The gift of running
Your body is built to adapt and grow stronger. This miracle of biology means that you are not forced to stay the same runner you are today.
The question, then, is why does it feel … so … damn … hard sometimes?
I think the answer comes down to the fact that your body is lazy and has a short attention span.
Don’t worry — it’s not just you and it’s not something that you’re doing wrong. It’s as baked into our evolutionary background as distance running itself.
But what does it mean for your training?
The biggest thing to remember is that no single run, week, month, or even training cycle is going to allow you to reach your potential as a runner.
If your goal is to improve and to find out how good you can be, you’re going to have to commit for the long haul and put in a lot of work to get your body to come along for the ride.
With that said, here are some things to keep in mind:
1) Repetition matters. Doing something once is not enough to stimulate your body to improve. You need to convince your body it’s worth the effort to adapt, and that means running enough your body knows it’s a habit.
That’s why I recommend running at least 3 days a week (more is *almost* always better, but it depends on the person and situation). That will provide a frequent and consistent enough stimulus to make sure your body is improving.
2) Practice makes perfect. Just like your body needs frequent reminders to stimulate adaptation, the more you expose it to a certain stimulus, the better it will adapt.
Because of that, it’s better to take your time instead of constantly increasing your weekly mileage or long run distance. I have had good success staying at one mileage level for 2-3 weeks before increasing, rather than continually increasing, or doing a “stair-step” approach of increasing for 2-3 weeks and then taking a big recovery week.
The extra time spent at each mileage level makes sure you truly get all the adaptations out of a particular stimulus level before moving to something more challenging.
And speaking of moving to something more challenging …
3) Your body doesn’t plan ahead. Because your body is busy adapting to the current stimulus, it doesn’t try for “extra credit.” If you run 10 miles, it will get better at running 10 miles. But it won’t assume that you want to run 12 miles in a few weeks.
So, to keep making progress and not hit a plateau, you need to keep increasing and changing the stimulus. And it should be a logical and responsible progress — not just variety for variety’s sake.
Keeping these principles in mind will help make sure you see progress from your hard work (isn’t that what we all want?), and make sure you become the runner you are destined to be rather than the runner you are today.
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.