The Five Commandments of Running
Posted on 18th March 2021 at 15:21
In the last year, millions of people have been forced to stay at home, gradually gaining weight as the comfort food wrappers stack high. This action may have lowered infection risk, but it may also cause an increase in lifestyle related illness such as heart attack, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
With the gyms closed, plenty of people have taken up running now, so I probably should have written this article a few months back, instead of wasting my time crying into a tub of Ben and Jerrys.
What follows are five commandments I wish all runners knew, numbers one, and five are abslutlely immutable, the other three are just my opinion, based on my experience and learning, I wish I had learned these rules earlier on when I first started running, it would have saved me a lot of needless pain, and I would have ran some much faster times.
It really doesn’t matter if you’ve only just started on a couch to 5k, or if you’re a seasoned pro smashing out sub six-minute miles for marathon distance, there are rules of running that you must obey.
Disobey them at your own cost, the God of running is a capricious, egotistical and vain God, (like all of them) and you will be struck down and punished should you wander from the path of running righteousness.
Though shalt do no harm
If I could go back in time and start up in business again, I think I might reconsider going into Personal Training. Instead I might try setting up a Burger Bar, or a doughnut stall, or perhaps some kind of crazy milk shake canteen where people select which sweets and fruits they want blended up together.
All those things taste nice, and people will pay for nice things, if you sell it to them in fancy cups and have good signage you can charge them a lot more. It’s an easy sell. If I got fat from eating into some of my profits and working so hard, I could just hire a personal training shmuck with all my excess fortune.
Fitness is not an easy sell. Exercise hurts, the more out of shape you are, the more it hurts, and as you get fitter and fitter, you can push yourself harder, so it just hurts more. Sometimes I go through so much pain when I’m training, I want to be sick, I feel like I can’t possibly push myself any harder only to push things more the next session.
Want to come train with me? You sick bastard.
But there is a big difference between exercises pain, the kind of thing were your muscles burn and for the next few days ache, and injury pain.
Injury pain is damaging and trying to “tough it out” is stupid, though I have on occasion been guilty of this myself.
A guy goes to the doctor and says it hurts when I tap my hand like this (knocks hand on table). The doctor says, “well stop doing that then.”.
When you have pain whilst exercising, STOP.
Knee’s hurt whilst squatting? STOP.
Shoulders hurt whilst benching? STOP.
Everything hurt whilst running? STOP.
If you carry on, you’ll only make things worse. I know it sucks, as I write this article, I am on week two of a twelve-week program for a race I’ve entered and I’m having to taper everything back because last week I got knee pain whilst running.
My plan has now gone to shit, but rather than belt feed doughnuts into my pitiful sobbing face I’ve had to work around the injury. Until I get seen by the physio next week I’ve been getting out of breath with press ups, sit ups, chin ups and some light rowing, cycling and anything that doesn’t aggravate it.
This will mean a week or two disruption to my carefully crafted plan, but I’d rather a week or two than a month or two, which is what will happen if I keep running on an injury.
Though shalt covet another man’s PB.
Yeh, I know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, but let’s be real for a moment, sometimes your best motivation is checking out what your competitors are doing on Strava and trying to beat their times or milage.
Of course we should all consider “intrinsic motivation” (said in a sarcastic voice with finger quotes) but just like other pseudo-science theories of pop key board analysist, this is complete BS.
You might think that just trying to be the best you that you can be is a virtuous pursuit, giving the pursuer a level of spiritual wellbeing akin to a Tibetan Monk on the tenth year of his isolated cave meditation. But it’s just weak, it motivates nobody.
Nor is it a smart tactic to compare yourself to people who are clearly much better than you, I might admire Mo Farah’s 10K time (26 mins 46 seconds) but I don’t feel bad that my 10K time is nowhere near that (26 mins and 48 seconds, if I just tried a little harder )
For me the best way to gauge my own progress is to look at the running times of people who I know are on a similar level to myself, if I see they’re getting some faster miles than me on certain routes, then I’ll have a go at beating those times, I may of course not be able to do this, but it’s pleasing to give it a go, and I won’t feel bad if I can’t.
Comparing yourself to other people can be healthy if it’s done right, we all do this all the time anyway, so we might as well embrace it. If you genuinely didn’t compare yourself to other people in life, you would have no idea what sociably acceptable norms are, and you’d most likely look like a complete wierdo and have zero friends. Just tell yourself it’s your unique nature and nobody understands the ‘real’ you.
So, compare yourself in a healthy way, chat to people in a similar situation to yourself, I belong to several running groups on Facebook and often get involved in discussions around form, times, fuel, running shoes etc. It’s good to compare!
Blessed are those who suffer
Before I go on, let me state clearly that those starting out should ignore this commandment for a few months, and even experienced runners, especially older ones, should probably ignore this 80% of the time and just enjoy getting out and lightly pounding the streets, but for everyone else with an established running base line who wants to see progress?
You got to enter the pain zone!!!
Pushing yourself harder is the only way to make progress, it’s unpleasant, it hurts, it can make you want to vomit or in fact it can make you actually vomit, but it’s an essential part of getting better at exercise.
Don’t be a fucking idiot with this rule, I push myself like a psychotic twat with a sadist bent, my body suffers like its seeking redemption for a vile sin, but I only do this because I’ve spent years gradually building up my pain tolerance, I’ve gone from ten or twenty second sprint circuits to five sets of three-minute sprints where I practically finish crawling by the end (try it sometime).
The point is that those willing to suffer a little, are rewarded by the running god with more speed, better form, increased endurance, and a higher pain threshold (so they can push it harder next time, just to please that arrogant running God).
Though shalt Resist(ance train)
Running uses just a small range of motion around the joints, if you become a long-distance runner you use even less motion as you get better, this means the muscles around those joints are being trained in a very small and specific range of movement. When moving through those ranges the joints are strong and comfortable, but take them further out, like a squat for example, and stability is lost, and with a loss of stability comes increased injury.
If you just want to run and nothing else that’s all good, you don’t have to squat twice your body weight in a rack, resistance training means any resistance, your own bodyweight counts, and a few deep range controlled squats throw into a running program can really help with all round fitness. Research is mostly mixed on the benefit of this, but enough exist to state that a decent resistance training program might improve injury risk and could even improve running biomechanics and efficiency of movement.
There aren’t any golden rules, everybody has their own areas to work on, but in general a good complementary resistance training should consist of core work, squats, 1 leg work, lifting and personally I like to do some upper body stuff, even though it doesn’t aid my running at all it still makes me look less like a forty-year-old when I take my top of.
Remember the Sabbath
“And on the Seventh Day, the running god rested, they put up their feet, enjoyed some family time, and had a nice cup of tea”
Mathew, chapter twelve, verse Two
Your improvement is only as good as your recovery, the harder you work, the more miles you put in, the more your body needs to recover, regenerate and repair. Sometimes the best way to make progress is to get a good night’s sleep, take a day or two off, book yourself in for a massage, have a warm bath, have an ice bath, enjoy some socially distanced dogging whilst wearing a mask, whatever works for you.
Wonderful things happen when you recover properly, your muscles adapt and become stronger, the joints have time to repair and are ready to take more damage (which is what all exercise is to some extent, indeed all activity has some kind of impact on the joints).
So, when you’re putting together your plans for the next race, be sure to put in some periodically planned rest.
I’ve tried to keep this list short, there are lots of other rules which apply to some runners but not to others, for example sprinters probably benefit more from heavier weights than long distance runners, older runners probably need less volume but more frequency in training, we are all beautiful unique little snowflakes.
But the rules above are generic enough that absolutely every runner could benefit from them, if you’d like more articles on running or any aspect of training then get in touch, likewise if you have any questions at all regarding health.
Now go forth and spread the good word! (please share it if you find it useful)
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