12 Running Lessons From Over 12 Years of Training

by Jason Fitzgerald

Back in my high school and college days, I used to think, “You have so much time to run fast.” Time is flying by and after high school, college, and post-collegiate racing I’ve learned a lot.

Three days ago, on November 1st, I turned 27 years old. I’ve been training competitively for over 12 years and it’s been incredible. My freshman year in college I ran an 8k at what used to be my 5k pace. Now I’ve run 10 miles at my high school 5k pace. Talk about improvement.

As I get a year older and look back on the many years of racing, being injured, training, and having so many coaches, I want to share some important running lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

1. Set Big Goals

Set huge goals. Enormous goals. Maybe you want to run your first half-marathon, but always keep some “bucket-list” type goals in your back pocket. That could mean getting interested in running an ultramarathon or maybe an Ironman. There are a lot of adventures out there that are waiting for you. Of all these running lessons, this one took me a long time to learn.

2. Be Thankful When You are Healthy and Fast

Runners get hurt sometimes. There’s a lot we can do to prevent injury and if we’re smart, they can be very infrequent. But occasionally you will have to take a few days off or even see a specialist. These times of frustration make the times that you’re healthy even more special.

Cherish the training runs and races you complete when you are healthy, feeling great, and running fast. It’s easy to find motivation during these times, so enjoy the freedom of running when it’s easy and you feel good.

3. Knowledge is Power

I used to think I knew everything about running. I didn’t know everything years back, and I still don’t know everything today. I’m constantly reading about running, whether on sites like Runblogger, magazines like Running Times, or books. Invest in your passion and learn as much as you can about running. Right now I’m reading Dean Karnazes’ book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner. I just started it, but I’m already inspired and impressed by Dean’s accomplishments and life story.

Investing in your passion could mean hiring a coach or getting a premium triathlon training plan to bolster your running fitness. Whatever your decision, invest in value that will help you achieve your goals.

4. Make Time for Naps

Ryan Hall calls his afternoon naps “business meetings.” While you probably have a job and can’t take a snooze at your desk, realize that recovery from your running happens when you sleep. If you can squeeze a nap into your day at some point, you’re that much more recovered for your next hard workout.

5. Find Other Runners

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who want to accomplish similar goals is an empowering thing to do. Other runners can help motivate you to train harder, stay motivated, or try a new race. Try the Active message boards or Daily Mile to connect with people who share your passions. You’ll be surprised at how inspiring it is to interact with other runners who are doing great things.

6. Cross-training Can Transform Your Running

You can use cycling, pool running, the elliptical, or even swimming to gain extra aerobic fitness and athleticism. These forms of exercise are zero or low-impact and are virtually free of any injury-risk (just don’t fall off your bike!). Like running, they’ll build your cardiovascular fitness so you can run longer and faster with less effort.

In the past, I’ve used periods of cross-training to take my running to the next level. I trained for sprint triathlons which gave me a specific goal to work toward. If you’re interested in training for a triathlon, Patrick McCrann’s has an amazing training package called Competitive Triathlon in 10 Hours a Week.

7. Eat Your Vegetables

Diet matters for performance, injury prevention, and motivation level. If you are getting your 10+ servings of vegetables and fruit every day, it will be hard for you to eat a lot of junk food. As a first step, challenge yourself to eat vegetables with your breakfast every day for a week. My personal favorite: a two egg omelette with leftover mixed vegetables. Delicious!

8. How You Define Fast Will Change

You’re going to get older. Your interests may change. As you run different races or place different priority levels on running, your definition of the word “fast” will evolve. When I trained for the New York Marathon my goal pace was about 6 minutes – far slower than any other goal pace before in my running career. In that case I was focusing on endurance, just like in two years when I am thinking of making my ultramarathon debut (!).

I’m no longer a miler like I used to think I was in high school. Nor am I a 5k specialist like I thought I was in college. The times change, and that’s just fine.

9. Don’t Wear Shorts Over Tights

This one is very simple. Just don’t do it. Not cool. Just embrace your inner running nerd and wear the damn tights.

10. It’s OK To Be Afraid

As you dive deeper into the sport of running you’re going to try new things. When I ran my first collegiate 8k cross-country race I was terrified. I was also intimidated by my first half-marathon and I can’t begin to explain my nervousness before marathon. These feelings are natural and they make you feel alive. Embrace them.

11. Speed and Endurance Aren’t For Sale

You can’t buy a personal record. It has to be earned through hard work, sweat, and countless of hours of training and recovery. It seems like so many runners are slaves to their Garmin watches, $140 running shoes, and iPod’s. While those things are fun, they won’t make you any faster (some may even make you slower). When I head out the door I put on my RoadID for safety and a pair of minimalist shoes and I’m ready to train. Embrace simplicity.

12. Embrace Running as Inspiration

Don’t think of running as exercise. It’s not a chore. Do you run because you ate too much for lunch and you want to burn it off? I hope not. Running represents the freedom of movement and exploration that allows you to feel alive, healthy, and youthful.

Some of these lessons are common-sense but I think we all need reminders. And some have taken me years to fully understand and internalize. I hope you can learn from these lessons and improve your own running!

If these running lessons have helped you, please share them with a friend via Twitter, StumbleUpon, or your favorite social media channel. That’s the only way I reach new runners. Thanks!

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