Sometimes, you just need someone to give it to you straight.
Occasionally Jason Fitzgerald and I do 30-minute coaching calls with new Run Your BQ members to help them build some initial momentum when they join our program. I’ve done a few dozen of these calls now, and in the process I’ve noticed something striking:
Almost every runner’s frustrations are the result of the same small handful of mental mistakes.
The good news is they’re fixable: all but one of these mistakes has an easy, obvious solution, once you’ve identified the problem. And that’s what I hope this post will help you to do.
I’ll repeat: at least one of these mistakes is to blame for the frustrations of just about every single runner I’ve talked to on a coaching call. If you’re not getting the results you want, look extra hard at yourself. Be brutally honest, and see if one of these mistakes isn’t behind your lack of progress.
Awareness of the problem is the first step to fixing it, and a huge one. After that, I’ve suggested a solution to each to get you started on the path to correcting it. The rest, of course, is up to you.
Mistake #1: You run too many races.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with racing every month, or even every week … if racing often is your only goal. But if you want to get faster, especially at longer distances, you simply can’t put forth a race effort every month. The cost to your body is too high, not to mention the quality training time that you lose to tapering and recovery, and even the race itself (no, that half marathon you raced doesn’t count for the 20-miler on your schedule). This is why marathoners who make their living at the sport often race only two marathons per year.
Solution: Decide which you really want: to race often, or to race better. Do you want to be a 50-stater or a Marathon Maniac or a Half Fanatic? Or do you want to run the best race you can? The two goals are in conflict – so rather than half-ass both of them, pick the one that matters most to you, and do it as well as you possibly can. And if your choice is the latter, one or two big races a year is all you need.
Mistake #2: You don’t change anything after you get injured.
Injuries tend to come when you’re most excited about running. You’re feeling better than ever and loving your workouts (and your progress), so you push just a little harder. Your easy runs get too fast, you start skipping your day off. It’s too much, but of course you don’t realize it until something breaks down.
When you’re injured, you do all the right stuff: you take time off, you do rehab exercises, you ease back into running. But once the pain is gone – really, truly gone, as best you can tell – you go right back to the routine that got you injured in the first place. Same quick ramp-up of mileage, same form, same training, surface, and shoe. And surprise, surprise … same result.
Solution: Stop looking at your injury as a fluke, and take responsibility for it. Whatever you did caused you to get injured. So if you don’t want it to happen again, you’ve got to change something – even after you’re back to 100 percent.
Start with form. If you’re not running with a fast turnover – around 180 steps per minute – then now’s the time to start. How about posture and footstrike? Next, think about your easy runs: are they really easy, as in “you can carry on a conversation while you’re doing them”? How about your overall mileage – do you have a history of getting injured every time you exceed 40 or 50 miles per week? If so, you’ve got to spend more time building up to that level, and consider strength training, trail running, or another change to whatever repeated actions are resulting in injury.
Mistake #3: You want to PR by 30 minutes in your very next marathon or half.
From the time I became obsessed with qualifying for Boston, it took me seven years to get there. I had a lot of time to take off my marathon (more than an hour and forty minutes!), but that’s not the reason it took so long. It took seven years because every time I started a training program, I planned to qualify for Boston – in that very next race. The result was a pace and mileage that I couldn’t sustain, which of course led to burnout and injury. By the time I got to the start line a few months later, I couldn’t wait to take a break. And so I would, until inspiration stuck again, at which point I’d repeat the same routine.
I’m all for ambitious goals, but if you don’t give yourself adequate time to make them happen, you’ll keep shooting yourself in the foot.
Solution: Remember that we tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a year, and dramatically underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. So take the long view, and practice patience. Decide what it is you want – to break four hours in the marathon, to break an hour-thirty in the half, to qualify for Boston – and deliberately give yourself more time than you optimistically think you’ll need. Plan to do it two or three years from now, even choose the race you’ll run, and then set intermediate race goals along the way. Be ambitious and unreasonable in the long term, calculated and reasonable in the short term, and finally, flexible in your approach … and you’ll have a bulletproof plan for success.
Mistake #4: Your plan is sound … you just don’t execute.
Big picture, only two things can go wrong: either the plan is bad, or the plan is fine but fails in the execution.
If you’ve been conservative in your time frames, chosen a proven training program, and otherwise modeled what you’ve seen to work for others like you, then your plan is probably alright – and you can always make adjustments as you learn more about what’s working and what’s not.
Now it’s up to you to make the plan happen. And here’s where a lot of people get stuck. For whatever reason, they just don’t get out the door to put in the runs they’re supposed to.
Why? I’ve heard a lot of reasons:
- The long runs hurt.
- It’s hard to get up early.
- It’s too cold/hot out.
- A rain or snow day makes it impossible.
- Life gets in the way.
- It’s just easier not to.
And so you miss a workout, then two. Then you’re behind, then you think you need to somehow catch up, then you give up entirely. Until you get frustrated enough with the current situation, resolve to change, and do it all over again.
Solution: This is the toughest mistake to correct, because it involves the mental blocks and procrastination and self-sabotage that affect so many people for so many complex reasons.
Can you make the experience less painful or more pleasurable, by taking care of a form issue, getting new shoes, or listening to music or an audiobook while you run? Is your goal compelling enough; does it give you butterflies to envision accomplishing it? Are you starting too big, so that even the first workout is unapproachable? Is there another approach – say, starting a running streak, or using running as meditation – that would represent a big shift for you and make things easier?
Or is there something deeper going on: do you, on some level, doubt that you can ever achieve whatever you’ve set out to do, so your body simply responds by not even trying? As I said, this one is tougher, and it takes some rumination to figure it out – but often a little thought and re-engineering of the situation can make the difference between disciplined, consistent execution and giving up before you ever really start.
New Running Stuff from Friends
Coincidentally, two of my closest online running buddies put out new programs this week:
- Injury Prevention for Runners by Jason Fitzgerald
- Discover Your Ultramarathon: A Beginners Guide to Running an Ultramarathon by Doug Hay
These are affiliate links and these guys are good friends of mine, so I can’t say I’m completely unbiased here. But I really respect what both of these guys do, in their work with me and on their own, so I hope you’ll check out their new stuff if it interests you.