Have you ever been in a rut, running the same routine for years?
It happens to every runner. You get comfortable. Running routes get familiar. You stick with the same pair of shoes, the same handful of workouts, and the same long run. After a few months, you stop improving.
This is what happened to Rob, a runner I coached for one short month. He was the winner of my birthday giveaway and I worked closely with him for 4 weeks, designing a custom training plan to fit his needs and fitness level to help him reach his goals.
Making fundamental changes in a runner’s fitness level is almost impossible in just four weeks. Instead, I wanted to provide Rob structure and guidance so that he could learn how to design his own training so he wasn’t constantly finding himself “just running” whenever he laced up his shoes.
“I need to break out of my comfort zone”
When Rob won the giveaway, I arranged a courier to shower him with confetti and balloons. Afterwards, we got to work. He filled out my extensive Runner Questionnaire so I could dive deep into his running history and learn his strengths, weaknesses, and current fitness level.
Rob’s goals were to break out of his comfort zone – something I’m familiar with. This phrase was ingrained deep in my psyche from my high school track coach repeatedly telling me to “Get out of your comfort zones!” during races. It’s another way to say, “to do something you’ve never done before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”
Rob wanted to start a marathon training program and learn more about the sport so he could start a running club this year. His town has grown recently and he wanted to share his love of the sport with others. He said, “I had been doing the same running routines for years and although I try to stay current on new trends, my training fundamentals have been the same since high school.”
Rob was in need of a running makeover.
Though some runners might be excited to start a shiny new training program, you have to be careful implementing new things. Every aspect of a training plan needs to be progressive and gradual or else the runner faces a higher injury risk. I customize my plans to the individual (both volume and intensity) so injuries are rare.
Rob noticed the approach. He commented, “Like many runners out there, I would grab a generic running plan and tweak it to meet my needs. But I felt as though the new plan was customized for me and my level. I felt very comfortable switching from my plan to the new training plan.”
After reviewing Rob’s answers on the Runner Questionnaire, I made a few key changes. “The biggest change I noticed after starting to work with Jason was that each run had a purpose. Instead of putting the miles in and trying to be faster, each workout was designed to develop a specific element of running.
“Before working with Jason, I was aware of the different workouts, understood their advantages, and even worked them into my training plan. However, I failed to fully implement them because I would try to focus on everything during every run. By trusting Jason’s expertise, I was able to focus on target of the workout and saw significant improvement each week.”
If you’ve been reading Strength Running for any period of time, you know how enthusiastic I am about core and strength exercises. Rob noticed as well. “Like many old school runners I have not been very diligent about stretching or developing my core. Since Jason is considered a ‘core whore’ I knew that would be changing.
“Although it was a change, it wasn’t difficult and I quickly felt the benefits. I felt as though I was running stronger and could run with better form.”
Breaking out of a rut isn’t all about doing some extra strength work. It’s a mentality that invigorates your training and drives you to accomplish big stretch goals.
Rob says, “The coaching experience has re-energized my running. I am not only running faster and further than I have in years; I am focused and excited about doing it. On top of that, my family has seen the difference and they are also maintaining their running during these cold months. You know things are different when your teenager and 9 year old ask to go for a family run on Christmas day.”
Lessons Learned from 1 Short Month
I wish that I could coach hundreds of runners for free but alas, time is in short supply these days and I have to put food on the table. My month with Rob went by quickly but I’m hoping this post highlights the running strategies he learned so he can share them with his future running club.
Rob emailed me to tell me that “the biggest lesson I learned is the importance of core work and having a purpose for each workout. Plus, knowing that I have to report back to you adds a little extra motivation. I’ve been recording my workouts for years but knowing that I have to share that with someone provides extra motivation.”
Accountability is an enormous motivator. While I don’t monitor the day to day workouts of my runners, I ask for consistent feedback (good or bad) and ask for a weekly update of how their training went. I did the same thing with my college cross country coach every summer. And it worked like a charm: my senior year I ran almost a minute faster over 8,000 meters than the previous year.
Rob learned that you have to build a strong chassis to support a fast engine – with all of the “structural stress” of running, your body needs a strong pair of legs to withstand the impact of running. Too many runners only focus on the “metabolic stress” of running while avoiding their structural fitness. Do so at your own risk!
“A PR Without Trying”
About two weeks after Rob told me what he thought of our month together, he sent a surprising second email about a recent race he ran. It ended up being a poorly managed 5k, with walkers mixed with joggers on an uneven gravel path in the dark. Lots of runners actually got lost.
Rob treated the race as a hard effort and decided not to race it at 100% because his mileage was up and a maximum effort wasn’t a good idea. My inner coach beamed with pride when he told me this.
Despite walkers going four abreast and a sub-par effort, Rob kicked ass.
He said, “Good news! I set a new 5K PR by 14 seconds. I still had a lot in the tank and I was surprised by the finish line. Your efforts are making a difference. I’m still sticking to it and more importantly, enjoying it.”
So is a coach right for you? Let’s just ask Rob: “Having a coach isn’t scary or just for the elite. Since I haven’t had a running coach since high school, I did not know what to expect or if I would be a good candidate. I now know that having a running coach can be a very beneficial experience and is not just for the elites.”