Almost intermediate runner
April 23, 2020 3:43 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to improve my running but am overwhelmed by the amount of information online. Could you direct me to the best resources, like YouTube videos or books or websites or whatever, that would fit my needs?

Right now I can run reasonably well, so I am looking for something a little more advanced than just beginner stuff. Online I see a lot of Couch to 5k programs and advice on how to not feel like you're dying while you're running. I'm beyond that stage but I'm also not preparing for a marathon or anything.

I'm in my late 20s and have only just now picked up running. I started one month ago and have been keeping track of my progress with a phone app and now a Garmin watch. Currently, I run between 3 and 6 miles at a time (without breaks) every other day. My pace often feels very slow. I can eek out a one-mile run in 9 minutes but on longer runs I range between 10- and 12-minute miles. I want to run farther and faster! Also, I can feel that my form is terrible, but I don't know how to fix it.

Do you have any advice for me? And/or could you point me in the direction of a good source of information?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Something transformative for me was really embracing my slow pace, especially on long runs. There's a school of training ("Run Slow to Run Fast") that basically says that running slow for increasingly longer distances, at a pace that feels totally relaxed and comfortable (where you could hold a conversation without being out of breath), will help you run faster races. So, if you're currently running a plodding 10K, running slowly for 12.5, 15, 18, 20K will improve your 10K times substantially. This has to do with the way your body builds muscles, mitochondria and burns energy while running slow.

It seems counterintuitive - I always figured I had to run SUPER FAST EVERY TIME. But you can save that for your other, shorter runs for the week -- you can dedicate those to interval training, hill sprints, fartleks, etc. One other benefit of running slow is that it substantially lowers your risk of injury.

This book on structuring your weekly running with 80% slow, 20% fast is a good foundation. Or if you just search 80/20 running on Google, there are plenty of people who talk about this. And the r/running subreddit tends to be a big proponent of it. Hal Higdon's Intermediate Training programs, like this 10K one, are basically structured in the same way (though with more running over the course of the week).
posted by thebots at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

You might want to look at something like a half marathon plan (marathon plans have long runs built into them which take a lot of time. They are what you need for a marathon, but perhaps not here). These will give you something nice and structured and you'll end up doing 10-12 mile runs, which should satisfy your thirst for "longer" without taking all day about it.

Generally speaking, take it easy. Increase distance slowly and give yourself plenty of short runs in between runs at a new, long distance. Rest is great. Injuries are the worst.

The advice that I heard was to work on speed or distance, but not both. You want more distance, great. Do that. You'll probably find that you get faster at shorter distances as a bonus, but don't worry too much about it. OTOH, if you want to increase your speed, you'll have to worry about distance. I loved running, so distance was always it for me.

Check out your shoes! There are services that will generate shoe inserts for you. They send you a box of clay or something and you step in it and from that they generate shoe inserts that fit your foot. Normally I'd suggest going to a running shoe store and getting fitted, but COVID makes that a problem.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

What helped me was adopting a plan with actual defined paces and not vague recommendations like "fast, but not too fast" or "slow and easy". I've been following the Furman (or FIRST) plan, which has explicit target paces that you want to achieve, based on a current race time.

Instead of just plodding along at my usual pace, I was either:

- doing intervals at a fast target pace
- doing tempo runs at a hard pace
- doing long runs at a slightly-faster-than-normal pace

This structure made running more of an accomplishment rather than merely an exercise.

Here's the 5k plan: PDF. I did not buy the book, instead I've been just randomly searching for "Furman" "running" "5k/10k/marathon" and looking at results that are a PDF worksheet and not a web page.

Furman is weird in that there are no explicit easy/rest days or miles. Instead, they recommend that you do cross-training or easy runs on the other days.

For these easy runs, I would recommend the Maffletone method, which will set a heart rate that you should not exceed during these runs. This does require that you get a heart rate monitor so you know what your heart rate feels like at the recommended level.

Completely separately, I also enjoyed the Galloway run/walk method, where you run for a fixed time then walk for a fixed time, then repeat. It was the most useful during long runs, where pacing is difficult for beginners, injury is more possible, and boredom sets in. It does require some kind of technology to keep track of those times. I did not buy the book either, I just set up my watch (which has this functionality built in) to do three minute runs/one minute walks, but the link has some prescribed intervals that you can start with.
posted by meowzilla at 4:39 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm in my late 20s and have only just now picked up running. I started one month ago

Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are still a beginner. In particular, you haven't been running long enough for your bones and connective tissue to fully adapt to the new stresses that running is putting on them. Running 3-6 miles every other day is a lot for a new runner, and increases your risk of getting an overuse injury. This article by Thomas Schwartz, Pete Magill, and Melissa Breyer on what running does to your connective tissue is well worth a read.

You're right that there's a lot of chaff and little wheat online about running. A useful introduction to the 80/20 training principle, mentioned by thebots, is this article by Matt Fitzgerald, author of 80/20 Running. I currently do about 85-90% of my running at a conversational pace, since I'm rebuilding a base after a series of illnesses forced me to take a big chunk of time off of running.

I've been building a library of books about running since the 1990s, and in my opinion, the best single book for a new runner to read is Pete Magill, Thomas Schwartz, and Melissa Breyer, Build Your Running Body. (They're the authors of the first article to which I linked above, which is excerpted from their book.) It covers a range of subjects: running form, how to train, how to choose shoes and gear, cross training and strength training, nutrition, avoiding injuries, and recovering from injuries. I wish I had had it when I first took up running.

A comment on the FIRST plan: the consensus of the online discussions I've seen involving it is that it can be useful for experienced runners who have done more standard, higher-distance training, and find themselves either short on time or injury prone, but that it's not the best way to start training. The Galloway run-walk-run method, on the other hand, is sometimes pooh-poohed by people who think that a walk break is somehow cheating, but some runners find that if they follow it, their average overall pace is faster than running continuously and they're much less prone to injury.

Finally, if you Reddit, the r/running subReddit is a pretty good place to get advice from experienced runners. As always, though, take advice from strangers on the Internet with a grain of salt. And happy running!
posted by brianogilvie at 6:00 PM on April 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

I found that it was too easy to get sucked into reading too much and over optimizing and the best thing for me to get out and do it was to follow a plan. I've used both Hal Hidgon's plans and Jeff Galloway's plans. Pick one of their plans to run either a 5k 10% faster than you could before, or a 10k as fast as you run a 5k. If you are like I was when I started and your 5k pace is the same as your 10k pace, pick the first goal and learn to run faster.
posted by advicepig at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2020

I'm no expert, but I think it's reasonable to expect about 3-4 years of improvement. You're one month in, and you're young. There are slightly better and slightly worse approaches, but if you just keep running regularly and don't get injured, you'll improve steadily - slowly, but steadily.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2020

My advice is not to overthink it. Just pick any basic running training program and follow it.

Most of the stuff about "new running program" or "try this revolutionary technique" is the equivalent of internet clickbait. Running and fitness magazines need new content every month (and thanks the internet - everyday!). So they focus on new new new all the time when instead what you need is consistently following a program that provides the basic mix of endurance and speed training for whatever race distance you want to train for.

Don't get caught up in chasing marginal returns until you have gotten the benefits of the central returns and 99% of people never max out the full central returns.
posted by srboisvert at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

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