12 Running Lessons From Over 12 Years of Training

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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  1. Great post Fitz, and some valuable lessons. I’m an ever bigger believer in point 3 and, in addition to blogs, Runner’s World, and Running Times, I have several training-related books queued up on my Kindle right now. The only caution there is that it is easy to receive conflicting advice, so you do need to have a set of core beliefs and principles about your training (either established through experience or a trusted coach) and use the new knowledge to, at least initially, experiment mostly at the “fringes”.

    I know I’m going to struggle with #8, but I think that I have several years of potential improvement left (looking at runners like Steve Speirs, for example), since I’ve only recently really begun to push and see what I’m capable of. And for #9, I have finally (as of last winter) accepted that such is now the proper way to wear tights – back when I was in high school (10 years before you), you would never wear tights without shorts over the top. Of course, I also had somewhat of a mullet at the time (business in the front, party in the back), which I also fortunately no longer possess.

    • Glad you’re not wearing shorts over your tights! That’s a JV mistake! And I’m going to strongly encourage you to post a mullet picture on Predawn Runner! Please?

      • No sir, I don’t think I even have any pictures. You’d have to check with my folks about that. And I will say there is one exception to the no-shorts-over-tights rule – sometimes when it does get really cold up here in NE Ohio (like, under 10* F), you do need that extra protection for your you-know-what. So, only in the cold predawn, you can get away with it. It does make a difference.

        • I love how this post has devolved into a discussion of mullets and frozen man parts. I prefer a pair of athletic briefs for extra protection, but to each their own. 🙂

  2. Excellent! I especially like #9. I no longer feel like I’m a rebel 😉 Off to share this on Facebook!

  3. digitalmockup says:

    Great Post, except for #9. No way I’m going outside with just tights. I’m keeping my shorts!

  4. I like the Crosstraining bit. It’s amazing to me how some activities can improve your running, and vice versa.

  5. Robert Wallace says:

    Great article! I’m 23 (24 in about 33 days) and my ultimate goal is to complete a full ironman by the time I’m 30, I just completed my first marathon this year (The San Francisco Marathon) and just recently completed my first sprint triathlon and now working on my 5k / 10k speed work. I love training. I decided to get into running not as a hobby but as a lifestyle, my father passed away 2 years ago from not being healthy and never working out (heart attack) I’m not angry for him neglecting his health though, it’s life, you can’t control other peoples habits, you may try but in the end its their decision. anyway, I’ve devoted to stay healthy for life and stay active, running has helped me with so much and will continue to stay strong!

    • Now THAT is motivation! Way to have big goals. It seems like you’re going the correct route to accomplishing an Ironman; that’s quite the feat. Good luck and I hope you stick around Strength Running for advice on your running!

  6. Great post Fitz. Got some good points in there. And to briefly jump into the debate, I say avoid tights at all costs and rock the short-shorts (old-school) instead. In all seriousness, I say if you aren’t running for the pure sake of running itself and the enjoyment you extract from it then you are in trouble. For instance, this year I had a poor racing season but on the flip side was injury free and will log well over 2500+ miles by years end. For me, I will take this type of consistency and weekly logs over any single race performance. Reason= I don’t run to race but simple run to run and I know the race performance will come in do course.

    • Thanks Adam. Having over 2500 miles in the bank for 2010 will definitely set you up for some good races soon / next year. That’s some great volume.

  7. Over a month ago, I ran my 12th 5K race and finished with my first sub-30. Last weekend, I ran my first 10K, and clocked in at 1:02. I started running last January; I don’t even refer to myself as a “runner”.

    Articles like this keep me going and inspires me a lot as a beginner. Thanks for this one. 🙂

    • That’s awesome! You’re definitely a runner now – I’m glad you like the article! Thanks for stopping by.

    • i run a running club for “non-runners”… VERY funny, avergaing out all our numbers over the years it takes about 10 5ks for our people to break 30 🙂 …although, for your first 10k, that was dang speedy! sub 1:00 right around the corner! keep rockin!

  8. gregorio ocampo says:

    i cant wear tights without short… but still runs well…

  9. guilty of number 9… used to wear just the tights when i run alone… but in events, modesty gets the best of me… ;-P

  10. These are great lessons! i am from the Philippines where there is currently a huge boom of running events. I am looking forward that newer runners read this and try to snap out of their quantity-over-quality mentality.

    Please go to http://www.takbo.net and try putting some sense into some people.

    Your presence there will surely by appreciated.

  11. Matt Fisher says:

    Great post! Have to agree with #9. Although, I only don the tights when the temps dip below 20° here in NW Indiana. Too much work to put them on in the morning before a run!

  12. this is a great read!

  13. derek cernak says:

    such very wise observations for such a young kid 🙂 … i haved shared with my running club… however, as a former football player, wearing the shorts over the tights is a must… and i’m still cool 😉

    • 27 is old in the running game! 🙂 Thanks for sharing Derek – but I stand by my decision to rock the tights with pride!

      • hope for the future… most of the people in my running club get progressively faster in distance events into their mid 50s! ….bad news is that it gets harder and harder for them to place! ha ha! and i had to pick on you…. i’m only 35, but never ran a spec until age 30 😉

  14. Hehe, I wear the tights under the shorts because I’m scared to just wear the shorts and want to cover up my legs. I need to learn to ‘just wear the shorts’ (in summer).

  15. I found myself at your blog twice in one night, both by way of the almighty google. I was researching on what shoes to buy and number 11 inspired to spend the money on a nice lobster dinner after my first 10k is completed rather than buying a $140 pair of sneakers before my first 10k starts. I am a minimalist through and through and this helped me realize that running sneakers are no exception to the lifestyle.

  16. Only girls can get away with tights with no shorts. I only wear the tights coz it helps prevent chafing. No one wants to see it all hang out 😛

    No matter how much I run, #10 gets me every time. Leading up to a race or even a really long run I have to work hard to fight the fear of going too hard too soon and having to pull out. Or not going hard enough & being disappointed.


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