(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)
September 2002 (retitled in the magazine). Old habits die slowly. I spent the first half of my running life training to race, and in racing often and hard. Now my youngest PR dates from 1979.
There’s a big difference between running in races, which I still do, and racing them. I haven’t really and truly raced in the latter half of my running life.
Yet for most of that time I trained like a racer – scaling down the distances and speeds, yes, but sticking with the same old pattern. That was, alternating hard and easy (hard day and easy week, in my case)... long runs twice the length of normal ones, or more... fast runs two minutes a mile faster than usual, or more.
Only recently did I realize that training this way did me few favors. They trained me for races that no longer mattered much. The one big run a week caused the many smaller ones to suffer, cutting some short and canceling others.
My quest lately has been to simplify all running. To weed out needless complications. To make the runs more alike – the long runs shorter, the short longer, the fast slower, the slow faster.
The first step in that campaign was to stop training for one great day that might never come. The second was to start making each running day a little better.
This hobby of mine is also my job, and it takes me to races almost weekly. There I’m asked repeatedly, “Are you running here?”
The simple answers: “No, not this time,” or, “I’m running along with the pack but not racing.” The unspoken answer: I like to run too much to race anymore.
To do that now would be a poor investment. The risks of training or racing myself into injury or illness wouldn’t be worth the scant payoffs that might result. Even if I dodged serious side-effects, the harder work would demand more easy days and rest days than I’d care to take.
The more days I run, the happier I am. If I feel more energy and less pain on those days, and can run a little extra, I’m happier yet.
So am I advising you never to race? Not at all. I have no regrets over any of my races run hard, even the ones that ended badly. I highly recommend racing to anyone who hasn’t tried it and to hasn’t yet stopped improving times and distances.
What I’m saying here is that racing isn’t for everyone. Yet much of the written advice on the sport (my past work included) is framed for runners who race.
Here I’m writing for the rest of us. Those who moved beyond racing. Those who run in races without racing them. Those who are between racing seasons. Those who don’t race and don’t plan to start?
I’m speaking for those of us who want to run nearly every day. And those who don’t mind running the same way most days, since it frees us from wondering: Do I run today or not, and if so, what?
This is not a scaled-down version of race-training programs, which aim to make some runs longer and faster, and compensate with some easier days and days off. The non-racer’s plan aims to make more days the same and more runs better.
If this approach appeals to you, put each element of your current running routine to these two tests:
Is this what I would want to run if I didn’t have to do it to prepare for a race? If it isn’t, then choose the runs that you look forward to, and discard those you dread.
Could I take these runs nearly every day of the week? If 23 hours’ rest isn’t enough, then tone down their length and pace until you could repeat them daily and indefinitely.
The ex-racer or non-racer has no more distant, or greater, goal than to run well each time. Running is “training” only for the run of the moment and the next one to come.
2018 Update. Few of my old writings are even more true now than when first written. This is one of them. Substitute the word “walk” for “run,” and it remains my plan this very week.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Next Steps, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]