1. Set tangible goals: One of the BIGGEST errors that I see is when runners set goals that are just out of their reach in the current season and too ambitious for current fitness levels. What this does is sets up a training block where expectations are lofty and when they are not met in the early season it sets a negative tone for upcoming training and races. It’s critical to develop early season confidence which can be applied throughout the training block as things begin to ramp up and peak races soon approach. Setting reachable goals is an integral part of building the confidence necessary to be as consistent as possible while executing a long grinding training plan.
2. Have a plan: Once your seasonal goals have been established it will be time to get your plan together. Whether you hire a professional coach or make up the plan yourself it will be an essential element to you reaching your goals. Your plan should consist of a strategic approach to training with progressive workouts and long runs that gently prepare you for your peak races. It will be key that your plan takes into account your personal and professional life and has a balance that will allow you to navigate through your life and keep training consistently through the peak of the season.
3. Be flexible: Your running and life will not always go exactly how you may be expecting it to go. Be prepared to make the necessary adjustments to your plan and your life to allow for you to be successful. Athletes that get too rigid in following their plan will likely end up getting frustrated and fall off track when things don’t go exactly to plan. The best plans are those that change to meet the ups and downs of your regular life. A solid running and life balance will be the key to your longevity as a runner.
4. Be disciplined/patient: Your fitness takes time to build or prime and a slow burn approach is much preferred to a get results NOW strategy. Your physiology is very complex and your body’s energy systems prefer to be developed in a preferred order. Now this can differ from athlete to athlete but there are some concepts that remain constant from runner to runner. For example we know that racing too often in your base phase is a bad idea and can compromise high level gains later in the season.
5. Run practice races: Another HUGE error that I see is where we have runners (especially marathon runners) that think that they don’t need to race in preparation for their peak marathon events. Running and racing fast is a skill that must be refined and practiced in order to be sharp. The seasonal races that you put into your schedule serve multiple purposes and are very important components to any successful season. We must practice the race type intensity many times in order to be able to call on this skill on race day. Without this experience athletes are likely to fall short of expectations in those big events at the end of the season.
6. Always listen to your body: This concept will be one of the most important of all in keeping you injury free, on the roads running, and crushing all of your goals. There is a time to follow your running program and there’s a time to alter the plan to fit your needs. When your body is telling you that it needs a break or it it can’t handle the prescribed workout, you better LISTEN! Sometimes it’s best to sneak in that extra day off or to bypass your weekly speed work session in favor of an easy run. Give yourself that extra day and pick right up where you left off.
7. Strength Train: It’s essential to have a complimentary strength program for the demands of all of your running miles. A proper strength program that is designed for runners will be an important component in keeping you injury free and consistent in your training. As we run and race our running muscles get fatigued and break down in the latter miles. Some extra support, stability, and strength will be crucial for that finishing kick and completing those quality long run miles. Rep ranges in the 3-8 range will be optimal for enhancing power and creating strength gains that will directly translate to your running.
8. Taper correctly: The process of tapering is one that is constantly used incorrectly by runners all across the land. In many cases we miss that sweet spot and either taper too much or not enough. Now, we must consider that all athletes are not the same and each will respond differently to various tapering methods. At some points of the season we won’t even taper, others will require just a short reduction in volume, and then the marathon will require more. I have found a huge benefit in having athletes for many consecutive seasons as this lets me learn how each individual responds to different tapering methods. Once we get this formula down we can count on consistent performances on race day each time out.
9. Value your base phase: For some reason so many athletes (Whitney Earnest) think that the base phase is less important than other phases of training. When in reality the base phase is probably the most important part of every training block. This 6-8 week block lays a critical foundation for all of the other training elements that will follow. Establishing that aerobic base while growing your mitochondria and preparing your musculosketal system for the demands of faster running happens here.
10. Know your current fitness: With the birth of every new season come goals, expectations, and dreams. Whether your season is focused on the 5k or the marathon there will be a significant commitment made and goals to achieve. In order to construct the right plan, keep on track, and not over train it will be essential to know your current fitness to start the season and as it progresses. So many folks just guess on their fitness or use grandiose goals to gauge training intensities. When we do this it’s very likely that we will be training too fast, too much, too early in the season. Your training program must start where you are at and work towards where you want to go. It must be progressive and match the needs of your physiological systems. To get that big bang on peak race day takes patience and persistence and most of all TIME!