Coaching Running on the Internet

Striding Along, February/March 1996
A Publication of the Gate City Striders, Nashua, NH

A few weeks ago, a runner asked for running advice on the internet. The message below is a response from Allen Leigh who's comments I found very to the point. I believe that Allen's advice to this runner can serve many of us as a reminder of "the basics". Peter [Editor]

Allen's response to the runner:


I'm not qualified to be your coach, but here are a few ideas from the running literature.

1. Run pain-free. Pain is a sign from your body that you're exceeding its capacity in some way. I've been running for about 23 years, including four marathons when I was your age, with no injuries, because I run pain-free. If I experience pain, I back off my training a bit until the pain is gone and then give my body more time to get used to what I'm doing. By doing this, I keep injuries away.

2. Follow the 10% rule. When you increase the stress on your body by increasing your distance or speed (try to not increase both at the same time), keep your increases at 10% or less and stay at each new level until you feel comfortable with it. I've found that my body likes at least a week at each level, and sometimes longer.

3. When you complete a run, you should feel great and should want to keep going. If you feel tired at the end of a run, you've gone too far or too fast. Back off until you feel great when you finish each run.

4. While you are running, you should be able to carry on a conversation with a partner. If you're huffing & puffing and can't talk, you're going too fast. Back it off.

5. If you get a raw throat or side stitches [cramps] while running, you're going too fast. Back it off.

6. Run heavy/light. After you've run a "heavy" day, follow it with a "light" day of about half the distance. It takes your body 48 hours to recover from the heavy day. If you run heavy day after day, your body never fully recovers and gets into "stress-debt", then injuries come after a few months.

7. Don't run more than five days per week. Give yourself some rest days. Your overall performance will go up because you'll be more rested when you do run.

8. Throw in a light week each month. During the light week, you're still alternating heavy/light days, but you reduce the distance/speed of the heavy days.

9. If you leave home for a run and after a mile or two you feel tired and not particularly enthused about continuing the run, stop, pack it in, and go home. Your body is telling you that you need some rest. If your body is doing great, you should feel great after the first couple of miles of warming up. If your body is feeling tired, however, so will you.

10. Remember that it isn't the stress you apply to your body that builds strength; it is the rest. You apply stress by running some distance at some speed. Then you give your body rest. Your body reacts to the stress by becoming stronger. If you don't give your body enough rest, then all you're doing is tearing your body down.

11. The more you run, the more important it is that you get enough sleep.

12. Measure your rest pulse each morning. The best time to do this is when you first wake up, since that is the one time during the day when you body is at the same activity level each day. After doing this for a few weeks, you'll begin to see patterns in your pulse. My resting pulse when I'm active in my running and when I'm getting proper sleep is about 45. If it goes up more than 10%, I know that I'm tired and need more rest. If it goes up 20% or more, I abort all running for a day or two because I really need rest. I've found that my resting pulse is a great indicator of my body condition. In your case, your resting pulse will be a different number, but I would expect that the percentage increase would mean about the same thing for you.

13. If you run out & back on the same road, run on the same side of the street if the traffic flow will allow you to do that safely. By doing this, both your left and right feet will be on the edge of the road, and this evens the stress on your knees due to the crown of the road. I found that Massachusetts back-roads have a lot of curvature, say 3-4" from the center to the edge, and that means that the leg on the edge has to reach that much farther.

I started running when I was 37 (I'm 60 now). I didn't have a coach, but I did a lot of reading, and I listened to my body to know when to push myself and when not to. When I was in my late 40s I did some racing. My mile PR at that time was 5' 57". My 10K PR was 40' 29". My marathon PR was 3 hr 59'. My five-mile was some where around 33'. These were all set during my late 40s. Not great times compared to other runners but great for me because I'm built for endurance more than for speed. As I mentioned before, I've never had an injury, and I think that is a pretty good PR. I mention this, because I think that listening to your body and using moderation and common sense in pushing yourself are the best coaches you'll find.

Good luck in your running. Keep us informed from time to time!


A final note from Peter: I asked Allen whether I could use his message in our newsletter. In his response he said. "I lived in MA for 17 years. We did all of our shopping in Nashua, and I have fond memories of NH/MA. I moved to Utah about three years ago, and I really miss New England." Quite a coincidence, don't you think?


vic said...

Well I disagree with some of the rules. 10% is great. But cramps/stitches and huffing and puffing is a sign that you're making your heart and lungs stronger. Running all week is okay but one day should always be a slow, easy, non-tiring day. As long as one eats properly and they have enough energy then they won't get many injuries. Feeling horrible while you run with cramps, huffing/puffing and exhaustion is sometimes a good sign. It means that the longer you push on (as long as you have no injuries) the better you'll be and the more fit you can become.

Allen said...

Hi vic,

Thanks for sharing your viewpoint about this.

Huffing and puffing, etc. mean you're not getting as much oxygen as you need for that level of activity. So the question really is does one need to run anaerobically to get stronger lungs and heart. We disagree on this, and that is fine. Both viewpoints have merit.

We both agree that one shouldn't become injured, and that involves diet and having enough energy, as you explained, and getting enough rest as I explain in this post (running heavy/light) and more specifically in my article on Health for Running as well as in other articles.

Another point on which runners will disagree is my statement that one shouldn't run more than 5 days per week. The basis for that is that I think that many runners need two non-running days per week to get additional rest. Many persons do need two non-running days, but not all. I have friends who runs six days per week and other friends who run seven days per week. They all run injury free because their "light" days during the week and one "rest week" of reduced running per month give them the rest they need. We're all different, and my suggestions in this post are geared to the typical persons who aren't ready for higher performance running.

I didn't mention cross training in this post, and the "light" days and the two non-running days can be used for that as long as the cross training isn't pushing one really hard, i.e. the cross training is restful. Cross training is important to help one keep his or her body in balance.

Thanks, again, vic for sharing your viewpoint. I hope you'll speak out about other things I say in this site. Visitors to the site need to look their running from several viewpoints.

Jeff said...

I've tried to coach running online and I know that it is not easy. This article finds me very informative and on to details about safe running. Thanks for this nice article.