Top Ten Guidelines for Distance Runners

By Rick Morris

When I first started this article I used the title “Top Ten Rules of Distance Running”. The more I thought about the term “rules”, the more I realized that it just isn’t an appropriate word for distance runners. Rules tend to suggest something that should always be followed and never broken. There are more ways to train and run than I can count. So are there really any hard and fast rules in distance running? Not many! Running and training techniques are really more like guidelines. They are ways to train and run that have been proven to be effective, but there are always other ways. That being said, here are our top ten guidelines for distance runners. See how many you agree with.

You First

I’m not saying you should be selfish and narcissistic. Those are ugly traits for anyone, especially a distance runner. I’m just saying you should run for yourself and no one else. There are two extreme types of motivation. Intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic is internal motivation and extrinsic is external motivation. Pure internal motivation is running for the pure personal joy of running. Pure extrinsic motivation is running because you are forced to do it by an external motivator. Few runners fall into the extremes. Most are somewhere on the sliding scale between the two extremes. You will enjoy your running more and will be much more successful as you move more to the intrinsic side of the scale. So run for yourself, you will be a better distance runner.

Change of Pace

You could go out and run the same pace and the same distance every day. The problems with that type of running is boredom, staleness and lack of improvement. Multi pace running or including long runs, easy runs, tempo runs, speed workouts and hill training on a consistent basis will keep both your body and your mind properly challenged. Multi pace training will also maximize your performance and fitness gains.

Goal, Goal, Goal

Running without a goal is like going on a road trip without a destination. You will just wander around aimlessly and never get anywhere. Set short and long term goals, then build your training around those goals. You will get fitter, stay motivated and add to your list of accomplishments.

Stay Flexible

This one has two meanings. Of course you need to keep your body flexible by performing both pre run dynamic drills and post run static stretching. But you should also keep your training program flexible. You have a lot of important phases of your life other than running. You have family, work and social responsibilities. There are times when illness or injury can interrupt your running schedule. Allow enough flexibility in your training schedule to meet your other responsibilities. Your running is important, but don’t let it take over your life.

Fuel Efficiency

We’re going through an energy crisis. We know how important it is to conserve fuel. As a distance runner you are always having an energy crisis. One of the tricks for successful distance running is being able to run while using a minimal amount of energy. In other words you want to improve your running efficiency. You want to run using the least amount of effort possible. That all starts with your running mechanics. Improving your running form and becoming a more efficient runner is like moving from a gas guzzling V-8 to a fuel efficient hybrid. You will be more efficient and run further before an empty fuel tank forces you to slow or stop. You’ll be a better runner.

Some Hard, Some Easy

For peak running performance, your training should match your goal. If you want to improve your 5K performance, the best training run is the 5K race itself. Are you a marathon runner? Racing a marathon is the perfect training run. The problem is that race efforts take a toll on your mind and body. You can’t run a race every day. You would break down both physically and mentally. The next best thing would be to train hard every day – right? Not a chance. You need recovery time between hard efforts. It’s during those recovery periods that your body strengthens and gains in fitness. For that reason you should always follow a hard/easy sequence in your training. Try to schedule either an easy recovery day or a rest day after a long or hard workout. A hard/easy sequence in your training will keep your mind and body fresh and strong.

Form Before Function

One of the guidelines for strength training is to perfect your lifting technique before you add substantial weight. That is also a good guideline to follow for distance running. Work on proper running form and technique early in your periodized training schedule. It will improve your performance and help keep you injury free.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

There is running myth out there that distance runners can eat whatever they want; that their metabolism is so revved up, anything will burn. It’s true that anything will burn. Your body is very efficient. It will process any food you put into it. But, as a distance runner, you need to be even more cognizant of what you are putting into your body. Distance running burns lots of calories and lots of nutrients. You need to replace that used up energy with high quality nutrition, not junk foods or empty calories. Eat a healthy diet that is high in complex carbohydrates, colorful vegetables, fruits and lean protein. If you put junk in your body your running performance will follow suit.

Stay Strong

Can you imagine your body without muscles? Your skeletal system provides a strong framework, but your muscles provide the power to hold the system together and power all of your activities. Stronger muscles translate to superior injury resistance, improved running economy and increased power. I suggest performing a proper distance runners strength training program two to three times per week on a consistent basis. It will keep you running injury free and improve your performance.

Brain Power

Running doesn’t start with your muscles, it begins in your brain. It’s your brain and your central nervous system that controls the action of your muscles. Brain training is a critical but often ignored part of distance running. How do you train your brain? The two primary methods of brain training are consistently performing hard, challenging workouts and practicing mental imagery skills. The hard workouts convince your central nervous system that it doesn’t need to step in with protective mechanisms that slow you down. Mental imagery can trick your brain into ignoring many of the performance sapping effects of running fatigue.