Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

Running 101: Steps Towards Proficiency in Endurance Sports

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I hurt my knees lifting weights with poor form.  Lesson learned.  Now I need to rest from running until my knees are happy again.  In order to maintain my fitness level, I need to switch to an endurance sport that does not put much pressure on the knees.  I started swimming again just a few weeks ago.  Now it must become my main sport for at least two weeks and maybe longer.

The truth of this really just set it: swimming must become my running for a while.  What would this mean?  How do I train?  Would I need to do speed work in the pool to replace the aerobic and lactate benefits of my running speed work?  Would I need to swim very long distances to maintain my endurance?

I quickly came to the conclusion that I simply need to apply the principles that I use to help people getting started into serious endurance running.  I just need to change the sport.  I set a few principles out for the Newbie Runner in a previous post that were about the way to think about yourself and running.  The present post is more about how to choose what kind of workouts to do in the natural progression of endurance running or other sports.

Step 1:  Start where you are, and build an endurance base.

People decide to “get serious” about endurance sports at various levels of participation.  Some people are starting from the couch.  Some people run 3 times a week before deciding to “get serious about training.”  At whatever level you are currently training, the first step is usually to gradually increase mileage.  If you are starting on the couch, walking a quarter mile several times a week may be the correct first steps in the process.  If you run 3 miles per run three times each week, then you simply start adding a mile to one of your runs each week and let it build.  Never add more than one mile to a run as compared to the week before.  Too much, too quickly can lead to injury.

As for me and my swimming, I just started swimming three times per week, going about a mile each time.  In my first two weeks, just finishing a mile was challenge enough.  This week I am stretching my swims to 1.25 miles.  Gradually, I will move that up to a 3 mile swim once per week and 1.5 mile swims twice.  I expect that to take several weeks, maybe even two months.

Step 2:  Gently begin strength training.

As your activity level increases, it is a good idea to gently begin a strength training regiment which is helpful for your sport.  Every endurance sport requires general strength and core exercises, you just need to add in a few sport-specific drills and/or lifts.  As a running coach, I have specific drills that I have my clients do at least three times per week.  If they have a specific weakness, such as pronation or an IT band issue, then I give them a few strength drills to correct the problem.

For my swimming, I am going back to the weightlifting plan that I used when I started back into running back in 2009.  Every part of the body got stronger.  I am renewing my commitment to being as strong as I can without gaining significant weight.  I am building muscle, so there will be some weight gain, muscle weight.  🙂 I am also adding a few swimming specific strength drills recommended by top coaches.

Step 3:  Begin to build speed as you continue to slowly add endurance.

After you are running regularly and feeling stronger, you will want to become faster.  This is good and natural.  Be careful, however, as running too fast can lead to injury. Pick one day per week at most to do speed training.  If you have never run a 5K, then do not attempt speed training.  After you have established a personal record (PR) in the 5K, then do your speed work by running short distances at a pace just a few seconds faster than your 5K race pace.  See my post on “Getting Faster” for specific details.

I was tempted to do a little speed work in the pool the other day, but I do not think I have a strong enough base yet.  In a week or two, I will pick my speed day and swim a few laps at a fast pace on that day each week.

Step 4:  Find your thresholds and begin to challenge them.

Also included in the “Getting Faster” post is the idea of interval training and tempo runs.  Each run is designed to challenge a specific set of biological functions that support endurance sports.  Simply put, interval training pushes your body to recover more quickly from running fast paces.  Tempo runs challenge your body to maintain the fastest pace possible without needing to slow down to recover.

Here again, the principles of interval training and tempo workouts will directly translate from running to any other endurance sport.  I can become very fast at swimming one lap at a time, but if I want to be a fast endurance swimmer I must complete these two types of workouts periodically.

At Every Step:  Make sure you are enjoying the ride.

When asked about how to help their kids become great basketball players, Michael Jordan told parents this: “Let them love the game.” He went on to explain that you have to love what you are doing in order to maintain the motivation to work harder than everyone else.  If you want to be great, you must first love the sport.

Whether it is running, swimming, or any other sport, you must maintain your love for the sport.  Some love running for the social interaction with their running buddies.  Some love the challenge.  Some love the quiet time out on the road.  Whatever it is that you love about the endurance sport of your choice, remind yourself of that love.  Feed that love.  If it is the social aspect, run with friends most of the time.  If it is the challenge of pushing yourself, then plan to push hard once a week.  Spend the rest of the week planning it and looking forward to it.  Whatever it is that fuels the fire of your desire to excel and helps you truly enjoy your sport, do it.  People that enjoy the ride will keep on running, keep on swimming, …

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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