Strava told me that I have run 1000 KM in 2023 so far. I don't know for sure, but I think this is the most I have ever run in a nine month period. There are 15 weeks left in the year so I should hit 1500 KM this year which I think would also be an annual record for me. And yet, this is my least effortful running year by far. For many people, 1500 KM a year is no big deal, but for me it is. I love running, but it does not love me. I'm not a natural runner and it's taken me a long time to develop a sustainable running practice.
I have been injured at least once every year since I began running in 2016. My most common injury is achilles tendonitis, but I have had many others: IT band syndrome, shin splints, and a torn hamstring which I am still in recovery from. These are all over-use injuries.
This year is the first year that I have run, at least a little bit, every week, most days a week. This year is the first year that I feel like I am listening to my body and improving fitness without stressing myself out.
I like principles. Maybe you do too? Here are the ones that are working for me:
- Run mostly alone. I do this so that I am not tempted to run too fast or too far with people who are fitter than me. This was my biggest issue in the past. I mistakenly thought that running with people fitter than me would just force my body to adjust to their pace so that I would be as fit as they are. Instead, I would just be out of breath on every run and then get injured after a month or two.
- Run mostly (80% or more) at an easy heart rate. For me, this is 140-150bpm, but everyone's heart is different. I use a Garmin running watch to track my heart rate, but you could also just force yourself to only breathe through your nose to approximate this. Some days I will be quicker than others at this heart rate. It doesn't matter. My goal is to run at a pace that I can hold a conversation at and gradually increase the time I run at that pace week over week.
- Run 5-6 days a week. I adjust my workouts to how I feel, but I pretty much always run 6 days a week now. Aerobic fitness is quickly lost with too many days off of cardiovascular exertion. Jack Daniels' Running Formula says we should run at the same intensity (mileage) for no less than four weeks before increasing our load.
- Increase load by no more than 10% per week. This is a rule of thumb that I have heard from many people. I have no idea if it is true, but it seems to work for me, but I only do this if I feel like my current intensity has become comfortable. I might keep the same load for a few weeks and then increase by no more than 10%. Increasing too much too fast risks injury or burn out. Sometimes I decrease load if I'm feeling like it's too much. Long term progress does not require that every week or even every month is "up and to the right". My biggest impediment to long term progress has always been unexpected injuries or burn out.
- Don't compare yourself to others who are more fit than you are today. In fact, I don't even compare myself to my past self. Now, I just run and try to find joy in it. If I am enjoying it, I will keep doing it. If I keep doing it, I will get fitter. If I get fitter, I will enjoy it more. That's the virtuous cycle that has taken me 7 years to understand.
- Make health the goal. I often get asked by my peers what I am training for. I used to have a race or a certain 10k time, but now I just answer "life!". Exercising prevents disease and increases my resilience and clarity of mind. I think running is the best way to exercise. It is free and you can do it anywhere in any weather (with the right gear and will!). I travel often for work and it's easy to pack my running kit in my carry-on luggage. It is also a great way to get outside and enjoy nature or a new place. I have seen so many beautiful things on my runs that I would have missed if I had been in a gym or cycling.
- Run in the morning. I think Peter Atia has more information about this, but my understanding is that timing it with the morning gives the body a bunch of good effects for the day, dawn light helps regulate my sleep and I find that it is easier to get it done before the day gets away from me. Also, I find that I am more productive and joyful at work on days that I run in the morning.
- Stretch after every run. I do a pigeon stretch and a lunging stretch after every run. Also, I do a few yoga poses like downward dog and child's pose to stretch things out a little further. It doesn't take long- maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and it feels great. I also use a foam roller and a ball to get into any very locked up and tight spots particularly in my glutes and calves twice a week while I watch TV. This does not feel great, but it makes a big difference in being able to run the next day, especially after my Sunday long runs.
- No sharp pains and always warm up. I tore my hamstring badly in 2022 by not warming up before some track intervals. I made it worse the next week because I did not listen to the sharp pain after I put it under too much load too quickly. This put me out for months and I can still feel myself recovering from this injury. Dull aches are an acceptable part of healthy stress on runs, but sharp pains are the body telling you that something is at risk of injury. When I get these, I slow down or stop and stretch.
- Have a schedule, but be flexible. I aim to do a long, easy run on Sundays and harder, shorter intervals on Tuesdays. Sometimes I might work in a tempo run (Zone 4) on Thursdays if I am feeling good, but I treat this as optional. Some weeks I just run easy (Zone 2) the whole week. Listen to your body and don't make the schedule the goal.