Putting One Foot in Front of the Other
Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Running
Putting One Foot in Front of the Other is a compilation of my writings on the subject of becoming a better runner, based on my 33 years in the sport. Many of the chapters deal with aspects of the sport that you don't often find in "How-to" running books, for example, improving your confidence as a runner, how to approach rivalries with your fellow runners, how to use sound race tactics to beat runners who may be just as fit as you are, and strategies for improving your recovery between workouts.
The ebook version is available from Lulu.com for $4.99, with the paperback version valued at $9.99. Click the icon below to order it or read on for more information.
Here's the Table of Contents from Putting One Foot in Front of the Other:
1. Consistency is the Key
2. Who Needs a Coach?
3. Covering all the Bases
4. Balancing Hard and Easy Runs
5. How Easy is Easy?
6. Heart Rate Training
7. Multi-pace Training
8. Miles Make Champions
9. Interval Training
10. Hill Running
11. Post Run Recovery
12. Dealing with Injuries
14. Mental Toughness
15. Building your Confidence as a Runner
16. Race Tactics
17. How to Improve your Finishing Kick
19. The Runner's Training Life Cycle
20. Enjoying your Running
Putting One Foot in Front of the Other - Introduction
"What was the secret, they wanted to know. In a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared, to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most un-profound and sometimes heartrending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that made up the bottom of his running shoes. The trial of miles, miles of trials, how could they be expected to understand that?"
John L. Parker - Once a Runner
When Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic marathon champion was asked why he hadn't written a book on running, he replied, "Because it would be two pages long. Run two interval workouts a week with a long run on Sunday and as much mileage as you can on the days in between. That's it."
If you look at the training of top runners even today, you can see that that's a pretty good 'Coles notes' version of the training that it takes to be your best.
Many of today's top runners might substitute a tempo run (a fast but controlled, continuous run of anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or so) for one of the interval workouts, and non-marathoners might be less inclined to put in the weekly 20 mile run that Shorter did religiously, but basically that's the same basic formula that top runners use today.
With that in mind, though I've always wanted to write a book on running, I struggled with the question of exactly what I could add to the discussion. There are dozens of books detailing the intricacies of training for long distance running, covering every viewpoint from that of the rookie runner right up to aspiring elites. There are books with a myriad of training schedules, books on physiology, and books that purport to have the latest secret to becoming a successful distance runner.
Many of these books come from authors with better running credentials or a more authoritative voice than I can muster, so what do I have to contribute?
In looking back over some of the ramblings on my blog, Full Stride Running, it occurred to me that while there are a lot of books on training theory, there aren't many that focus on the actual practice of training and racing. That is to say, the little things that experienced runners pick up over time, mostly as a result of trial and error. Now that I'm in my 33rd year as a runner, I feel there are some lessons that I've learned during that time that might be of use to other runners in helping them reach their goals.
While there are a few basic training discussions in the following pages, the majority of this book deals with what in corporate-speak might be called the 'soft skills' of running. Skills such as how to build your confidence as a runner, how to use race tactics to your advantage, what "mental toughness" really means, and how to recover properly between workouts so that you can train at a high level while minimizing the risk of injury and burnout.
I've tried to answer some of the questions I most often hear from other runners, such as how much effort to put into your daily runs, how to set up and plan a training schedule and how to figure out when to 'run through' an injury and when to back off and seek medical attention.
Each discussion is organized into short lessons that are based on my experience as a competitive runner for my track club, high school and university track and country running teams and all the subsequent years as a road racer and marathon runner.
My hope is that you'll find something in this book that helps you enjoy the sport a little more and come closer to reaching your running goals, whether you're a new runner, a competitive high school athlete or an aspiring elite runner.
Sample Chapter - Building your Confidence as a Runner
There’s no doubt that improving your confidence level as a runner can make you a better competitor and ultimately a faster runner. At the highest levels of the sport, the differences in the physical capacities of the best runners are often very minor and winning and losing comes down to which runner has the confidence to run boldly, attack the race and make the right move at the right time.
Unfortunately, many recreational runners lack the self confidence to make the most of their abilities. They see many others in front of them in races or find themselves struggling during a long run and assume that they’re either not cut out for the sport or just too wimpy to fight through to the finish. The truth is that confidence is a learned behavior and we can all train ourselves to develop it.
Here are a few ideas for making yourself a more confident runner:
Set multi-tiered goals.
I like to go into every workout or race with three sets of goals for the run – an ultimate goal, a satisfactory goal and an acceptable goal. Ultimate goals are the best you can imagine doing for the session, in other words, what would happen if everything went just right. Satisfactory goals are basically what you think you would normally do for this type of workout or race. Acceptable goals are the least you would be able to walk away from feeling as if you’d accomplished something. For example, going into an important marathon, a runner with a 3:10 marathon personal best might have an ultimate goal of breaking 3 hours, a satisfactory goal of breaking 3:10 and setting a personal best and an acceptable goal of running under 3:20 and qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
The benefit of this is that even if things don’t go your way, you can often still find something positive from the race and feel as if you’ve accomplished something, despite not meeting your ultimate goal. With multi-tiered goals, it’s no longer a case of all-or-nothing, you can feel a sense of achievement and build your confidence even when things aren’t perfect.
Make sure every workout has a purpose.
Many recreational runners simply go for a run every day without much structure to their training program. This leads to feeling like every run is pretty much the same as the one before and after a while it becomes difficult to measure your progress. You begin to lose track of what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Adding structure to your program, with designated workout days such as interval workouts or tempo runs along with easier recovery runs gives each run a purpose and a way to measure whether or not you’ve succeeded. In addition to being a more efficient way to build your physical fitness, it also gives you a road map and some certainty that you’re heading in the right direction with your training program.
Make sure you’re well rested for your key workouts.
Sometimes as a runner it makes sense to train hard enough that you’re carrying a bit if fatigue from one workout to the next, but for the most part, it’s better to run easily on your recovery days to make sure that you’re well-rested and ready to go for your harder workouts, and particularly, your races. Going into your most important training sessions feeling rested and ready goes a long way towards having a successful workout and successful workouts, especially a series of successful workouts, helps build your confidence as a runner.
If you’re feeling particularly tired on a day when you’ve got a hard workout scheduled, you might want to consider running the workout by effort level and leaving the stopwatch at home. This way, you still get the workout in and reap the physical benefits from it, but you don’t risk seeing slow times on your watch and damaging your confidence on a day when you know you are at less than your best.
Look for the positive in every situation.
There’s an old Zen story about a peasant farmer who one day found a wild horse and brought him home to work on the farm. The farmer’s neighbour congratulated him on his luck. “We’ll see,” said the farmer. The next day the farmer’s son took the horse for a ride, fell off the horse and broke his leg. “What terrible luck,” said the neighbour. “We’ll see,” said the farmer. The next day the King’s guard came through the village looking for able young men to join the war effort, but the farmer’s son was unable to fight thanks to his broken leg and thus was spared having to join the army. “What great luck!” said the neighbour. “We’ll see,” said the farmer.
The moral of the story is that the events in our lives aren’t necessarily good or bad, it all depends on how we view them and on what happens next. It's easy to misjudge situations and you should always maintain a healthy skepticism of predictions for the future.
That being the case, it makes sense to look for the positive in every situation, rather than dwelling on the negative. Pay attention to the voice in your head and make a point of correcting it if you find yourself thinking negative thoughts. Even if things aren’t going your way, negative thoughts aren’t going to help, you might as well stay positive and get the best you can out of the situation.
For whatever reason, I’ve run some of my best races when I’ve felt the worst, either due to being sick with a cold, not having slept well the night before or simply feeling nervous before the race. Rather than dwell on how bad I’m feeling, I just go into the race with the attitude that I’ll give it my best and see how it goes. Often, I’ve managed to exceed my expectations no matter what’s “wrong” with me that day.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself from time to time.
Contrary to what some people think, self-confidence doesn’t come from having other people telling you you’re great all the time, it comes from facing difficult situations and realizing that you can handle it. Every once in a while, it makes sense to challenge ourselves with a particularly tough workout just to prove to ourselves that we have what it takes.
Another variation of this principle is the idea of running in difficult weather conditions or terrain. Bill Dellinger, head coach of the Oregon University track team during its heyday, used to have 7am Tuesday morning “Duck Workouts”, that is challenging interval sessions in all kinds of weather at a time when most college undergrads were tucked soundly in their beds. Aside from the physical benefits of this type of workout, the athletes gained a tremendous amount of confidence from learning to handle such difficult conditions.
Keep a training log and review your progress regularly.
It can give you a great sense of satisfaction and confidence to look back through your training log the night before a big race and see all the miles you’ve logged and the workouts you’ve done in preparation for the big day. Often we tend to forget how hard we’ve worked in the months leading to a big race and reminding ourselves can be a great source of confidence, especially if you’re feeling a bout of pre-race nerves.
Building your confidence as a runner can stand you in good stead when the going gets tough in a race. A confident runner is much more likely to hang in there and push hard when discomfort sets in. You’ll find yourself saying, “I can do this,” rather than, “It’s too hard.”
Often that added level of confidence is the difference between a good race and a great race.
Sample Chapter - How Easy is Easy?
One of the most popular questions that I see in running forums on the web is, “How fast should I do my easy runs?”
Believe it or not, it can be a tough question.
Some people have complex formulae to set the pace of their easy runs, such as 70% of vVO2max, or 83% of 5 km race pace or 75% of maximum heart rate. It may work for them (which is, of course, the bottom line), but in many cases, reliance on a specific formula can be a sign of a runner who is over-analyzing their training.
Easy runs are meant to be just that, easy. Meaning that you just go out for a run and let your legs go at the pace they want to run. No straining, no undue effort and, ideally, no looking at your watch to see if you’re running at your “usual” pace. No pushing the pace, just a little, to beat your time from yesterday’s run to "prove" that you’re getting in better shape. Just easy.
The reason I say this, and the reason I argue against setting a specific pace for your easy runs is that you’re going to feel very different from one day to the next and a pace that may be easy for you one day may be too hard, or much too easy the following day.
Let’s say you go to the track today and put in a challenging interval workout. If you plan on an easy run tomorrow, you’ll be tired from your interval workout and will probably run slower for a given effort than you would if you’d taken the previous day off instead.
On the other hand, suppose you used to run 50 miles per week, but lately you’ve only been managing about 30. Assuming you’re still in roughly the same shape, your easy days will likely be a little faster at 30 miles per week, since you’ll be that much more rested.
The point that I'm trying to make is that your daily workouts don't exist in a vacuum – they must be based on the training you've done in the recent past and what you're planning to do in the near future. Given this reality, setting a predetermined pace for your easy runs can leave you running either too hard or too easy relative to your capability on a given day.
Personally, I like Dieter Hogan’s (coach of Uta Pippig and several other elite marathoners) approach to training. He wants his athletes to learn to listen to their bodies and be aware of when it’s time to push and when it’s time to back off. Hogan makes a deliberate effort not to nail down specific paces for his athletes, instead using a 1,2,3 system. 1 is easy, 2 is moderate and 3 is hard. It’s based on the mental effort required to maintain a given pace.
For example, speed 1 means very easy, relaxed running that doesn’t require any special effort or concentration to maintain the pace. Speed 2 is more challenging, requiring a bit of concentration to maintain the pace but not a super hard effort. Speed 3 is a hard effort that takes a lot of concentration and focus to maintain the pace. The advantage of this approach is that it encourages athletes to tune in to their body and run by effort rather than pace.
One final point that I would like to make is that it’s better to err on the side of caution on your easy runs. Running too slow may give you a very slightly lower stimulus for improvement, but running too fast can lead to overtraining, injury and burnout. Take it easy on your easy days, so that you feel fresh, rested, and ready to give a solid effort on the days when you have a hard workout scheduled.
The best way to improve as a runner is to follow a consistent training program that incorporates a variety of workout types and is geared towards your racing goals.
What do you love most about running?
What's your biggest difficulty with running?
Have any questions or comments on Putting One Foot in Front of the Other - Lessons Learned in 30 Years of Running? Send me a message below and I'll be happy to get back to you as soon as I can.