Training is not only what you do while running, but also what you do the other 20 hours each day!
For those who are attempting to become as adept at their sport as possible.
This post is for those like me, who are trying to become the best runner they can.
I wrote this for the people who schedule their days around their training, not the other way around.
I was staring at my bookshelf the other day, and thought to myself, “if I could only read 3 books that are connected to my running, for the rest of my life, which 3 would it be?”
Below are the three books that I’ve read which have had the greatest influence and impact on my athletics.
Running with the Kenyans
This is a book about a man who transplanted his life to Kenya, to run with the best athletes in the world. What he learned from them is invaluable to anyone looking to become the best runner they can.
“For Kenyan runners, rest is a serious business. I spoke to some top British athletes who had come to Kenya to train, and I asked them what they thought the biggest difference was between the Kenyans’ training and their own.
“Rest,” they said, unanimously.”
“One woman tells me, as we sit on the grass, that she thinks running is like getting drunk in reverse. With drinking, it feels great at first, but then you start feeling awful. With running, you feel awful at first, but then, after you finish, you feel great. That sounds like a much better deal”
Lore of Running
This is the bible of running. It’s what would happen if a text book was enjoyable to read. I doubt there is a piece of running literature available that has more practical information than this.
“Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic.”
“My unproven hypothesis is that in the case of a close finish, physiology does not determine who wins. Rather somewhere in the final section of the race, the brains of the second, and lower placed finishers, accept their respective finishing positions and no longer challenge for a higher finish.” The winner’s brain simply doesn’t give in.
The War of Art
This is a book for anyone, be they a runner, artist, writer, musician, who is looking to “go pro” and focus their efforts on this endeavor. A “how to” to gain a Pro State of Mind.
“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”
“In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.”
“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
I think I need to race more.
Not to race to win, but to learn how to suffer.
I do suffer, but I suffer from going out too slow in races.
What I need to learn is how to be comfortable suffering from the second a race starts until the second a race ends. And racing is the best way to improve on this ability.
I just need to…stand at the starting line not caring about how I’m going to finish or what my end pace is going to end up being. Hell, screw pacing all together.
Professional Ironman triathlete Balázs Csöke said in an interview, “I can’t even explain to someone how there is no going slow. When you get out from the water, you sit on a bike and you ride as hard as you can for 112 miles, and then you start running, and you go as fast as you can for 26 miles. It hurts from the first moment of the start. And it’s going to hurt for eight and a half hours. Without a second’s rest.””
I have yet to learn how to do that. During the Heart of the Hills 17km race I took the first 5k relatively easy. I rested for the first 1/3rd of the race for god sake!
During the final 1/3rd I can suffer, however. I always try to keep in mind what Yuki Kawauchi said when he stated “Every time I run, it’s with the mindset that if I die at this race it’s OK.” Unfortunately, I can’t seem to do that at the beginning of an event.
There’s hope for the rest of us.
I’m referring to the people that were not child prodigies or who started their endeavors in childhood.
The hope is in the stories of Steve Way, Heather Turland, Ed Whitlock, Kathy Martin, Laura Batterink, and Matthew Elliot.
You’ve probably never heard of any of any those names, but they’re all important to me. These are people who discovered their love and aptitude for running late in life and have reached elite status.
In my favorite running related book, Lore of Running, Dr. Noakes discusses the common occurrence of the running ability of professionals to drop off quickly, later in life. Most athletes who are the best in the world in their 20’s are not the best in their 30’s and 40’s, or older. An example is one of the fasted US marathoners ever, Bill Rodgers. In his prime he was regularly running sub 2:15 marathons. Now? Between his 50th and 60th birthday his 10km time reportedly slowed by 10 minutes. In his 60’s now, he’s certainly not one of the fastest 60 year old age groupers.
Noakes believes that over time, running will reduce the elasticity of tendons and muscles. This reduces the “elastic recoil” ability of the legs, which is basically free stored energy, like a spring.
On the flip-side from Bill Rodgers, is Kathy Martin. In her 40’s she started running and is a top running in her age group in events ranging from 800m to 31 miles. In her 50’s she set more than a dozen American age group records.
Next up is Patrick Johnson, who grew up on a fishing boat and did not start running until his mid 20’s. In 2003 at the age of 31, he became the first non West-African to go under 10 seconds in the 100m!
Steve Way is perhaps my favorite story however. He is famous for going from being an obese, depressed, alcoholic, and chain smoker to a 2:16 marathoner and representing his country in the Commonwealth Games.
Relatively unknown is Heather Turland, who only started running to get back in shape after pregnancy. However with only four years as a runner she ran 2:35:10 to represent her country internationally in the marathon.
Ed Whitlock is the person here you’re most likely to have heard of. He did not start running until his 40’s and at the age of 82 ran a 3:41 marathon, which is actually a half hour faster than the average men’s marathon finishing time in the US.
With many of the above names being of decades past, Laura Batterink is a newcomer, finishing 9 spots behind Molly Huddle at a recent event. She never ran in high school or college, but 10 years ago she started running for fitness. 10 years of hard work and a bit of talent, and she finished a race right behind names like Molly Huddle, Sara Hall, and Amy Hastings.
Finally comes Matthew Elliot, who was recently on the cover of Runners World. He is the only one on this list who actually ran in his younger years, however he was far from anything special. He was only a 4:42 miler in high school, certainly someone you’d never expect to finish 4th at the 1500m USA Track & Field championships at the age of 27.
These inspirational folks can teach us a number of things.
1) Running age is more important than birth age.
I believe that if you start running later in life (20/30’s vs teens or younger) with the proper training and recovery you can reach 90% of what your true potential would have been.
2) You may have no idea you’re extra-ordinary at something.
Few people are given the opportunity to give an activity 100%. I’m lucky enough that due to my work I can train and recover properly. It does not have to be running though, it could be playing the piano or painting!
3) Time, patience, & hard work can lead to incredible improvements for anyone.
If you spend 5-10 years or 10,000 hours doing something well…you’re going to see drastic improvements. Just give it time and effort.
Or you could also say, time.
Below is a quote from Tina Muir, with the bolded text what we’re talking about here.
2. How did you get to be such a speedy runner?
It has taken years of consistent training, dedication, and doing “the little things”. I try to share these on my blog through my Secrets of Success posts, but most of it just comes from getting stronger year after year. My freshman year in college, I ran 21:15 in the 5k, but my 5th year, I had run 16:08. That being said, having a coach who knows what they are doing is absolutely critical. I would never be anywhere close to where I am now without 100% trust in my coach. I know how important that is, which is another reason I like to share what knowledge I have with others to give back to the community as best I can.
Now obviously smart training, proper recovery, nutrition, etc all play a role in becoming faster, but running is a long term sport.
Look at Tina’s progression like this. Lets say she ran for 4-6 years before college. maybe she played a bit of soccer in grade/middle school and ran cross country in high school, I’m not sure. The important thing to realize is that let’s say 5 years before her college freshmen year she could have been a 26 minute 5k runner. 5 years later she was a 21 minute 5k athlete, and 5 years after that she was a 16 minute 5k runner!
Now I don’t know her history other than that one quote, but this type of progression is true for almost all runners. No matter if you start running in middle school or in college for the first time, with 10 years of good progression of mileage, intensity, and with some smart training you’re going to improve a lot.
You just have to have the patience and take the time!
For myself, this is a good reminder that the best is yet to come. I was obese during my freshmen year of high school, 4 years later I was 80 pounds lighter and a cyclist. Now I’ve been running for about 7 years and am only now really starting to train well and smartly. I consider my first 6 years of running just simple base building. My aerobic house is built, now the real work and progression begins!
I found another great example that really shows what time does for running. The below quote is from Donnie Cowart, who recently broke the four minute mile barrier after 15 years of running!
“I can trace my thoughts about a sub-4 minute mile all the way back to middle school. Just starting my running career, I had no idea the challenge and work that lay before me, but I was extremely optimistic. From eighth to 10th grade I weighed less than 100 pounds. I was cut from my middle school baseball, and basketball teams with the coaches saying, ‘You need to grow a little taller.’ ‘You need to get stronger.’ … Then I found my home in track and field, a place where size didn’t matter. In eighth grade, I mustered a 5:29 mile, in ninth 4:59, and by 10th grade I got it down to 4:50. I was on my way. I worked hard did everything I was told to do, always telling myself I was going to be good when I was older, stronger, and possibly after that ‘growth spurt.’”
I was recently asked by a more accomplished athlete than myself, how does one exactly go pro with running?
Triathlon and many other sports have Pro Cards athletes earn. But, I don’t think that is what makes a person a professional.
In my eyes, it’s adopting a Pro State of Mind.
Simple as that.
Check out this video from professional runner Ryan Vail. Many other professional athletes are in the same boat. They train full time and work part time in the fitness industry (or elsewhere) to support their training.
That’s a big part of being pro.
Amateurs run to escape their regular daily life. Professionals do daily life things (like a “job”) to support/escape their running.
While my 17:41 5k PR is far from the speed of elite professional runners, I still consider myself a professional (but clearly not elite). I train full time and work to support this, not the other way around. I’m a writer and coach with a fully flexible schedule, completely conducive to getting in the rest and running I need to train full time.
What do you think? What does it take to go pro?
The #1 benefit of working on my own hours is that I can do as I please, when I wish.
This affords me the incredible luxury of running whenever I feel like it.
Whenever the motivation strikes.
Luckily it strikes at least once a day, sometimes two or three times.
I’ll often do a quality session right away in the morning, which could give me 1.5 days recovery until my next run at noon the following day. Or I could have a session at 7am and another 8 hours later at 3pm.
Another option when I have a hard session scheduled (and what I generally do) is go into my morning run with no expectations. It could turn into an EZ30 or if motivation strikes, I may do the workout. If motivation is not found, I’ll do the workout in afternoon after I’m loosened up from the day.
Many say that weekends or not having a schedule is tough, to get your work done (whatever it may be). I however disagree. I’ve found that not having a schedule, or making my own, lets me work best as I can do whatever I feel like whenever I most feel like it!
Ask yourself “Can I give more?” The answer is usually “yes”.
Amateur is French for “lover of” and from the Latin amator, which means “lover”.
It often refers to someone who engages in an activity or pursuit for the love of it, sans payment.
Amateurs play for the fun of doing the activity. They do the hobby part time, maybe a weekend warrior. Maybe it’s an escape from their regular job/life.
Generally it’s assumed that professionals do their vocation for money, just to get paid, while amateurs are the ones that do it for the enjoyment.
However, I look at it another way.
I’ve adopted a professional attitude and state of mind towards running because I love the lifestyle so much that I wish to dedicate my life towards it.
It’s a minority who can say they gave something everything they had to give.
Few people ever actually reach their potential in a pursuit.
I want to be the best I can be at something.
Committing full time.
Playing for keeps.
7 days a week.
With my recent decision to start training full time, I inquired to an ex-pro triathlete friend of mine, for some advice.
My concern was on what to do while not running. How much cross training, yoga, strength work, drills, mobility, etc do I do in relation to the amount of actual running I am doing.
His response was quite simple.
Your goal should be to run so much, that you don’t have the energy, want, or desire to go to yoga, lift weights, etc.
1 hour of EZ running > 1 hour of yoga, an hour of strength work, etc.
Of course I do a 10-15 minute warm up and cool down before and after every run, and this includes plyometrics, drills, strength, etc. My question was about going and doing extra work aside from the work that immediately surrounds running. So not all GSM will stop, but “extra curricular” work will.
Completely coincidentally, the day after I we talked, the answer to my question was on the very first page I read that day in Running with the Kenyans.
The author, Adharanand Finn, says how most athletes are jobless, because they are too tired. One he talks to had to quit working at a cafe because it made him too tired. Many rely solely on the donations and support of friends and family to support them. Really, all they need is money for food and maybe rent. They have no debt, no electricity, and no running water.
Finn also mentioned he once asked the British athletes in Iten what they perceived to be the most striking difference between the Kenyans and their own training. All of them said rest!
“In England when we’re not running, we go shopping, cook food, meet up with friends. Here they just rest.”
I realized I’m quite lucky. My job is on the computer, so I’m not doing manual labor, stressing over something I dislike, having to be to work at 9am. My hours are my own. I can sleep in if I feel the need. I can sit around at a cafe for a few hours and work, or sit around on the couch and work. I do perform the majority of the housework because Desi leaves the house for school at 7am and does not return until 4:30 at the very earliest, however this cooking, doing dishes and laundry is about the extend of my non-running physical work. I’m in a perfect position to rest as much as I need to.
So now, the next step is to slowly and safely get back up to higher mileage!
When I turned pro during the 2nd half of 2013 a change in my mindset also took place.
Like a research subject performs better when they are wearing a “doctors lab coat” instead of a “painters coat”, perhaps I too will act more professional by simply giving myself such a title. A new sense of purpose, dedication, and self confidence.
Ryan Hall said about the East Africans, after spending some time there:
“My last thought about Kenya and what makes the runners here so special is their incredible self-belief. I have never met a group of runners so confident in their abilities, even if they are unproven. For example, you cannot tell the difference between a 2:04 marathon runner and a 2:20 marathon runner in Kenya; they exude the same confidence and self-belief. “
Aside from their confidence, the East Africans have other training elements that I have begun to implement into my life and workouts:
Update: Here is a great article on “The Professional State of Mind”!