Faster Pace
Consider, for a moment, beginners, who have not yet even run their first 5-K, much less begun to worry about running the 3.1-mile distance faster. If you are an experienced runner who bought this book to help you set a PR (Personal Record) or qualify for the Boston Marathon, you may want to skip over to chapter 2.
The best advice anyone can offer a beginner is: Just do it! Begin easily. Take a few fast steps forward. Walk and jog without worrying whether there is anybody looking over your shoulder. Don't be shy. Don't be embarrassed. Stride forth with purpose. Anybody looking at you--specifically nonrunners--probably does so in envy. Not everybody has the courage to begin.
In the words of Priscilla Welch, "If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don't spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it." Of course, Welch also knows it's never too late to start. A former heavy smoker, she did not even begin competitive running until she was in her midthirties--but she went on to make the British Olympic team and win the New York City Marathon.
Beginners occupy a unique--and fortunate--position in the running world because every move is upward. "One of the joys of being a beginning runner is that you continue to get better," says Mary Reed, a coach with the Atlanta Track Club. "Everything is improvement until you reach that first plateau. It's an innocent time of joy in any runner's life that a lot of us would like to go back to."
How do you begin? The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. Let's start by talking about motivation.
One winter night some years ago, I was changing in the locker room of the local racket club near where I live in Northwest Indiana when a tennis enthusiast inquired about the group of people that surrounded me. "What are you doing?" he asked.
I explained about the beginning running class I was then teaching with my wife, Rose. At that time, we met with the group once a week to run together around the racket club's indoor track.
The tennis player seemed surprised: "I didn't know you could teach running."
He was right, of course. You don't need to teach running--or shouldn't need to. Children learn to run almost as soon as they learn to walk. Visit any elementary school playground, and you'll see kids running all over the place. An athlete who goes out for any sport in high school--football, basketball, tennis--runs as part of the conditioning program for that sport, or should! It is only as adults that people forget to run and sometimes have to "relearn" the motion.
Running is basically a simple movement. To quote 1976 Olympic marathoner and Runner's World magazine senior writer Don Kardong: "First, you put your right foot forward. Then, you put your left foot forward. Then, you do it again." It's that simple.
When Rose and I taught people to run, we tried to get them to start slowly. Some beginners (particularly if they're overweight) need to walk first, beginning with a half-hour, 3 or 4 days a week. In starting, we suggested that they jog a short distance until they got slightly out of breath, walk to recover, then jog some more. Jog, walk. Jog, walk. After a while, they would be able to run a mile without stopping. (Interestingly, the jog-walk-jog-walk approach used by beginners mimics interval training, a very sophisticated method for improving racing performance. I'll cover interval training in detail in chapter 8.)
Motivation is important for all runners, but particularly so for beginners. They may have not yet had a chance to recognize the positive values of running, which are not always easy to explain or measure. Before you take your first steps, establish a goal. Make the goal challenging but realistic. Do not give up until you reach that goal.
Many people start exercising to lose weight. Some people exercise as a means to quit smoking. For others, the goal may simply be to relieve stress or to find some private and peaceful time for themselves.
Establishing mileage goals works for many runners. Completing a mile nonstop for the first time can provide you with your first glimpse of Runner's High. Running that mile progressively faster or increasing the distance you can cover to 2, 3, or more miles can keep you going. Each new step you take creates another Personal Record.
We preached moderation, following the motto coined by New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard: "Train, don't strain." We also talked about efficient running form, diet, equipment, safety, and avoiding injuries. Every now and then we showed a film featuring a running guru, such as Ken Cooper, M.D., or the late George Sheehan, M.D.
But mostly, we did not teach running; rather, we peddled motivation. Every coach of a beginning running class does the same. A lot of us who have been running more than a few years forget it, but it does take courage to don a pair of running shoes and step out on a sidewalk for the first time, in front of friends and neighbors. Quite honestly, a lot of beginning runners never get moving out of fear of looking foolish. They lack self-confidence. They fear failure.
Group dynamics can be very important in achieving success. If you have the opportunity to join a class or hire a coach or train with other runners, do so.
One advantage of a class situation, of course, is the group support you get from others of similar ability. This certainly is true with the marathon class I teach in Chicago, but it's also true at every level from novice to expert. One reason why the Kenyans have been able to dominate the world distance running ranks recently is that they train together and push each other every day in practice. Top runners gather in cities like Eugene, Oregon or Boulder, Colorado, for mutual support. Group dynamics can be very important in achieving success. If you have the opportunity to join a class or hire a coach or train with other runners, do so. You'll greatly increase your chances to run better--and faster!
The most important thing you can tell a rookie runner is not how to hold their arms or how far to jog without stopping, but simply, "You're looking good. You're doing great. Keep it up." Give them basic motivation. Natural running instincts, developed in childhood, simply take over.
Meet Bette Murray. She worked in the computer center at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana. Her motivation was simple: She wanted to lose a few pounds.
Murray started slowly in our class at the racket club. We had her walk and encouraged her to do a little more each week. Finally one evening, she set out after her goal: to run 1 mile (16 laps around the club's indoor track) without stopping.
When she completed her 16th lap, she was more exultant than tired. "I never believed I could do it," she said.
Of course, Rose and I knew she could do it. She didn't need us to teach her to run; we simply supplied a little motivation. As far as I know, Murray never did compete in the Boston Marathon, and I haven't seen her in any 5-K races recently, but she did experience a victory. She reached her goal of running 1 mile without stopping. To some people, that may sound like a small achievement, but as Murray's motivators, we were very proud.
Finding a good class is an important first step. You're more likely to find running classes offered in the spring, a time when warm weather beckons people outdoors. To find classes in your area, check with local running or fitness clubs or hospital "wellness programs." Or, try surfing the Internet. Community colleges, such as Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, often offer classes in fitness, walking, jogging, and even marathon running. Running clubs usually welcome beginning joggers. Some, such as the Atlanta Track Club or New York Road Runners Club, offer personalized coaching.
To locate a running club in your area, contact the Road Runners Club of America, 1150 South Washington Street, Suite 250, Alexandria, VA 22314-4493. I frequently use the RRCA's Web site (www.rrca.org) to locate out-of-town running clubs when I'm traveling. This is one way to plug into the network of runners; you'll be surprised how eager other runners or running clubs are to assist novice runners who are seeking advice and help.
Your First Time at the Starting Line
Sooner or later, most runners want to test their newfound fitness in a race, typically a 5-K or a 10-K. Although too many runners in recent years seem to choose the marathon for their first racing experience, most wisely select a shorter distance as an interim goal. Not much serious training is required to finish a 5-K: perhaps three or four workouts a week over a period of several weeks. (See the schedule on page 12.) Logging an average of a dozen miles a week will do the trick. That does not mean you will finish the race comfortably or near the front, but you will finish.
Should you at least be able to run the full distance in a workout to prove that you can do it on race day? You can, but it's not absolutely mandatory. Most marathoners, for example, run no farther than 20 miles in a climactic "long run" session before attempting the entire distance of a 26-mile race.
Not much serious training is required to finish a 5-K: perhaps three or four workouts a week over a period of several months.
If you can cover 2 or more miles in practice several times over a period of weeks, without excessive straining, the spirit of the moment should carry you across the finish line of a 5-K--as long as you start slowly and keep a steady pace. (Reaching a 10-K finish line requires slightly more training mileage.)
Once you've finished your first race, however, you will most likely find that a new goal beckons. You'll realize that it is no longer enough for you to merely cover the distance; you will want to cover it progressively faster. You will enter the world of performance, complete with training logs, lightweight racing shoes, and inside expertise to shave seconds from your PR.
The term PR is part of the running jargon; it means Personal Record. (Some runners use PB, or Personal Best.) Few of us will ever set a world or national record, but anybody can establish a PR. Any time you've recorded a time over any distance (even odd distances in training), it becomes your PR. Every time you run that course or distance, you will have an opportunity to improve upon that PR. Going after PRs can be fun and, perhaps more important, it can be motivational.
Few of us will ever set a world or national record, but anybody can establish a PR.
There is a downside to constantly chasing PRs, however. As you become more involved in improving your performances, keep in mind that setting new PRs may not always be easy--or advisable. To improve, runners gradually increase their training mileage, the quality of their training sessions, or both. Eventually, however, they risk losing that initial feeling of joy described by coach Mary Reed and find that their performances have inexplicably leveled off. This performance plateau can sometimes confront novice runners with this perplexing, diabolical question: Are they training too little, or too much?
Jack Daniels, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and coach at the State University of New York at Cortland, writes, "Almost anyone can stay happy and injury-free simply by jogging a couple of miles a day. Fine. But these same runners would be even happier if they could run faster. That's simply human nature. We want to get better, and that brings us face to face with the quintessential training question: How can you train hard enough to improve, but not so hard that you get burned out and/or injured?"
But first things first. To establish your PR, of course, you'll need to run some distance--any distance (though I strongly suggest you keep the 26.2-mile marathon for somewhere down the road in your running career). To begin, follow the 8-week schedule on page 12. If you've already run a 5-K and you're eager to run a 10-K or work on increasing your speed, move on to chapter 2 to learn how to begin this process.
Training for Your First 5-K
How much do you need to train to be able to run your first 5-K race? Most individuals who possess a reasonably high level of fitness (because they bicycle or swim or participate in other sports that involve cardiovascular development) could probably go out and run 3.1 miles on very little training. They might be sore for a few days after the race, but they still could finish.
But if you've made the decision to run a 5-K race, you might as well do it right. The training schedule that follows will help get you to your first finish line. Before you embark on the schedule, it is assumed that you have no major health problems, are in reasonably good shape, and have done at least some jogging or walking. If running 1.5 miles in the first week seems too difficult, you may want to schedule more than 8 weeks to reach your goal and begin by walking, rather than running.
No matter how fit you may be from other physical activities, when you begin to run, you're probably going to experience sore muscles. Even after running becomes easy, you're still going to experience sore muscles from time to time. People get sore muscles for three reasons.
1. They are not used to exercising.
2. They are used to a different exercise.
3. They greatly increase the typical duration (or effort) of their regular exercise routine.
Exercise physiologists say that soreness starts as a result of tiny tears in the muscle fibers, similar to a paper cut on your finger. (It's uncomfortable, but you can still use the finger.) What happens next is that the body's defense mechanism kicks in, white blood cells come to the rescue, and fluid moves into spaces it normally doesn't occupy, resulting in swelling. Swelling and soreness often peak 48 hours after exercise, which is one reason why your muscles can sometimes hurt more the second day.
To relieve the pain of sore muscles, first use ice to reduce swelling. Once your pain has peaked, heat helps to speed recovery by improving your circulation. Massage and pain-relieving rubs may help. But if you want to become a faster runner, you may need to accept some soreness as a natural part of the conditioning process.
After your muscles recover, they actually should be stronger. Tearing and repairing your muscles is what gets you in shape and allows you eventually to run farther and faster. One way to avoid sore muscles is not to do too much too soon. That's why coaches recommend that people new to running begin slowly and that even experienced runners schedule regular periods of rest.
The terms used in the training schedule are somewhat obvious, but clear-cut definitions never hurt.
Rest: Rest days are as important as training days. They give your muscles time to recover so you can run again. Actually, your muscles will build in strength as you rest. Without recovery days, you will not improve.
Run: Put one foot in front of the other and run. It sounds pretty simple, and it is. Don't worry about how fast you run or whether or not you have "perfect" running form; just cover the distance--or approximately the distance suggested. Ideally, you should be able to run at a pace that allows you to converse comfortably while you do so.
Walk/Run: This is a combination of running and walking, suggested for those in-between days when you want to do some running, but only "some." There is nothing in the rules that suggests you have to run continuously, either in training or in the 5-K race itself. Use your own judgement. Another option for in-between days is to cross-train: Bike, swim, hike, or simply walk.
Walk: Walking is an excellent exercise that a lot of runners overlook in their training. In the training schedule, I suggest that you go for an hour-long walk on the day after your longest run. Don't worry about how fast you walk, or how much distance you cover. Not all training should be difficult. If a 60-minute walk seems too much at first, begin with about 30 minutes and add 5 minutes a week until you reach your time goal. A hike in a natural setting can add a little adventure to your walking routine.
|1||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||1.5 m run||60 min walk||4.5|
|2||Rest or run/walk||1.75 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||1.75 m run||60 min walk||5.0|
|3||Rest or run/walk||2.0 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||2.0 m run||60 min walk||5.5|
|4||Rest or run/walk||2.25 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||2.25 m run||60 min walk||6.0|
|5||Rest or run/walk||2.5 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||2.5 m run||60 min walk||6.5|
|6||Rest or run/walk||2.75 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||2.75 m run||60 min walk||7.0|
|7||Rest or run/walk||3.0 m run||Rest or run/walk||1.5 m run||Rest||3.0 m run||60 min walk||7.5|
|8||Rest or run/walk||3.0 m run||Rest or run/walk||Rest or run/walk||Rest||5-K race||60 min walk||6.1|
The schedule above is only a guide. Feel free to make minor modifications to suit the weather and your work and family schedule. The progression suggests adding a quarter-mile to most runs each week. That's one lap on most outdoor tracks. If you train on the roads or on trails, it's more difficult to measure precisely how far you run. So don't worry about it: Simply run for an amount of time that's comparable to what it usually takes you to cover a quarter-mile.
Once you finish a 5-K, you will have set your first PR. Pick a new goal, whether to run that distance faster or to run a longer distance. Keep reading and I'll tell you how.