Runners World Articles: Archives
Frequently Asked Questions
Some questions never go out of style. Here are six classics.
Over the past 10 years, I figure I've spoken to more than 100,000
runners. And whether it's at a race clinic or during a chance encounter
in an airport, the questions they ask are universal. No matter how
often I repeat my advice, runners - especially beginners - stay
hungry for more. So I've collected here your most frequently asked
questions. If the answers seem simple, that's because they are.
But don't let their simplicity fool you - they really work!
Why do I feel great one day and awful the next? To a certain
extent, you have to expect this. Some runs will feel good, and some
will feel bad. But if your runs regularly seem to ride a roller-coaster
of "great" and "awful," it may be because your easy days aren't
quite easy enough. Without adequate rest (about 48 hours) after
the stress of intense running, your muscles don't have time to properly
repair themselves and grow stronger. Your real gains occur not during
a speed session or hill run, but during the rest period that follows.
How can I run faster? This is a no-brainer. You can run
faster by . . . running faster. Once or twice a week, put some speed
into your schedule. Here's a sample speed session for a faster 5K:
After an easy warmup, run at your projected race pace (or slightly
faster) for 1 to 2 minutes, then walk or jog for 2 to 3 minutes.
Start with two of these race-pace repeats each session and increase
by one or two per week until you've reached a maximum of eight repeats.
How can I run farther? Go slower. If, from the start of
your long runs, you run 1 to 2 minutes slower per mile than you
have been running, you'll push beyond your previous "wall" without
excess fatigue. Remember: A slow, long run (even with walking breaks)
will yield almost the same endurance benefits as a fast, long run.
And you'll burn about the same number of calories.
How can I stay motivated? My usual advice is to establish
a goal to train for, such as a 10K, half-marathon or marathon, or
to run with a friend so that your runs are more enjoyable and harder
to skip. Those are both surefire tips and I heartily recommend them.
But here's a bit of unusual advice: Stop running. Not for good,
of course, but for a day or two. Maybe even longer. Try hiking,
biking or swimming instead. If you've been running for several years
and are feeling uninspired, even a layoff of a week or two isn't
out of the question. After some time away, you'll return feeling
refreshed both physically and mentally.
Will running damage my joints? All of the long-term research
I've seen says no. In separate studies that tracked subjects over
a span of 40 and 50 years, runners had no more joint problems than
nonexercisers. In fact, orthopedists have told me that people who
are programmed genetically to suffer from arthritis can delay its
onset and cope better with its symptoms if they continue a regular
program of moderate running.
How can I avoid "hitting the wall"? If I had a definitive
answer for this, I'd be a very rich man. The truth is, we all hit
the wall sooner or later - and not just in marathons. When you run
faster or farther than you've trained for, you overwhelm your muscles
and they can't get enough oxygen. Glocogen (fuel stored in your
muscles) is burned, and large amounts of lactic acid and waste products
pour into your system faster than they can be removed. As a result,
your muscles tighten and burn. Bam! You've hit the wall.
But you can take steps to keep such collisions to a minimum. The
best way to avoid hitting the wall is simply to begin your long
runs or races slower than usual (even if they feel plenty slow to
begin with). Also, be patient: Over time, speed sessions and long
runs push back the point at which you start to feel fatigued. They
also teach you to deal with the discomfort of lactic-acid buildup
without slowing down as much as before.
World, March 2000, p. 32
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