How long does it take to get better at running?
September 13, 2016 2:50 PM   Subscribe

This is kind of a weird question I guess, but how long does it take to get better at running, in the sense that it's definitely getting easier, but it's still never EASY.

I have been running consistently for about 2 years now I guess. Coming up on my 5th 10k in that time and running regularly between 2 and 5 times per week, depending on "things".

I have a few natural obstacles which have made running pretty hard for me. I had severe Plantar Fasciitis which is now all gone thanks to shock therapy, I've had terrible back troubles which have been greatly alleviated thanks to IMS Physio.

I have a very sensitive nose. I'm always sneezing and blowing my nose all throughout the year, but the nose problems are exacerbated when I exercise. I carry a bandana in my hand when I go running and I blow my nose vigorously about 100 times every run. This obviously slows me down and interrupts my breathing rhythm (?) I would imagine!

In the cooler months, I struggle a lot with my breathing, which is probably Exercise induced asthma and my Respiratory Therapist friend said she would get me a puffer for that, but she has not as of yet.

Anyway, I've been doing a variation of runs for the last couple of years and whilst I can definitely say my endurance and stamina have increased since I started, I don't feel as though they have increased DRAMATICALLY. I run a very hilly and difficult loop near my house several times a month and have been doing so for 2 years now, and this run is as difficult to me now as it was when I first started it. Granted, there are some sections I can run longer on, but for the most part, I still have to walk several sections.
My cardio level just doesn't seem to be drastically improving, no matter how much I run. I usually vary the route and the distances, typically I'll run about 4k each run during the week and then I'll do a longer run, say 9k, every weekend.

I don't know - I'm loving running, I'm definitely at a level I never thought I would get to, but I'm just waiting for the moment where I can run the full loop without slowing to a walk and wondering when and if that might happen. I am SO envious of those people that can just run without the heavy breathing and without looking like a tomato by the end of it. Is this in the cards for me or am I doomed to just have a really TOUGH workout every time I go for a run? Am I a medical anomaly? Am I doing something wrong?

So what can I do to improve my fitness and get better at running? What about my nasal drip, does anyone have any recommendations for that? All in all I feel I should be fitter now than I was 2 years ago, but I don't think that's the case! Any advice on how to see improvements would be good!
posted by JenThePro to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly it took me about five years of regular, casual running.
posted by bq at 3:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You probably ARE more fit - but you probably don't perceive it, because the improvement has happened very gradually. I'll bet that your heart and lungs are stronger and that you have more endurance. I'll bet your bloodwork looks better. It's just that is not easy to quantify.
posted by bq at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are in fact asthmatic, getting a doctor-prescribed medication will help dramatically. There are different kinds of puffers -- some people need to take a daily, some people need only for exercise, and some people need a combination. For me, going to an asthma specialist to determine that my problem actually was asthma, and then finding the best medication for me, has made exercise a lot easier.
posted by monkeymonkey at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

At the risk of sounding patronizing (I do not patronize!), could you try a few weeks of running it at a pace where you don't have to slow to a walk? It may or will feel comically slow. Tiny, tiny steps up the hills. You may be passed by people using walkers to walk arthritic and elderly pugs. YMMV but this is what broke my out of my run/walk routine and then I began to get faster.
posted by ftm at 3:24 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

honestly, it sounds like a you're running without any sort of plan. If you want to make actionable, objective progress, you need to form your own plan that you can measure yourself against.

With regards to your loop example, I would run it 3x - 4x a week, and note down your time every single time. When obstacles come in your way, take note of them. When you have an especially good run, write down why you felt that way.
posted by unexpected at 3:31 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

You may be running too fast. To the point above about running with a plan, there are plans available to get you to, say, a sub-30 5k. They focus on different things on different days, including, critically, interval training to get your heart in better shape (slower, essentially). Intervals work, although they're painful. It's shocking how well, even. Check out and other running websites for plans -- some are paid, some not.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:39 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

A famous bike racer, Greg Lemond, said "It never gets any easier. You just go faster." Maybe the same applies to running.
posted by entropone at 3:41 PM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

I started running in 2002 and finally felt like I was good at it in, oh, maybe 2007, when I could knock out 5 miles in about 50 minutes. (That was and is fast for me.) So yeah, like 5 years.

Running with a plan seriously (SERIOUSLY) improved my running. First I just did some track work: running 400s as fast as I could and then walking a lap, and repeating six or eight times, working up to active recovery, where I would sprint a 400 and then jog to recover. Then I did one of the Hal Higdon programs (intermediate 5K), and it was a pain to keep on the schedule, but I got a lot faster.

I think you should get evaluated by a doctor about the runny nose and breathing problems, someone who specializes in allergy and asthma problems. (Have you tried OTC allergy medications to see if that helps the runny nose? It sounds ... not normal.)

Sorry, I have always looked like a tomato at the end of every run I have ever done. If anyone has any solution to that, please memail: You will be my hero.
posted by purpleclover at 3:41 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have a theory, based on extensive observation of my own running, that some people are just not meant for it. No matter what I do (longer distances, Pose method, interval speedwork), or how fit I am (at one point I had a resting heart rate in the high 50s), I've never been able to consistently average better than a 12 minute mile. My PR is something like 10:30, which is comically bad. No other activity poses the same problems for me. I can ride my bike for hours, i showed immediate improvement when I started swimming, I skied down blue trails my first time skiing, etc. Have you tried other activities? That could help you figure out if there's a structural problem like plantar fasciitis or asthma holding you back, or if, like me, running just maybe isn't your thing.

One thing that is very helpful to me is runner's high. My second mile usually isn't any faster than my first, but I feel much better after around 15 minutes. I generally try to warm up more than I feel like I should in order to bring on that runner's high earlier.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a very sensitive nose.

I know nothing, but this sounds like allergies to me. (I don't think asthma makes your nose run?) Have you tried Flonase or pseudoephedrine? It would definitely affect your speed/stamina if you're constantly fighting mucous *and* asthma.
posted by cnc at 3:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Throwing in some bicycle riding might help; it does for me when I'm trying to get my lungs back into shape.
posted by kerf at 4:03 PM on September 13, 2016

and I blow my nose vigorously about 100 times every run.

For what it's worth, I run a lot (like, almost 2000 miles so far this year) and this would absolutely drain every ounce of enjoyment I get from running. If I were in your shoes, getting that issue under control would be priority #1.
posted by brozek at 4:17 PM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was going to say you might want to mix in some other cardio - I row (I cannot run) on an erg, indoors, in the air conditioning -- I understand actual rowers hate ergs but I love the thing. Changing it up might 1) make your other progress more obvious to you; 2) work your body in a different way that makes a difference (as kerf says above).

Also, whatever is going on with your nose sounds so annoying, I'd get that looked at.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:38 PM on September 13, 2016

I have been running regularly for 25 years because the Army loves running. I have run the Marine Corps Marathon. I consistently finish the Army's two-mile run well under my minimum time.

I have hated every. Fucking. Step. of it. No, I take that back. I got that runner's high thing once, in the Republic of Korea, on a shitty night where I was pretty sure it was gonna rain so I had my sweatshirt on, but it didn't rain, so I was sweating more than usual, and suddenly I knew why people ran for fun, and I glided the last half-mile back to my cinder-block barracks and had one of the best solo showers I've ever had in my life. That was in 1995. I haven't had it since. I gave up on trying to get it in 2002, when I blacked out from miles 19-25 of the MCM. That was about as good as it was gonna get, I figured.

But I keep going. I keep running. I'm not generally a masochist in the other areas of my life, but I keep running.

And every fucking step of it, every gasping hacking wheezing step of it, in rain and in sun and occasionally into traffic because I zoned out for a minute, I tell myself, The faster I run, the sooner I'm done. That's pretty much it. All I can do is finish the distance I've assigned myself and take a shower.

I've gotten better at running. I still hate it, but goddamn can I do it.

The faster I run, the sooner I'm done.
posted by Etrigan at 4:39 PM on September 13, 2016 [14 favorites]

I really really think you are just running too fast. I would recommend running at a slow enough pace that you can keep running for the full time - and if you've been running for 2 years, you can definitely find a pace where you can run the entire 9K long run on the weekend. It will feel ridiculously slow at first, but that is the surefire way to build up stamina.

Beginning runners often think they need to go all-out on every run, but that is actually counterproductive. Even the elites only run "hard" for about 20% of their mileage every week. The vast majority of your miles should be easy - at whatever pace that is for you.
posted by barnoley at 4:46 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another thing: running the majority of your mileage at a slower pace makes you much less likely to get injured..... I've definitely learned this the hard way. If you give yourself 2 months to just run at an easy pace (say, the pace where you could hold up your end of a conversation), you will significantly build your aerobic base. Eventually, you'll be able to increase your pace without getting out of breath.
posted by barnoley at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are many ways to experience running:
i. running in the gym with music on
ii. running at home on a treadmill and watching a movie
iii. running in the rain or by the beach
iv. running for a block then jogging for a block then running downhill then walking uphill

Maybe you need to unstructure your running and see if there's a part of it that works for you.
posted by kinoeye at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

(By the way, I think the "run slower" people are probably right. Rereading my answer: I'd been running slowly with relatively low mileage for several years before I started working on speed at all. I did find I had to teach my body to run faster by, uh, running faster on purpose, but it was definitely not a first step.)
posted by purpleclover at 5:06 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agree with barnoley. You need to find a (slow) speed where your heartrate remains stable for half hour run, then attempt to find stable speed for hour run and when you have found that speed, run longer durations and you'll find your base to improve, and your ability to run faster for longer durations too. It should feel like this: /------>!:) instead of ///^^_:(. It may be that the hilly terrain has prevented you from finding a solid, maintainable level of effort.

Run for duration, not for distance, to prevent yourself from speeding to get over with it.
posted by Free word order! at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2016

Have you tried working in some weight training? Medium weight, high reps? I am pretty sure I have better cardio capacity now, as someone who does 2x weekly maintenance gym workouts than when I was doing 18 easy miles a week. I had a better tan back then, though.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was a runner, I had what I called the "1 in 20" rule, where one run in twenty feels really great, like fucking fantastic, and that's what keeps you going, because the other 19 are like, "Ah, Christ- my knees / My lungs are burning / Where is that pain coming from? / I think I'm going to puke / Am I the only one seeing spots?"

Also, different people do better at different distances. You can train to run a marathon, but not everyone is a natural marathoner. If 10k is what you feel best doing, then make that your base. Sure, push past it for different goals and such, but also remember that 10k a couple of times a week is nothing to sneeze at (so to speak), and rather than pushing distance out, you can also work on time within a certain distance.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2016

Nthing the Greg LeMond quote.

Also, jesus, get an inhaler. I have asthma and when I forget to take my meds before I run, I end up being limited by lung capacity and don't actually end up working out my legs. It basically means the run is very unpleasant, but I don't actually get the workout that I want.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you try a route without hills? Hill training is a thing but switch it out for a while... while trying all the other good advice (other than water vaulting :) in this thread.
posted by sammyo at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2016

I also think some people are not made for running. No matter how slow I run, I can never "have a conversation" or whatever. Swimming — now that's a different story. I'm fast; I can do it for hours, but, crucially, I don't swim for just an hour straight. So it's no shock that running, which most people do straight, makes me wanna die.

Look at the Olympics. People are just built for different sports. Maybe find yours.
posted by dame at 8:10 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cadence (the tempo of your feet hitting the ground) may be a big help,
Going to 180 bpm (and letting your stride length get correspondingly shorter) will increase your efficiency a lot.
It will feel weird, but try it. Cadence made a big difference for me.
Here's an article on it, though I didn't read this in detail: Link.

Consider occasional stadium-step workouts. you could try to make a loop (or 2 or 3) around a stadium, going up and down each staircase. They're great, not just for hills, but for making your top speed faster. (your calves may feel like rocks for a day or 3)

Most controversial b/c I don't know your nose: Is it possible to ignore it more/let it drip some/blow it less, even when it's giving you the sensations that make you want to blow. Or wipe instead of blowing some of the time, or blow less hard?
posted by spbmp at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You should go to the doctor. You are mostly likely suffering from allergies and possibly from some significant asthma as well.

A doctor can help you figure this out. A puffer thing is a real mediciation and not something your friend should pick for you. Drug interactions/proper combination of drugs is a good thing to run by a doctor as well.
posted by Kalmya at 9:36 PM on September 13, 2016

I've been running 4-5 days a week coming up on a year after running 2x per week for nearly 10 and didn't really notice a pickup in pace and getting up that hill ability until I started mixing in some intervals (God I LURVE interval day!) and some bodyweight training (TRX, for core, mostly).

Good luck.
posted by notyou at 10:20 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. Definitely, defiitely get a doctor to talk to you about the asthma and allergies
2. Everyone else is right that trying intervals and/or dropping your pace and working 'up' to a consistent 9k pace is going to help.
3. As a general rule you only get good at something by doing that something a LOT. So if you are running that hill 3xmonth then you can expect to feel measurably better at it over a time scale of years; if you're running it 3x week then perhaps the timescale is months instead. OTOH, running the hill isn't necessarily going to help you get better at things like: pacing correctly on the flat, etc.
4. Because of 3, you need to record *everything* to see the improvement. I've been running* regularly** for about 15 years but because I don't do it frequently*** the improvement over that time has been so slow it's pretty much imperceptible. I am positive I am fitter, and I'm definitely fitter than if I didn't do the running, but I am still a sticky tomato ball of rage at the end. I think that might just be my running style.

* jog-flailing at first, 'running' later.
** mostly indoors as it turns out I can't pace myself for shit and also quite like watching TV and not being in the weather
*** like 1 or 2x a week alongside other exercise e.g. swimming or being angry in a yoga class
posted by AFII at 12:09 AM on September 14, 2016

I agree with everyone else about the intervals, and/or sprints.

Someone mentioned Hal Higdon's plans. I also really like Jeff Gaudette's plans (e.g. this one on Runkeeper - it's free but you might need to register).

What works is running a few runs per week as intervals or tempo runs, and then running your other runs that week very slowly - much slower than you're capable of. From the link above "A good rule of thumb is that you can never run too slowly on easy days, but you can easily run too fast". The slow runs act as recovery runs. Running sprints is a really good way to improve your technique. Doesn't matter if you can't sprint very fast or for very long, it'll still help. And you'll get better.

For me, I ran for probably 6 years without a plan, and didn't improve much. I could run a bit further, but that was it. Then I started using training plans, and I've improved a lot over about 3 years.

That said: some people never look that great when running - my girlfriend runs a lot, but she is still red-faced and puffing after a couple hundred metres. It's just that she can keep that pace up for long enough to run a 2-hour half marathon. Maybe you're like her?
posted by Pink Frost at 12:28 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Argh, I lost a lot of writing via browser crash, so I'll be brief.

I suspect you might be overtraining for your current fitness. Along the lines of people telling you to run slower; run with a heart rate monitor (so you know how much slower to run/walk). I like the Maffetone 180 method along with monthly MAF (maxium aerobic fitness) tests so one can see / track progress. 3 months of only target heart rate running, and then after that, up to 20% of your weekly mileage can be for runs above that.

Look at available running plans. Maybe try following some, but the point is there isn't a "run an XX minute 10k" plan which is "run the same distance on the same course and an unspecified level of effort for three months."

Long run. You'll see that in the running plans, but it's super important for endurance. One time a week, do 2-3x your normal daily distance. If you're not already doing a "long run," it's safer to start at 1.5x your normal daily distance, and increase that about 10% per week from theres.

Remember that for a lot of definitions, 0-2 years of running is beginner, 3-5 is intermediate, and beyond 5 is expert. Be cautious of injury; I'm in the 2-3 years of running and inches from turning 40, and I need to force myself to stick to an alternating pattern of 1, then 2 speed sessions per week. Trying to do 2 consistently keeps leading me to injury. Be aware than being 40 and over will have negative impacts upon your recovery rate.

Getting better at running is two parts; stress and then recovery. If one applies more stress without enough recovery, one won't make progress, but stagnate; or possibly get worse and injured. Diet, life stress and sleep are all big parts of recovery, along with time inbetween workouts, and how you schedule the easy/hard workouts (you'll note the plans don't have 3 hard workouts then 3 days of easy work).

Diet - protein. In short, you should be eating 1.2-1.6g of protein per kg of body weight. Ideally at least 3x daily consumptions of 25g+ . cite: recommended protein consumption and timing cite: recommended protein consumption cite: protein an kidney health.

Strengh work. If you're a professional sitter, your glutes and hips are weak, and your hips are inflexible. Google bodyweight exercises for runners. Don't do static stretching before running.

Cut back week. Have a week every 4-6 weeks where you do 50-70% your normal distance, and drop your intensity a bit.

Learn to snot rocket - less interruption to your running than bandana nose blowing.
posted by nobeagle at 7:54 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yep.....just go perceivably slower. But run for a longer amount of time. And occasionally push yourself and take your heart rate really high. My best runs have been those that I ease into.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:27 PM on September 14, 2016

If you decide to think about cadence, I just wanted to add an addendum to really try to keep it consistent. For instance, when you start going up a hill, keep the rhythm but you'll just shorten the strides — it should feel just as relaxed. Same when you're cruising downhill. Listen to it like a song.
posted by spbmp at 7:33 PM on September 14, 2016

Are there any running groups/clubs near you? A lot of 'beginner' runners steer clear of them because they think they're only for more accomplished runners, but plenty of them have groups specifically to help people like you develop. They'll have coaches who know how to help you move forward, and running with other people can really alleviate the drudgery of doing the same stuff again and again (in fact, they'll introduce you to a variety of new routes too, so you won't be doing the same stuff again and again, which will also benefit your running).
posted by penguin pie at 5:46 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Get on train, relax.   |   Help us pick a car? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.