Posted by Dave on August 30, 2011 | 9 CommentsThis summer I’m reading Tim Noakes’ massive volume Lore of Running, bit by bit, then reporting the critical bits back to you. Last week I covered the ideal running drink: What Noakes believes is the best way to hydrate and fuel up during runs.
Leave it to Tim Noakes to save information for beginning runners until page 258 of his book! While the first part of the book covered the limits of elite runners, in this part he goes back to square one and explains what it takes for a beginner to get started in running.
So what is the best way to get started as a runner? Walking, says Noakes. If you are completely inactive, Noakes doesn’t recommend running at all until week 4 of your training program, and then only for 5 minutes on a single day. Noakes says that stress fractures are the most common injury of beginning runners, and the easiest way to get a stress fracture is to overtrain. Here’s Noakes’ table of the first 20 weeks of a training program designed to ease newbies into running:
The amount of each workout is given in minutes (W=walking and R=running), and as you can see, it’s not until week 13, about three months in, that the time spent running exceeds the time spent walking. It takes nearly four months to get to the point where a new runner is actually running for all of her or his workouts. Noakes based this chart on his own research introducing runners to the sport, eventually bringing many of them up to the level of finishing the 56-mile Comrades ultra-marathon.
This may seem exceedingly conservative, but it also matches my own experience. People who leap straight into running tend to get frustrated, injured, or both. Once they have built that foundation, they actually progress much faster. In Noakes’ case, many runners were able to complete a marathon 26 weeks after this initial training schedule.
The second key to getting started as a runner is figuring out how to motivate yourself, and this depends on how intrinsically motivated you are already. If you are naturally a very driven, focused person, the difficulty may be in trying to do too much and getting injured. For most people, however, motivation will require some work of its own.
Here Noakes emphasizes social support. Running with a supportive group, and having the backing of friends and family, go a huge way towards helping new runners get started and continue to make progress. Having well-defined, achievable goals (“complete a 5K after 20 weeks,” “run at least 5 days a week”) also helps.
I was a casual runner for decades, until five years ago when I started running with a partner who helped me complete my first half-marathon. Then a year and a half ago, I joined a running club in my town, and this group helped me lose 40 pounds and finish two marathons! Since joining this group I’ve seen many other runners move from being beginners to enthusiastic regular runners.
One area where running clubs can be problematic, however, is if there is pressure for runners to overtrain. Noakes has developed what he calls “The 15 Laws of Training,” designed to build solid running habits. I’ll discuss the first 8 today, then cover the rest in a later post:
1. Train frequently, all year-round. It’s tough to be successful if you stop running for months at a time; when you restart you may be building back from square 1. That said, taking a couple months off per year is probably not a bad idea either, as long as the rest of the time the training is consistent.
2. Start gradually and train gently. This is a huge key to avoiding injury, as mentioned above.
3. Train first for distance, later for speed. Indeed, most of your training should be at a relatively slow pace–just putting in miles. Once you’ve built up to a reasonable distance you can work, just a couple days a week, on getting faster.
4. Don’t set your daily training schedule in stone. If injury or other mishaps occur, you need to be flexible enough to adapt. I have a training schedule I follow, but I’ll drop portions of workouts (especially speed workouts) if I’m not feeling 100%. Weather and other events may force you to move workouts, and that’s fine too.
5. Alternate hard and easy training. Hard workouts probably cause some minor muscle damage, and so it’s important to have easy workouts in order to give yourself time to recover. But individual recovery times vary, from as little to 24 hours to 3 days or more.
6. Achieve as much as possible on a minimum of training. As you train more, your returns diminish and your chance of injury increases. It’s doubtful that training more than 10 hours per week is useful for
any a typical runner.
7. Don’t race when in training or run at race pace for distances above 16K (10 mi). Basically the advice here is to race infrequently, especially for marathon and longer distances. I know many runners who race frequently, nearly every week, but what they really are doing is using shorter 5- to 10K runs as speed training, and in general they run marathons much less often.
8. Specialize. This advice may matter less for recreational runners than for serious athletes but it is true to some extent that training hard for one sport diminishes our ability in another. There is even evidence that runners who were successful in their 20s and 30s will not dominate among their same-age peers when they are in their 40s and 50s: The sport has probably taken too much out of them. The most successful masters-level runners typically took up the sport later in life.
Noakes has more tips for new runners, but they will have to wait until next week.