When I first began running fifteen years ago, every single run was pretty much the same for me. As a former smoker climbing my way out of post-college depression, I felt like it was a miracle each and every time I finished a run. I was not concerned with pace or effort level. The simple fact was EVERY run was hard for me. For a while, it took all that I had just to show up for myself and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
As time went on and the miles added up, it got less hard. I began to understand and appreciate what it meant when someone described a run as “easy.” For so long the words “easy” and “run” just did not go together in my mind! Week after week, I was able to go just a little bit farther and to move just a little bit faster. I learned how to listen to my body and developed the courage to push myself a couple of days a week. Carving out a training pattern of stress and recovery was making me a better, stronger, healthier and more confident distance runner. I learned how to set a purpose for each run, and how to trust the process.
It is true that A RUN IS A RUN IS A RUN, no matter how fast you go, how many miles you cover or how hard you work to move … but in order to be at your best, it is helpful to take a more meaningful approach to training. Establishing a purpose and setting an intention for your runs helps delineate the difference between running to push yourself, to recover and for the fun of it.
When planning your runs, be sure to give yourself a chance to recover from one hard workout before the next one. This will keep you fresh for each hard effort and will protect you from injury and burnout. I generally do one to three stress workouts a week: one or two speed workouts and one long run. In between these harder efforts are easy runs, recovery runs or days of complete rest depending on how I’m feeling and on what my family and I have going on.
When it comes down to it, running serves a greater purpose well beyond fitness for most of us. By being thoughtful and intentional about how we structure and execute our training, I really believe we will see our greatest growth and protect ourselves from getting hurt or losing our passion for the sport. So set your intention before each run, honor it and discover all that you are capable of!
Example of a Purposeful Week
Monday – Lately I’ve my long runs have been on Sunday, so Monday is a recovery run of 6-8 miles. My pace is typically 30-45 seconds slower than most of my easy runs are. I run what my body wants, and never push the pace – no matter how good I am feeling after Sunday’s run. The purpose of this run is to give my muscles and joints a chance to loosen and lighten up after the harder effort on Sunday. Oftentimes I will do this run with a friend or two, which gives us a chance to chat and catch up after the weekend. If I’m alone I will sometimes use it as an opportunity to set my intentions for week.
Tuesday – Time for a speed day– I take it to the trail or the track with a hard workout (a tempo run, mile repeats, or shorter, higher intensity intervals) that really pushes me mentally and physically. My total distance is usually 10-12 miles depending on where I am in my training cycle. These runs teach my body and my mind to hang on and hang in when I really just want to call it a day! They also improve my lactate threshold and enhance my overall fitness.
Wednesday – After a day of speed work, it’s time for an easy day. The effort is light and conversational–I love running with my friends! I usually do 8-9 miles and my pace is steady and consistent.
Thursday – Typically this run is about 10 miles. There is always an element of speed to it – such as a fast finish with the last two miles at goal race pace, a progression run, or doing a bunch of 20-30 second surges with a minute or two of easy running between each stretch of work. The goal is to help me pick up my pace and finish strong.
Friday – Another easy run, usually around 8-10 miles, just like Wednesday.
Saturday – Complete rest, or a handful of light/easy miles if I have the time and energy to fit it in.
Sunday – The “Mack-daddy” of the week, my long run during marathon training is usually anywhere from 14-23 miles. This run builds endurance, gives me the chance to practice race day nutrition and hydration, and teaches me how to push on tired legs.