Helping runners master their training and nutrition so that they can go further, run faster and smash their running goals

Category: Habit

Running like clockwork

How to love running even when you’re busy

Most of us are busy. All of the time. We work all day in jobs that demand more and more of us, we have families to support and nurture. We have meals to cook, packed lunches to make, kids to ferry about the place. It doesn’t leave us with a lot of energy for ourselves.

We might be able to get motivated with our running for a week or two or three but then something unexpected crops up and we miss a day. Then we miss two days, three, a week. Suddenly we realise we’re back out of the habit and we’re losing fitness and confidence. The motivation has gone.

When we lack consistency we lack the ability to reach the potential we have. Not only that but it’s bad for our mind because we know we could do better. If only we had the time.

Enjoy running now

Part of the problem is that we’re very good at choosing outcome goals for our running – completing a marathon, running a fast 5k. We’re not as good at defining our process goals. What do we want our training to look like week to week? How much time do we want to dedicate to it?

If we want to run a marathon, we will need to do a decent amount of training. Does this fit in with what we want to do currently in our lives? Will we be able to keep up with it with the other commitments we have?

Maybe it is a goal for further down the line and actually we’d just like to run consistently for 30 minutes 3 times a week to enhance your physical and mental wellbeing. We can probably still have some outcome goals based around this as well but over a shorter distance.

You don’t have to do it alone

Talk to your friends, family or work colleagues. Explain why running is so important to you and that you need to spend X time on it a week. Try to offset that by sharing responsibilities (cooking, kids etc) so that they can also do something they want to do.

Finding time for anything is much easier if you don’t feel guilty for doing it. Think of the benefits for others as well as yourself. Your mood and health is likely to be much better from running and you’re also going to make sure they have time for things too.

Be specific with your plans

Once you know what you want to do week to week, the best way to stay on track is to have a plan. But most plans are not enough by themselves. They will tell you what type of session to do on what day. But you need to be more specific if you struggle with consistency.

What time are you going to run? Where are you going to run? Do you have all the gear that you need ready? What happens if something unavoidable crops up? Do you have a plan B?

If you only have a vague plan in your head then it is very easy to let your running slide. Excuses can creep in. Do a quick planning session once a week for the upcoming week. Identify any problem days or abnormal commitments and work out how your runs will fit round them.

But I simply don’t have the time!

Some people are incredibly busy but most of us just think we are busier than we actually are. There are 24 hours a day. Let’s say you are lucky and get 9 hours of sleep a night, that leaves 15 a day or 105 a week.

Maybe you work 40 hours a week and maybe you spend the same amount of time on your friends/family. You’ve still got 25 hours left. What do you do with this time? Could you cut a little TV or social media time? Are there times you’re not really doing much because you haven’t got a plan?

The NHS guidelines are to get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week for your health. We should all be able to find that time but we may need to be a little bit creative to do it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Go early! – Getting out for your run early gives you a head start on the rest of the day. In summer it has the added bonus of getting you out in the sunlight which helps sleeping patterns. (If you are doing this in winter make sure you are well lit and somebody knows where you are going. Only run on roads with proper footpaths and lighting.)
  • Run during your lunch break – This is an effective use of time that you might otherwise be reading a news website or trawling through social media. If you work in an office, check to see if you have showers in the building. Many modern offices now do.
  • Use school times or kids clubs Can you run straight after you’ve dropped the kids off to school or immediately before picking them up? Do your kids go to drama, sports clubs etc? These are often perfect slots of time for a run while you wait for them.
  • Struggling for childcare? Take them with you! – This can work for children of all ages. For very young children you can get a running buggy. Older kids might be able to run with you. For primary age kids, is there a football pitch you can run round while they play in the middle?

Start today!

Finding time is not easy but with a little bit of purpose, support and creativity, you can love running once again. What is your biggest struggle and what will you do today? Please leave a comment or mail me at alan@therunningrules.com.

What is your plan now?

Getting your focus right for the times

This week, after months of speculation, London marathon was finally cancelled. For the masses at least. (Hello to Eliud again if you’re reading this, you can probably skip this one…) I’d be amazed if that came as a big surprise to anyone. There just didn’t seem any way they could pull it off.

But even if it wasn’t a shock, it finally ends the last shred of hope for thousands of runners, many of which might have been running there for the first time. It may have been a lifelong dream for some culminating in the one event.

Of course, there are many in the world suffering at the hands of the virus and the cancelling of a race should be considered in that context, but the virus has far reaching effects for many outside the obvious factors.

It places uncertainty on almost all aspects of life and to many, running is a multi-faceted health benefit improving body and mind, not to mention generating huge amounts of money for charities.

London is just one of many races cancelled round the world and the chances are that if you had a race planned in 2020, you will have been affected. It is understandable that, for some, finding the motivation to carry on and build on their training will be difficult.

It might seem harder to focus now than during the first main lockdown in the spring. Back then, the messages coming out were to endure the lockdown for a few months then things would start getting back to normal. Now, there doesn’t seem to be a timeline. We’re past the first lockdown but things are far from back to normal.

However, the benefits of running haven’t changed and for most of us there are higher personal reasons for running than doing a particular race. Motivation will ebb and flow but if we have a solid routine and good reasons for carrying it out, lack of motivation can be overcome.

Can you run your race virtually?

A lot of races are offering a virtual option. Some of these, like the New York marathon, give guaranteed entry into a future race which might well appeal to some. Even if there is no virtual option it doesn’t stop you running the distance yourself.

There are pros and cons to running virtually. The plus side is that there is none of the expense and logistical problems of a big city marathon. You can just lace up and run from your front door if you wish. If there are no time constraints, you can pick the date and time to suit you too.

You can pick any course you like. You can make it flat as a pancake for a good time, you could choose something very scenic or you could challenge yourself with the terrain or elevation. Doing the latter can help ease any time pressures you might have otherwise imposed on yourself.

However, it is much harder to run a good time without closed roads, crowds cheering you on and aid stations. You may have to carry supplies or pre-plan to stash them en route. You need to be conscious of traffic if you are not off-road.

You may be able to get someone to support you or run some/all with you if you are running for a longer time or you could run loops from your house to avail of the facilities. My brother ran 20 5k loops from his house in 2013 to raise money for charity and was joined by many for varying numbers of loops.

If you do choose to run a race virtually, decide on your motivation for doing it and decide on your goal. Don’t shortcut your training just because it isn’t a ‘real’ race. Whatever you do, you want to be able to cover the distance comfortably without getting injured.

Try something new

Maybe like me, you were training for a marathon but don’t want to run one virtually. I love running but to me, the marathon is something a bit extra. With a young family, the weekend long runs are a big sacrifice of time and yet my weekly mileage has increased without doing these.

Instead, I’ve been training towards a 10k with slightly more sessions across the week but in general shorter. The change has been subtle but enjoyable and I feel in the best shape of my life. Tuning up for a longer race would not take too long either.

There are lots of things you could do to vary your training up. You could train for a shorter distance like me or a longer distance which might relieve any time pressure. You could train on new terrain such as on trails or in the mountains or even on the beach.

You could change your routine. This is something I have intentionally done since lockdown. Because I no longer have to commute to work, I get my run done in the morning instead of at lunchtime from work. This has also changed the terrain for me as it is hilly at home but flat near work.

Try tracking a different metric (see Trinity of Tracking). If you’ve never looked at your heart rate, buy a chest strap and start working out what your body is doing. If you’ve never kept a running journal, start giving yourself an RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) score after each run.

Work on a weakness

We all have weaknesses and with limited racing opportunities it can be a good time to try and plug the gaps we have. There are so many aspects of running that also spill into our daily lives and general health.

You might work on a technical element of running by incorporating more running drills into your weekly schedule. You might improve your strength by adding in some/more strength work. This is something I have been very bad at in the past but have been doing in the last few months.

Maybe hills are your weakness or you shy away from speed work. Maybe you run too fast on easy days or don’t get enough sleep. Maybe your diet could be improved. There are so many things you could focus on.

Don’t try and change everything at once. Pick one or two things to work on and track your progress. Commit to persevering with it for your next training cycle and you will definitely see progression. In fact, it can be more rewarding than focusing on something we’re already good at because the improvements ought to be that much more stark.

Set your dream goals for the future

Whilst it might be difficult to see how to achieve some goals now, set out what you want to do in the next 5 years. It could be some of all of the things above or something very specific. Making long term goals can help you set your short term sights in the right direction.

For most of us I think staying injury free and enjoying our running is high up the list and following some of the ideas above will help towards that. Specific goals might be very personal. They might be a achieving a time goal or qualifying for or competing in a particular race.

Dream big! I still want to complete the six major marathons. So far I’ve only London on my CV and I’ve had Boston and Berlin cancelled this year. It means that I’ll need to stay fit for a few years yet as we don’t know what will happen over the next while and I’ll need to qualify again for some of them.

Most of all though I want running to be an effortless part of my life. It needs to be in balance with other things I do and I keep striving to find the optimum training schedule to do that. I think that is one of the most important keys to enjoying the process of training.

Start today!

Unfortunately, Covid-19 could be around for some time and our lives are constantly at risk of being disrupted. But time is not standing still. There is still so much that we can do to better ourselves and get fulfilment from our running. Take control of your running and make your plan today! Let me know what you’re focusing on right now.

Training through social distancing

The current Covid-19 crisis is changing rapidly day by day. Restrictions on our interactions and movements affect what we can do from a training perspective but it is also important to keep fit physically and mentally. Here are a few suggestions for what to do in the coming weeks around training and general health:

  1. Do not take any risks with your health or others’ health. If you are in a high risk category then stay at home and do what you can there. If you do go out for a run, go where you know there will not be many people or there is a wide open space where you can avoid coming into contact with other people.

Examples of suitable places would be playing fields, quiet country roads or wide roads with wide pavements, preferably quiet.

  1. Stick to the same number of sessions during the week to maintain fitness. You may need to do different sessions from normal depending on your location and circumstances but keeping up a regular routine will mean your fitness does not decline. Remember that running easy still burns calories and builds your aerobic base.
  1. Work on a weakness that you normally neglect. Maybe your balance isn’t great or you neglect strength training. Maybe hills are your nemesis and you have some near your house you can train on. Whilst races are postponed, it is a perfect time to fill some of these gaps if you are able to.

Running drills, strength work and balance / coordination can all be worked on at home. You may be able to cross train at home if you have an exercise bike or similar.

  1. Don’t be tempted to let your diet run away. With all the extra time at home it is very easy to overeat and drink. Stick to your normal eating routine and even try and cook some healthier meals if you can. Make sure you keep drinking water through the day as it will help curb appetite.
  1. Take time to switch off from the day to day and focus on where you want to be at the end of the year. It’s easy to focus on the fact that there are no races right now and switch off from training but by keeping a good base going now, you will be in a much better position to tackle races later on in the year.

Keep yourself and others safe and focus on the running you have ahead of you. The situation will pass eventually so be in the best shape you can to come out the other side raring to go.

Rule #4 – Set a goal – any goal!

Have you ever noticed how your focus or intensity in training tails off when you don’t have a race booked in? Or maybe you had a race booked but you were just running it for fun and so you didn’t really take training very seriously?

Now I am all for enjoying running. Absolutely. If you don’t ever enjoy it then there better be another darn good reason for doing it! And you should definitely have some easy weeks built into your training to avoid burnout.

But I’m also a believer that you need to keep the horizon in your eye-line. You need to know and be thinking of the next big thing for your running. You need a goal that is going to keep you focused and motivated to maintain your fitness.

It could be a special race, a charity event, a faster time, a new distance, terrain or country. It might not have to be a race at all but it has to be something that is big enough for you to have a plan towards.

Planning out at least 6 months in advance keeps you focused on what you need to do to achieve your next target. It will prevent you going onto autopilot and potentially undoing the good work you’ve done up to this point.

Sign up to something today if you haven’t got anything planned. Tell your friends and family to make you accountable and start planning towards your next big goal.

Rule #3 – Past performance is not an indicator of future results

Investing in the stock market always comes with the warning above. However, it applies to running too. It is far too easy to focus on the past and let it cloud our judgement of what we do now. This can manifest itself in two ways: Reminiscent running and Rut running.

Reminiscent running is where we wish that we are as fast and as fit as we used to be. We may wish it so much that we actually believe it until we try running. We then come back to earth with a horrible crash leaving us demoralised and dreading running.

Instead of focusing on where we once were at some perfect point in time, we must be pragmatic and use ‘now’ as the starting point for where we can get to in the future. Start with realistic goals based on your current fitness and work up from there.

Rut running is almost worse. This is where we get stuck doing the same training and our levels plateau. We could see improvements but instead our potential is stunted by doing training that doesn’t work and doesn’t excite us anymore and leaves us feeling stale.

By constantly reassessing our goals and challenges and varying our training accordingly, we stay fresh and keep improving. We conquer new challenges and get the best out of ourselves.

If you are going to invest in the stock market then take the statement above as a caution. However, if you are running take it as a positive reminder not to compare yourself to a former you and that quite possibly your best running days are still ahead of you.

New year, new running

It’s the time of year when we make all those promises to ourselves and within days, weeks or if we’re lucky a month or two everything falls apart. We all get caught up in new year; we’ve probably eaten and drunk a bit more than usual over Christmas. It naturally marks a new start and makes us reflect on the previous year and generally we tend to pick out the things we didn’t do so well rather than the things we did.

And then we come up with a whole list of things we want to change. We’re going to eat more healthily, get fit and stop spending all our time on social media. Of course there is nothing wrong with any of this but we set the bar too high and fail very quickly. Then we’re either hard on ourselves or make excuses for why we didn’t succeed.

Great swathing overnight change is almost never going to work so it is easy to be cynical around new year. However, there is no harm in using this time to be a springboard to incremental change that will help us achieve our main goals. To do this we have to hone in on what it is we really want and then pick out one or two things that will actually help get us there.

This is certainly true in running. If you’ve never run before it’s not realistic to start doing six days a week. Try one day a week and see how it goes. If it’s for you, sign up to a couch to 5k program in the spring. Maybe you’re a marathon runner and you want to get your time down. Instead of trying to go on a diet and ‘train harder’ and run more races why not just do one thing like add a strength session to your weekly routine.

If you’re already a runner but want to tackle your first half or full marathon then it may be easier than you think. You don’t have to be running six days a week and first timers can get round with a three day a week program. If you’re only running two or three days a week then this is an ideal way to ease you into achieving something new.

So I’m going to be positive about new year and invite you to think about things differently:

  1. Choose one thing to change/add/improve that will help with your overall goal. Remember that the initial enthusiasm of new year will wear off quickly so it needs to be something manageable that you know you can commit to doing. Most importantly, it needs to be something that matters a lot to you. If it doesn’t then ditch it.
  2. When reflecting on last year pick out one thing that went well and try to keep doing it. This is just as important as changing things in our lives, if not more so, because if we’ve already done something well we know what worked for us and can repeat it.
  3. Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s ok to focus on one or two things and let some things go or put them on the backburner. There may be more that we want to do but there is only a finite amount of time and effort we can give.

Finally, writing these articles is one of the small things I’m adding this year. They will be based on things that have helped improve my running. If there is anything I can help you with please let me know. Have a great new year!

 

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