Run Your Fastest Race EVER with this One Weird Old Trick

Do you want to run a new personal best? To race faster than you ever have before – with just one weird old trick?

One Weird Trick

Sorry, there is no trick. There’s no #weightlosshack, #diethack or #fitnesshack. There are no shortcuts. Magic workouts or secrets to success don’t exist.

There’s just hard work – and a lot of it.

But that’s ok. Running is a journey and while the fast race times are fun, there’s pure joy in the daily grind of training. The “Trials of Miles, Miles of Trails.”

Like Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra, tweeted:

Just last week I was writing a training plan for a runner who was preparing for a half marathon in 20 weeks. As I was reading his Runner Questionnaire, he noted that his goal was to improve his half marathon from 1:59 to 1:40.

Sigh.

A 19-minute improvement in 20 weeks? An average mile-pace of 9:05 to… 7:38? I had a coach who would have laughed me out of their office if I had this goal. And his next comment could summarize this entire article:

“Let’s get you training consistently for a few years first.”

But an improvement that huge – over such a short time period – is not only wildly unrealistic, there’s a problem with a results-only approach: we tend to gravitate toward shortcuts when the only thing on our minds are the results we’re chasing. 

The Difference Between Process and Results

Having run in college and high school, I have a lot of friends who are distance runners. Some of them are quite fast (like collegiate All-American fast…).

And the difference between our goals and many other recreational runners’ goals is stark. If you ask us what our goals are, we’ll have a variety of responses:

“This summer I’m putting in some big-boy miles, then we’ll see what happens in the fall.”

“I’m not sure what I’m training for yet, but after a few months of solid workouts I’ll make a decision on what type of races I’ll run in the spring.”

“I might do a few short races next month but I need to see where I’m at first.”

Only after a lot of prodding will we finally explain our race goals. But training goals come first.

Compare these with the goals I hear from hundreds of other runners:

“In 20 weeks I’d like to run a half marathon in 1:40 (my current PR is 1:59). I hope these are realistic.”

“My marathon PR is 4:11 but I feel like I can run a 3:35 marathon.”

“I’ve been running my 5k races around 23:00 – 24:00 but would love to break 20:00 this summer. Can you help me do that??”

Guys, I love stretch goals. I really do – I’ve even encouraged you to set goals that scare you shitless. But every stretch goal needs to be accompanied by training goals. Or else you don’t have a shot in hell at accomplishing what you’d like to accomplish.

Just the other day on Twitter I shared this:

Training PR’s should be your focus at all times so that your fitness is constantly moving forward. Without them, you’ll never get in better shape and your race times will flat-line. This is a classic example of the Principle of Progression.

But what do I mean by “training PR’s?” Here are three of my favorite examples, in order of more important to less important:

  1. Run an annual mileage record
  2. Run a monthly mileage record
  3. Run a weekly mileage record

Remind you of this graphic I used in a previous post about happy running?

Mileage

Runners who see consistent success are the ones that are focused on the process of training. They focus on putting in the work first and let the results happen as a natural result of their hard work. Of course you should set goals – like big-ass, scary goals – but your daily focus needs to be the hard work.  

Fundamentals Win, Every Time

In an article titled The Not-So-Secret Secrets to Succeeding at Anything that I loved so much, I emailed him to tell him so, Matt Frazier urges us to focus on the fundamentals.

He says that, 

“When a hack works — and not just for a day or a week, but for good — it’s usually because it comes on top of a foundation of fundamentals that you’ve practiced for years.

It’s those fundamentals that the internet hackarazzi ignores.

Because the fundamentals aren’t exciting. But they’re real, and nonnegotiable.”

The fundamentals are what result in success. For runners, it’s a focus on consistency, high mileage, reasonable workouts appropriate for your fitness level, and injury prevention. And like Matt so eloquently says, they’re nonnegotiable.

Instead of hacks or shortcuts, be ruthlessly obsessed with the process of success.

Want to run faster than you ever have? You have to train more than you ever have… for years.

Want to build a popular blog? You have to write consistently… for years.

Want to prevent injuries and run healthy? You have to train smart… for as long as you’re a runner.   

Want to have a happy marriage? You have to WORK at it… until the day you die (OMG how unsexy!).

And we have to do all this even when we don’t want to – when we’re tired, busy, sore, cranky, unhappy, and have other obligations. Success is difficult, huh?

When we forget the hacks, shortcuts, and “weird old tricks” we can get back to basics. And when we do, we’ll reap the rewards of diligently building a foundation of fundamentals that allow us to become successful runners.

If you’re currently not on my email list, you can sign up here to get my free series on the fundamentals that help runners become better runners.

No tricks, no secrets. Just a well-rounded collection of training advice that will show you what to focus on in your running.

Here’s to focusing our efforts on the building blocks of training, so we can forget about shorcuts and enjoy the journey of hard work. 

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Comments

  1. Brilliant evaluation of how to be successful!

  2. Michael Chastain says:

    Going from 1:59 to 1:40 isn’t necessarily unreasonable depending on other factors. I mean hell, I went from running six miles per week and barely being able to complete a 5K in 25 minutes (and never having run more than 10K) to running a 1:43 half in 13 weeks.

    Now I’m not saying everybody can do what I did, but it doesn’t sound unreasonable to me for somebody who has some modicum of experience running and is otherwise in good shape but hasn’t really trained in the past. A time of 1:59 would typically indicate somebody who has never really applied themselves before (everybody being different of course) and that may be able to make huge gains from even modest training.

    • So, what’s the secret to your progress Michael?

      • Michael Chastain says:

        I wouldn’t say there was a secret. I was at a nearly ideal weight (39 now 41, 6’1″, ~175 lbs, down from 300), male, and largely untrained. My only real running experience was training for a 5K a year prior (about 13 miles per week) followed by six months of almost no running and a couple months of 2 miles a few times a week. No other cardio to speak of.

        It was my first time really following a training program (Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Novice program, switched to the Marathon Novice program six weeks in) so I was in a position to really make some strong gains. And I worked really effing hard, almost too hard, as after the half marathon I ended up with some halfway serious knee pain for six weeks that almost derailed my marathon training (ran a 3:45).

        So I’m completely on board with the concept that it requires hard work to make improvements, and I’d even agree that gradual improvements is healthier than trying to make rapid gains (although sometimes it might be worth it to say @#$% it and roll the dice). My only contention is that if you’re a beginner in good health with a significant untapped potential that 1:40 might be an achievable time over 20 weeks.

        I don’t think my experience was a freak occurrence. I’ve continued to run and participate in triathlons and I’ve had a bit of age group success but it’s not like I’ve turned into an elite runner or anything. I’m running ~35 miles per week right now focused on finally getting my 5K time under 20 minutes. I’m so close I can taste it right now. Maybe even a race Sunday but 20:20 or so is more realistic. My training program doesn’t peak for another six weeks, so I’ll definitely get there.

  3. Thank you for the inspiration. It can be tough to be realistic when you’re chasing big stretch goals. I’ve been working on consistency and building strength and speed, for months and I can’t wait to see the results in a couple months at my next marathon. Summer has arrived here in Florida though, so my runs in 80 degree weather with 80% humidity have been a downer in terms of seeing progress. Always nice to have the reminder to be patient… 🙂

  4. Great article Jason! And even better advice. Thank you for all your wisdom, you have helped me to become a runner who actually enjoys running! Imagine.

  5. After reading your blog post a while back on training age I have become MUCH more realistic on my training/racing goals. Your blog is my favourite. No magic just the work.

  6. To be fair, I would guess the reason that you get asked the questions like I want to improve my race time from x to y, is your assistance in how to train to do that… At least that would be what I was getting at if I asked a question like that. In my head I ran a half marathon (first) and I trained for it specifically to achieve three goals:

    1) Finish
    2) No walking
    3) Do it under 2 hours (about 9 min per mile pace)

    I did it, was really happy. So now that I think about the next one if I want to do the same thing, but aim for either a 1:45 time (8 min per mile) or should I aim for 1:52ish (8.5 min per mile). Is the 1:45 reasonable? I am completely willing to train to get to it, but if it is not reasonable then that is good stuff to know… Granted, perhaps what matters the most, it that I think I can do the 1:45, so I will start to train to that goal… the rest should just take care of itself….

  7. What a fantastic blog!

    The thing is, a lot of people want to find “shortcuts” to everyday life problems. There are ALWAYS going to be shortcuts, but get mad when the results aren’t there for very long. There’s no cheating life, and the best way to beat it is to go at it head on!

  8. Great article. The longer I’ve been running the more I have come to learn this. It really hit home when i set a 5k PR at a parkrun this year while training for a 100M race with only a little speed training, just lots of hills and miles for a few months.

  9. This was a great piece of information, Jason. I will try to implement it within my running schedule.

  10. This is great!

    There really are no easy ways in order to be successful in field. If we really want to achieve something, then we need to work hard for it. There may be hindrances and failures, but one thing is important, we will do everything we can because that is what we want. Want to achieve that “sexy” and “beautiful” body? Then work on it! Set goals!

    Achieving our goals takes time. Yeah, there would be shortcuts, but these easy ways don’t guarantee anything.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I’ve been fortunate to have started my running career on a cross country team so I’ve always had this structure. It’s varied over time, but good training always follows the same general rules. After all, there are no shortcuts to success. […]

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