Discover more from The Half Marathoner
Week 2: We're running 14 miles
Lessons from Kara Goucher and James Clear
Welcome to Wednesday, everyone! 🙌
How did your past week of running go? Were you able to find the time to get your runs in and stick to the plan we laid out last week? If you weren’t, that’s okay — don’t sweat it. It’s a common problem we all run into from time to time, and it’s something we’ll talk about today.
For me, getting started with the first week or two of training is always a heavy lift. Not because the miles are onerous, necessarily — we ran 12 miles over the past seven days, a mileage number that makes it relatively easy to get going — but because it asks me to change my habits, something my body doesn’t want to do.
When I’ve been lazy for a while — like I was for the last several weeks of 2021 — my body quite enjoys it. And doesn’t want it to end. But, you know as well as I do, for any progress to happen, that has to change.
For me, the two biggest stumbling blocks to starting back with running are likely similar to yours: my own mental (and physical) inertia, and actually laying out a plan for getting my running in — the days I’ll run, as well as the distances I’ll run.
For help, I turn to books by some of the best runners in the world, who I’ve always found to be extremely generous with sharing what they’ve learned. (I also love listening to podcasts that interview great runners too, but I prefer books because I can pick them up and thumb through them anytime.)
One of my favorites is Kara Goucher’s Running For Women: From First Steps to Marathons, which offers an excellent overview of just about everything you’d ever want to know about running (and which men can learn a lot from too!).
For those of us starting back to running after a layoff, or getting started for the first time, one of the earliest pieces of advice in the book is also one of its best: make most of your runs easy runs.
Go easy most of the time
Here’s what she has to say:
“There are two main categories of runs: hard runs and easy runs. Hard runs are things like tempo running, hills, interval running on the track, that sort of thing. Easy runs are… easy runs! Happily, even if you start training for races and get serious about competition, they’re also the type of runs you need to do most often. As long as you keep the pace comfortable and avoid running farther than you are ready to go, these runs will give your body a solid foundation. Actually, as a new runner, all your runs should be easy runs until you have created your foundation, then you can move on to more challenging runs. Or not. Some runners only do easy running for their entire lives, and that’s fine too!”
If you’re not familiar with her career, Goucher is one of the most accomplished and best-loved elite American runners of the past decade, and ran for the U.S. Olympic teams in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
She found running as a high school student growing up in Minnesota, when her performance on her school’s cross country team caught the eye of her coach. He wasn’t even a runner himself, but his coaching imbued his students with a joy for the sport that Goucher says has stayed with her ever since:
“Coach Skogg never talked about times and paces. In fact, he did not seem to really care how fast we ran or if we improved. I ran all my best times as a ninth grader and never got any faster in my last three years of high school, which bothered me a little, but it did not bother Coach Skogg. What made him a great coach was not the results he produced in his runners; it was the fun we had running for him.”
I think that element of fun — getting out and running for the joy of moving your body, the feeling that comes from it — is the reason we all do it, and you need that first if you want to get better, faster, and/or run longer distances. It’s essential. (Otherwise, why do it at all?)
That fun is the foundation, I think, and laying that foundation is also something Goucher points to as important, especially for the new/returning runner:
“The first step in becoming the best runner you can be is laying a proper foundation, and a proper foundation is exactly what I got from Coach Skogg. More important than how much you train is how much you get out of the training that you do. Throughout high school I ran 4 miles a day, on average. This moderate level of training not only gave my body time to become stronger and better able to handle more running later, but it also encouraged me to find ways to run faster without running more.
I did this mainly by trying harder. One of the most important early lessons each runner learns is that when you think you’re running as hard as you can, you’re not. As you get accustomed to the pain of running hard, your tolerance for that pain increases. Everything is new for you when you are a beginning runner, and each new experience teaches you something about your body — and your mind. Discovering that some of your limitations are illusions is just one of many discoveries a new runner makes as she experiences her body’s and her mind’s responses to training and racing.
That’s what building a foundation as a runner is really about: gradually strengthening your body with moderate training, learning to make the most of every mile (especially by discovering how to run harder than you thought you could), soaking up experience, and getting to know your body.”
“Okay,” you’re probably thinking about now, “sure, I understand that. Now, how do I go about doing it?”
That’s a challenge for us all, unless of course your name is Rockefeller and you don’t have a day job or family life you need to schedule your running around. And, like I’ve experienced recently, even if you want to run, it’s not going to just happen… sometime. Someday. You have to find specific days and times to go and do it. (Or it’s not going to happen at all.)
The author James Clear, in his excellent book Atomic Habits, writes about a British study from several years ago that worked with 248 people to figure out the best way to build an exercise habit over the course of two weeks.
After dividing the 248 into three groups, the researchers tasked each group with different requests. The first was asked to simply record how much they exercised over a two-week period — nothing more, nothing less.
The second group was asked to track their workouts and read material the researchers provided on the benefits of exercise, so they would understand the ways in which they were improving their own heart health.
The third group received the same material as the second group, but also were asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the next week. Each was asked to write a response to this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
In other words, they got specific. They couldn’t rely on the knowledge that exercise was good for them and that they should do it. They came up with specific workouts for specific days, and planned the rest of their days around them.
What were the results? In the first two groups, between 35 and 38 percent of their members reported exercising at least once a week. In the third group, that number shot up to 91 percent — more than double the other groups!
As Clear writes, “people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Too many people try to change their habits without these basic details figured out… We leave it up to chance and hope that we will ‘just remember to do it’ or feel motivated at the right time.”
And then we kick ourselves when we don’t do it, which sets us back mentally even more:
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.
Once an implementation intention has been set, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. Do I write a chapter today or not? Do I meditate this morning or at lunch? When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.”
Okay, easy enough, right? 😉
Just kidding — I know it’s not. We all have challenges to getting our miles in. Mine are working around my day job and a family with young children; yours might be a demanding schedule with lots of off-hours work, taking care of children or other family members, or simply difficulty in getting started.
If you can, take a look at your calendar for the upcoming week, between today and next Wednesday, Jan. 19. See where you can carve out an hour each for our four runs over this week.
Here is our schedule:
Thursday, Jan. 13 — 3 miles
Saturday, Jan. 15 — 4 miles
Sunday, Jan. 16 — 3 miles
Tuesday, Jan. 18 — 4 miles
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments, or in reply back — how do you get your runs in, and do you have any creative ideas/suggestions for those of us who are challenged to get them in? What do you do to keep yourself motivated? Let me know 👍
Get more + become a full subscriber
Our Wednesday issue is always free. Our Friday discussions will be free for the next few weeks, while our Sunday issues (which feature great races around the U.S. and the world + deeper dives on running) are for paid subscribers.
Interested? I’d love to have you become a paid subscriber so you can get the most out of your subscription — just click this button to join:
If not, that’s okay. You’ll get plenty out of our free Wednesday issue — and you can become a full subscriber later.
Here’s a preview of last Sunday’s issue: